As an avid runner, Jim Collins, president of Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, has the perfect campus to put in his miles. No matter where he goes, he can see how his work is helping the Catholic liberal arts institution grow.
One of the latest signs of growth is the launch of the Francis J. Noonan School of Business, which welcomed its first class of students this fall. Its namesake, the late Francis J. Noonan, was a faculty member at Loras for forty-three years and, to this day, remains the longest-tenured business faculty member in the college’s history. He retired in 1991 as professor emeritus.
Collins calls the school’s launch serendipitous. When he helped lead the Inspiring Lives & Leadership fundraising campaign in 2013, the goal was to raise $75 million within five years. It ended up being the largest fundraising campaign in school history, netting Loras $106 million upon the campaign’s completion in 2017.
In talking with alumni during the campaign, Collins learned that many of them wanted to see the college put a greater emphasis on business, something that made a lot of sense to him.
“Whether you go into healthcare or media, everyone needs some business acumen going forward,” Collins says. “At the time, we had seven undergraduate business majors, but it was the largest number of majors in any one academic area at Loras. And we’d had some significant success. In 2017, for instance, we recorded the nation’s seventh-best first-time pass rate for the CPA exam.”
In addition, a team of finance and economics students placed second worldwide in the 2018 Peeptrade Global Investment Challenge, an investment competition for undergraduate and graduate students.
The bottom line is Loras already had the foundation on which to build a new business school. The fundraising campaign simply made it a reality.
That Collins followed through on the wishes of his alumni is no surprise. Since becoming the school’s youngest president in 2004, he has boosted graduation, retention, job placement, and fundraising numbers to all-time highs. Last August, the Loras College Board of Regents gave Collins a five-year extension, ensuring he will be the school’s longest-serving president.
Collins admits he has had offers to go elsewhere but says he hasn’t been tempted. Part of it is geography. He grew up in a large, close-knit Catholic family in nearby Crystal Lake, Illinois, and likes being close to them. While five of his six siblings attended Loras, Collins’ own family has continued the legacy, with all six of his children having attended Loras at one point in their education careers.
Another part of Collins’ affinity is comfort. As a 1984 Loras College graduate, he’s served in some capacity at the school for thirty-four years. He says Loras has given him the kind of transformational experiences he doesn’t think he’d find anywhere else. The campus environment, he says, is magical.
“That has to do with a very dedicated faculty and staff,” Collins says. “This is not a 9-to-5 place. You see lots of faculty and staff attending sporting events and performances. Students see this deep sense of care and interest. Among faculty and staff the rewards are intrinsic. They can watch the growth of the students and see the impact of the role they’re playing as these students go on to be accomplished alumni.”
The Francis J. Noonan School of Business is embodying that ethos of caring. According to a Loras College release, its mission is to educate students to be ethically aware, data-informed, globally prepared, responsible leaders. How? The answer is captured in the mantra of the undergraduate and graduate business analytics programs: “Just because we can, should we?”
Loras business students learn how to manipulate and interpret data, but they also learn how to put it in context of the greater good. Collins agrees that balance is more striking than ever in the current economic and political environment, where ethical failings tend to be the news of the day.
“If we continue to provide a strong academic experience and partner that with morality, we can make an impact and have a ripple effect on how that plays out in the world,” Collins says. “We need strong ethical leadership, and too many people are willing to sacrifice what’s right in their effort to get more power or money.”
It will be up to James Padilla, who was picked last May to be the first dean of the Noonan School, to fulfill the philosophical and practical plans developed by the college. Padilla previously served as associate dean/associate professor of Marymount University’s School of Business. It’s his job to make sure future Noonan School graduates combine insight with integrity as they navigate the global business world. Collins is optimistic it will happen.
He mentioned a recent conversation with fellow Loras alumnus and longtime sportscaster Greg Gumbel. It was Gumbel who said that his experience at Loras has helped him maintain his integrity in an industry that has suffered its fair share of scandal over the last few years.
“As much as young people are seeing so much of what’s wrong, there are some good examples out there to show what we teach here works, and you can live a more meaningful life and make life better for people you serve and work alongside,” Collins says.
He should know. Collins continues to do just that at his alma mater.
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