Business for Art’s Sake: An Interview with Jim Rosengren
By Kaylie Phan
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree provides students with a broad range of knowledge and skills to collaborate with other professionals and to reframe problems to unleash creative solutions. Jim Rosengren, deputy director of Blaffer Art Museum in Texas and an EWU MBA alumnus, said in an early 2014 interview, "Sometimes I have to be quantitative; the MBA gave me the tools to do that. Sometimes I have to be qualitative, and the MBA gave me the tools to do that, too. I walked out of the EWU MBA program with the confidence that I knew how stuff worked and how to work with other people."
Rosengren was an art major whose first job was managing a small nonprofit organization in New Orleans. In the late 1980s, he landed a position as an administrator for a small program, Exhibit Touring Services (ETS), which packed and toured art exhibitions to venues around the Northwest. In 1990, when the director retired, the program was picked up by EWU and Rosengren was appointed as the new director of the program. He soon found himself managing a service which worked with a wide variety of subject experts to package and tour art and cultural exhibitions. Artwork was framed, crated and then rented out for a small fee to museums and galleries –first in the Northwest, then later throughout all of North America. With an academic background in fine arts photography during his undergraduate program and filmmaking and film theory in a graduate program, Rosengren said he was "not a whole lot closer to business training" and was "…in desperate need of a skill set." Shortly after coming to Cheney to oversee ETS, which was housed in EWU’s College of Fine Arts, he decided to pursue his MBA.
There was "one completely transformative moment," during his time in the MBA program. A business forecasting class asked students to pick something to predict as an assignment. He chose to predict future rental income from the exhibitions he was touring by looking for variables that could help predict those future values. "I nonchalantly performed a time series analysis using 50 quarters of rental income…as I recall, it produced a wavy graph." Then he added, "in an equally nonchalant manner, I performed a time series analysis of the index of leading economic indicators for the same time period…also producing an equally wavy graph." With similar looking graphs, he "printed each graph on acetate and laid one over the other. The curves were almost identical, with the ILEI predicting my rental income, almost perfectly, with a three to six month lag. It was then he observed that this art rental program had the same characteristics as any business."
Almost two decades since graduating in 1988, Rosengren has been leading the administrative efforts of Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston since 2010. "I work on a university campus. I am responsible for everything at the museum not related to artwork –finance, security, visitor services, contracts and human resources."
The university art world has changed quite a bit since Rosengren left EWU. "There has been a push for nearly 15 years to encourage museums to use art as bridge to widely disparate disciplines. In a simple way this is embodied in the advocacy to add "A" (art) to S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, math) to get S.T.E.A.M. Of the 1,300 university museums and galleries in the United States, only a handful has accepted the challenge." Leading this S.T.E.A.M. initiative at Blaffer, his work requires intense collaborations with a variety of different disciplines. "It’s a slow process of building coalitions among deans and directors and faculty, and in our case, business partners who don’t regularly talk to one another." The MBA program helped "immensely to make these collaborations work. I find myself sitting amongst engineers, physicians and even NASA astronauts proselytizing about art as a bridge to different disciplines."
Rosengren has been collaborating with a range of campus partners from the University of Houston and corporate partners including, the largest medical center in the world and the largest insurer of private art collections in the world. From a world renowned retina surgeon discussing the relationship between artists’ styles as they age and pathologies of the eye, to a chief of dermatology discussing the relationship between observations in art and its relationship to decision making, collaboration has been an important skill to successfully organize these lectures.
With attendance of more than 1,100 people at each of the lectures, Rosengren said, "What started out as just a series of small programs is actually a strategic push to gain support campuswide for interdisciplinary study." The strategic partnership initiative positions Blaffer Art Museum as a bridge to every other college on campus. He added, "The mention of art in this dialogue is sometimes left out…in this plan, it is an important element. Ultimately it is about fostering student success by crossing disciplines."
