St. Thomas Promotes Laura Dunham to Lead Opus College of Business
Laura Dunham takes the new job after a 19-year career at St. Thomas. Photo courtesy of the University of St. Thomas

St. Thomas Promotes Laura Dunham to Lead Opus College of Business

The new dean is a faculty veteran who has bolstered entrepreneurship, business ethics, and diversity.

Laura Dunham, associate dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, will become the new business dean at the University of St. Thomas.

The largest private university in Minnesota, St. Thomas announced Dunham’s promotion to lead the Opus College of Business on Tuesday. It was made just a few weeks before St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan completes her tenure and moves to California to lead Santa Clara University.

Dunham, who earned an MBA and a doctorate in entrepreneurship and ethics from the University of Virginia, distinguished herself over a 19-year career at St. Thomas. She was a key player in growing entrepreneurship programs inside and outside classrooms.

An associate professor, Dunham also has served in important leadership positions. For the past five years, she’s held the post of associate dean of the Schulze School. She was vice chair and chair of the Opus College of Business faculty, and also was chair of the Entrepreneurship Department.

Entrepreneurship ranks as the fifth largest major at St. Thomas. “Under her leadership, the Schulze School experienced a nearly threefold increase in the percentage of incoming first-year students declaring an entrepreneurship major, tripled the number of credit hours taught within the Entrepreneurship Department, and tripled the number of students participating in the school’s co-curricular programs,” St. Thomas said Tuesday in a statement published on its website.

“What I’ve learned is how lucky we are here at St. Thomas to be able to wear our hearts and souls on our sleeves and say it’s not good enough that our students come out as astute business people; they also have to be aware of their responsibilities to others,” Dunham said in the written statement. “Our mission—these values that bind us around supporting the development of highly principled business leaders who care and are committed to advancing the common good—it’s the fuel behind everything we do here.”

Dunham oversees four competitions at the Schulze School, which annually award more than $400,000 in scholarship and seed capital. She expanded entrepreneurial opportunities to emerging business leaders of color. To address economic barriers often faced by women and people of color, she’s been leading a free, six-week boot camp this spring on Saturdays.

Taking the baton from Lenway

While men have historically dominated the ranks of U.S. business deans, Dunham will be succeeding another woman. Dunham will assume leadership of the business college from Stefanie Lenway, who became St. Thomas business dean in 2014 after serving as a business dean at the University of Illinois in Chicago and at the Broad College of Business at Michigan State.

Dunham’s new job at St. Thomas begins July 1, precisely two years after a restructuring plan that Lenway designed took effect.

Even before the pandemic arrived in March 2020, St. Thomas and other schools were facing increased competition for students and evolving expectations for business education.

St. Thomas is grounded in a liberal arts core, but it long has been known for providing bachelor’s and master’s business degrees for students who want to work in the Upper Midwest.

Among current St. Thomas undergraduates, nearly 40% are business majors.

Yet Lenway recognized that St. Thomas needed to reinvent its business programs to meet today’s marketplace demands.

Her plan placed greater emphasis on technology and online courses, and it offered “stackable credentials” in popular areas such as business analytics. Lenway also proceeded with phasing out the full-time MBA degree program, but she left other MBA offerings in place.

In an early 2020 interview with Twin Cities Business, Lenway said, “I think the increasingly unsustainable cost of higher education is a huge issue.”

In its announcement Tuesday, St. Thomas acknowledged some of the challenges that Dunham will face, including the need to attract more students to the part-time MBA program.

“The Opus College needs an entrepreneurial leader, who will continue to build a culture of innovation in all corners of the college,” Lenway said in Tuesday’s statement. “Laura is this entrepreneurial leader with deep experience creating programs in the Schulze School that have received national recognition.”

After stepping down as dean, Lenway will serve on the Opus faculty. The university said Lenway will “join the college’s Business in a Digital World Initiative team as a faculty fellow for external outreach and business development.”