Now that Southern Polytechnic State University has merged with Kennesaw State University and has become the Marietta campus of Kennesaw State University, the faculty in the Business Administration Department understand better than many of us how encompassing this change is for employees at the Marietta campus. For starters, their programs are in the process of being dissolved and those who remain to teach at the new KSU are being absorbed into Kennesaw’s Coles College of Business.
Every university and every department manages to create a culture that is on some level unique to itself. Such differences may show up in mission statements. For example, the mission statement on the Marietta campus emphasized “instruction in technical and business subjects that are effectively combined to produce a curriculum that is matched to the “demands of the modern business world.” The Coles College of Business on the Kennesaw campus has also emphasized applied learning to prepare students in a changing world; however, it has also focused on theoretical grounding that will prepare students to become teaching and research professionals for “positions in academe, government, and industry.”
Many of the differences in programs actually show up within the human element of who works in different departments on different campuses and the ways in which these individuals communicate their ideas to students and others. Business Administration faculty are uniquely qualified to understand this human element of an organization since they have studied industrial relations and business management. Somewhere in their curriculum they have more than likely studied the ways in which employees are affected by the quality of the employment relationship and the ways in which changes in the organization affect not only the performance of that organization, but also the quality of employees’ lives.
I thought it important to get a glimpse into the professional lives of the women who have made up SPSU’s Business Administration Department as well as the personal and professional life of the department’s most senior member, Sandra Vasa-Sideris.
As a young girl Sandra Vasa-Sideris did not dream of becoming a business professional. Instead she was intrigued by political science. Her father (who retired from the Navy) and growing up in the Washington, D.C. area played a role in her interest. Sandra’s own experience in school created her other interest: a love of the French
language. She signed up to study French as early as junior high school. She was fortunate to be exposed to some unique opportunities for studying the language in high school since she had the chance to travel to Europe and to spend a month in Paris, France. While in France Sandra lived in international housing and spent time in class and on tours learning French and more about the French culture.
Soon she found herself majoring in political science and minoring in French at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (her family had moved from the D.C. area to Tennessee so UT was a natural choice for her studies). This arrangement for her major and minor didn’t last long because she found she liked studying French more than she liked studying Political Science. She graduated in three years with a French major and a Political Science minor. She began work on an MA in French at UT and during this period she was able to study in the Aix-en-Provence in France where she enjoyed concerts in the park by notable musicians.
In the meanwhile she met her future husband Tony, who she married after completing her coursework for her MA. Tony’s job in the nuclear engineering field had the couple moving quite a bit. She completed the executive training program at Mervyn’s in California (no longer in business). After a move to Connecticut, Sandra finished her thesis for which she edited a medieval manuscript. She still could not find a job using her degree. However, she quickly found a job at Lord & Taylor, working first as the assistant men’s department manager and then as the personnel and training administrator. Sandra told me that she was lucky to have worked with numerous strong people while at Mervyn’s and Lord & Taylor.
In late 1979 Tony’s work brought the couple to the Marietta, Georgia area, and Sandra immediately enrolled at Southern Tech to fulfill prerequisites for the MBA program at Georgia State University. At that time numerous GSU classes were being hosted on our campus. After completing her MBA, she began doctoral studies at GSU in Industrial Relations with a Management concentration. Before completing her Ph.D., Sandra accepted a temporary faculty position here and was then hired as a tenure track faculty member.
Ten years into teaching at SPSU, Sandra had a unique opportunity to work with an engineering and management consulting firm in Tennessee. The firm was a sub-contractor to the Department of Energy, and Sandra decided she wanted to act on this opportunity. She developed the employee handbooks, ensured that the company complied with federal requirements, worked on projects, and wrote papers that were presented at engineering conferences. The job also put her in connection with a high-tech startup, which developed a battery management and monitoring system.
In 1998 Sandra decided to return to teaching and was hired once more at SPSU. She has been at the university ever since. Sandra was named an Outstanding Faculty of the Year in 2005, and she participated in the Governor’s Teaching Fellow program. She teaches courses that help students to understand things like organizational management and human resource management, so clearly Sandra has both a theoretical and a practical understanding of issues relating to the merger facing SPSU. What she likes about this type of study is that it is grounded in quantitative capabilities at the same time that there is ambiguity due to the human element.
That Sandra is interested in the human element is not surprising to those of us who have worked with her. She cares deeply about the student experience because she wants students to have the type of outcomes she enjoyed from her own education. One of the things Sandra was in the middle of doing when I went to her office to interview her, was seeing to the needs of a variety of students by examining what courses they had completed and still needed to complete in order for them to graduate from the SPSU programs.
Sandra and I took a moment to look back on who she has become due to the paths she has taken on her journey. I would never have guessed it, but Sandra was shy as a child. Her studies, her travels, and her teaching have allowed her to take productive risks in terms of human relations. She has learned how important it is to her and to her students for excellent relations to develop between them. Her life was changed by caring teachers and managers who helped her to seize opportunities that have made her who she is.