"I think it’s happening now," Rosengren said, referring to the most significant accomplishment in his career. "About five years ago a new university president fundamentally changed the direction of the campus from an urban school for bachelor degrees to a Carnegie-designated Tier One research university. This was a pretty big deal. Suddenly the fairly rigid university structure was/is in flux." Blaffer Art museum became a prominent player in student success while introducing out of the box concepts. "Deans and directors now need unifying concepts to link these once fairly autonomous colleges and this initiative is getting good traction."
He launched the initiative for a "multitude of reasons, including for the museum’s own success. Fundraising and visitor counts had begun to ebb – I needed to implement a business strategy to get the museum back in the game by expanding donor prospects and campus attendance. Trajectory looks good, time will tell."
As he reflected on his accomplishments, Rosengren encourages students without a business background to, "Run, don’t walk to the admissions office. The MBA is an indispensable set of skills, regardless of your career choice." Rosengren added that pursuing an MBA is quite a commitment, especially if you have a family and a job, but "worth every minute of it in the long run."
A Dual Experience
By Kaylie Phan
How long would it take to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree? No, not four years, not even three years. At EWU, an MBA-MPA Dual Degree can be completed in two-to two-and- a-half years by full-time students.
Students looking into professional degrees often consider one degree over the other. For Mohamed Abdel-Halim, an EWU MBA-MPA Dual Degree graduate and Wells Fargo personal banker, the choice was easy –pursue two degrees. Before graduating in March of 2014, Mohamed said in an interview, "I wanted to get the background that I will need for both private/corporate fields and government fields. I also wanted to ensure that I have more doors opened, so I decided to continue with the dual master’s. "
Abdel-Halim sacrificed a degree that he had spent three years working on while living in Egypt, his native country, to move to the United States with his mom and brother. Even after taking English classes at a university in Egypt, his English was still poor. With the need to improve, he went to a new home advertising company and took on a job to hold advertising signs at major intersections to direct potential customers to the new homes. "I needed to go to school, but still make enough money to take care of myself while I worked on improving my English for better opportunities," Abdel-Halim explained.
His stepfather dropped him off for the eight-hour shifts, seven days a week in rainy Washington. Abdel-Halim chuckled and went on to describe his work, "One time, I was in Olympia and they put me at an intersection by a highway. It was rainy and windy, and snowed later in the day. I was holding the heavy plastic sign and the wind would blow it away and I kept thinking this is not supposed to be a parachute."
After a year of working as a sign holder and focusing on his English skills, Abdel-Halim decided to pursue a dual undergraduate degree in international business and political science and a minor in non-profit organizations at the University of Washington (UW). He moved to Spokane after graduating from UW to try something new. "I also wanted to look out for my younger brother too, so I moved away to make him become more independent,"he said.
Today, it has been seven years since arriving in the United States. Abdel-Halim said, "the convenience of taking fulltime classes in the evening made it possible for me to work full-time and complete this degree in two and a half years." He added, "Classes never affected my job at all. The dual degree saved me a lot of time and within the time people can get a master’s, I was able to get two master’s. Who wouldn’t want that?"
When asked about his overall experience in the program, Abdel-Halim responded, "I really appreciated the availability of an advisor. The quick response directly from the coordinator or director when I needed help, made me feel that I mattered to them as a student. You can just walk right in. Even when applying, the process wasn’t difficult at all."
His suggestion for full-time professionals is "to be realistic about their studying habits, for me, it was realistic to spend double the time of the class studying. The program was demanding and challenging, but with a little balancing, it is very possible."
While Abdel-Halim was growing up, his father, who is still in Egypt,–always wanted him to be a doctor, but he said, "I never saw myself as a doctor." His short term goal is to continue working in the private field and work his way up. "This is why I am getting an MBA. I have a long term goal and ambition to get into diplomacy, which would require me to have the public service background; therefore, I aimed to get the MPA." His future academic goal after graduating with his dual master’s is to get a PhD in international economics, organizational leadership, international relations or political science.
He concluded the interview saying, "Truly, my relationships with my classmates is one of the most satisfying feelings, and knowing that I have made a lot of good friends in this program is a special experience."
For more information about a MBA-MPA Dual Master’s degree, please contact either the MBA office or the MPA office:
Roberta Brooke, MBA Director
Ning Li, PhD, MPA Director