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A conversation with Doug Hensler

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, April 28, 2012, at 10:48 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, April 29, 2012, at 7:09 a.m.

Pardon Doug Hensler if he considers the summer of 2011 a huge culture shock.

Hensler, 64, the dean of Wichita State University’s Barton business school, grew up in the northwest, so Wichita’s heat was a little more than he could bear.

“Well, I grew up in Coos Bay, Ore., so last summer wasn’t the pleasantest summer of my life,” Hensler said, chuckling. “Janie, my wife, and I are cool weather people, for sure.”

Hensler holds a doctorate in finance from the University of Washington, an MBA from the University of Portland and an engineering degree from Princeton University. Prior to becoming dean at Cal State Fresno, he was the W. Edwards Deming Distinguished Professor of Management at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Hensler also has been on the faculty at the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Portland, along with visiting positions at the Vienna University of Technology, the University of Versailles and Arizona State University.

Today, Hensler’s background in experiential learning is at work in the Barton school, which teaches students business theory and then follows up by linking them with some of the area’s leading business executives.

How did your educational background prepare you for a community-based educational approach?

“I was in industry for 14 years, two basically — nuclear and aerospace. I was an engineer as an undergraduate.

“I got my MBA along the way and got very interested in finance, so I decided to get a doctorate in finance. Probably because of my mathematical background, and at the PhD point it’s scary math that you never saw as an engineer. So when I got back to that level, I intended to go back into academics. It really was a decision while I was in industry that I felt my brain wasn’t being used like it should.”

How did you become interested in Wichita State and the Barton school?

“I knew John Beeler (the former Barton dean) from our time at Texas-Arlington together, and you watch your friends in this business. I thought to myself, ‘Why is John leaving that job?’ So, I waited until that was announced and applied.

“The aviation sector in Wichita is a great match with my background and the Barton school is an absolutely great school. To me, it was a natural fit.”

What is the mission of the Barton school as you see it?

“It’s prefaced on the core of our connection and integration with the business community. E-3 learning — entrepreneurial, experiential and enterprising learning — is our core, and our Barton international group is our initial foray into E-3.

“The end result is a career-ready graduate, and we’ve been having astounding success placing these people. The credit goes to the faculty, staff and students. We have a remarkable faculty and staff that works very hard, people who are dedicated to the students and our programs.”

What would make the Barton school better?

“A new building. Here’s the fact of the matter: Business schools are like big-time football programs. If one doesn’t have the infrastructure, the facilities, it’s going to get to the point where you can’t recruit, where students and faculty won’t even come look at you. If you recruit a top football player and you don’t have a great indoor practice facility, a great weight room, they won’t even visit you.”

How would a new building help the school beyond recruiting?

“It will give us the flexibility in adapting our learning techniques to new technology and the 21st Century. Our business is getting much more experiential. We need these kinds of facilities.”

What kind of efforts are you leading to get that new building?

“We have rough architectural plans and cost estimates, and we’re seeking a lead donor. In a sense, we’re waiting for the new president. (WSU named John William Bardo its new president on Friday).

“We need a commitment to maintain this school as the best business school in Kansas, and right now it’s twice the price to go to KU. They are generating revenues that give them an advantage.”

What don’t people know about the Barton school?

“I think that what sometimes surprises students is the access to faculty they have here. We’ve had transfers come in from KU saying they’re just a number there, and here they can talk to any faculty member or professor. It is the degree of closeness we have to our students and companies and the ways we integrate both.”

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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