Being a part of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra Chorus has also been a part of Sandra’s journey. Not only does she like to be a part of the chorus, but she enjoys taking a breather from work. She has to admit that she enjoys watching someone else pull everything together.
Other Women in the Business Administration Department
In 1999 when I came to SPSU (now the Marietta Campus of KSU), I remember meeting Sandra Vasa-Sideris and realizing that she represented the one and only female faculty member in what was then the Management Department. In the past four or five years especially, the numbers of women in the department has changed dramatically. A female Administrative Assistant, Brenda Luther, manages the office, and six additional women have joined Sandra as faculty members. Several of these additional women teach in the accounting program, but they are otherwise a diverse group.
Mona Sinha, an Assistant Professor of Marketing, earned her Masters in Management Studies in 1993 from the University of Mumbai in India and her Ph.D. in Marketing in 2008 from the Mays School of Business at Texas A&M University. From 2008 to 2012 Mona worked as a researcher for Harvard’s Business School’s India Research Center in Mumbai. While working at the research center, she wrote several business case studies in the areas of brand management, sustainability, and technology and innovation. In 2012 she completed Post Doctoral work for the Goizueta School of Business at Emory University.
Mona was commended for excellent teaching with an award while she studied at Texas A&M. She has taught Principles of Marketing, Marketing Management, Consumer Behavior, International Marketing, Marketing Research, and Services Marketing.
Sonia Toson is an Assistant Professor of Law. She began her collegiate career at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign by working on an East Asian Languages and Culture B.A. degree, graduating in 1997. She then earned an MBA (2000) at the Kogod School of Business at American University and her Juris Doctorate from the Washington College of Law also at the American University. Sonia is a licensed attorney in the State of Georgia. Before she decided to teach, she worked for eight years in private practice, specializing in Corporate, Real Estate, and Construction Law. Her research interests include corporate social responsibility, sustainability and its intersection with the law, entrepreneurship, and the scholarship of teaching and learning legal studies.
Sonia teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate Management and Construction Management courses that concern construction law, construction finance and feasibility, the legal environment of business, and construction contracts and claims.
Zeynep Kelani is the lead Economics Lecturer for the Business Administration Department. She began her education at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul, Turkey where she earned a B.A. in Statistics in 1994. She then earned a M.S. in Economics at Mamara University, which is also located in Turkey. Her final degree, an MBA, was earned at SPSU in 2002. Zeynep too has worked in both the business world and in education. At her SPSU website Zeynep has articulated her belief in an applied education for business students that focuses on active student learning. She enjoys using real world examples and current technologies, and she likes to involve students in discussions, ensuring that her teaching goes beyond the traditional lecture model of education.
Shannon Shumate joined the Business Administration faculty as a fulltime Lecturer of Accounting and as the Undergraduate Accounting Coordinator in 2010. She graduated from Auburn University in 2000 with a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in accounting. The following year she completed her Masters of Accountancy degree from Auburn. In the years before becoming a fulltime faculty member, Shannon managed to pull together an impressive list of accomplishments: she held internships while in college with Powertel Inc, a regional cellphone company in their corporate office and with the Big 4 international accounting firm Ernst & Young, LLC; once she graduated she accepted a fulltime position with Ernst & Young as an auditor and served on numerous audit engagements with Fortune 500 companies; she became a Certified Public Accountant in 2004, and she began working with the Facility Group, a design build company; Shannon was the Controller and the head of the Accounting Department when she resigned to become a fulltime lecturer.
What Shannon enjoys about teaching is the chance to work with students, and she has prized this aspect the most. She likes to be proactive about advising students, and she has done as much as possible to help them create a transition plan for the merger. Shannon focuses on teaching classes involved in financial reporting including Principles, Intermediate and Advanced Accounting.
Sondra Smith is also a Lecturer of Accounting on the Marietta campus of KSU. She earned her B.B.A. in Accounting and her Masters in Professional Accounting at the University of West Georgia. She is currently working on her Doctorate of Business Administration at Kennesaw State University. Sondra is a CPA for the State of Georgia, and she teaches Principles of Financial Accounting, Principles of Managerial Accounting, Advanced Accounting, and Accounting Information Systems.
One of the things I noted when looking up information concerning the women who have worked in the Business Administration Department on the Marietta campus, is their willingness to work closely with students in both teaching and advising roles. I am always happy that such dedication to students and their learning occurs at teaching focused universities, such as our own. Like Sandra Vasa-Sideris, I am quite interested in the human relations aspect of work. It is what has kept me fascinated with teaching for over thirty years. No two students are exactly like, no two classes of students (even when teaching the same course) are exactly alike, and no two education programs or universities are exactly alike. The challenge of teaching has always been to see what changes as we work with a new student or a new group of students and what seems to apply to all.
I am not sure what roles Sandra and her colleagues will have in the Coles College of Business, but as they venture more fully into the College, it has been wonderful to realize how fully absorbed they are in helping students to understand the changes ahead of them.