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Future bright for PSU business

School closes in on $60 million goal to create business hub

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Scott Marshall, who is the interim director for the Portland State University School of Business Administration, walks outside of the business school building.

From his sixth-floor corner office, Scott Marshall can see the future.

The Interim Dean of Portland State University’s School of Business Administration currently looks out at a green space that runs along Southwest Montgomery Street from Sixth Avenue to Broadway. With nearly $60 million raised, that view will soon turn into one of a glittering glass atrium bordered by green-roofed classrooms.

After a decade in the making, work will start Aug. 11 for the major redesign and expansion of the business school facility.

Marshall says he was tapped in 2005 by the former dean, Scott Dawson, to be part of a new building committee. Ideas for a new facility were kicked around, a campaign started up, “... and then we had this major thing called September '08,” says Marshall, referring to the housing market crisis that led to the Great Recession. “Raising money in '09 was not easy. So things had to necessarily slow for a while.”

With the economy now picking back up, the university scored a $40 million bond from the Oregon Legislature in June 2013, which came with a $10 million match requirement. The school has raised $17.6 million, so far, but wants to hit its goal of $20 million or more.

From Rick and Erika Miller, in neighboring Lake Oswego, came the school’s largest single donation at $8 million. Rick Miller is a 1991 alum who founded Avamere, a health care facility group, and Rogue Venture Partners, an equity firm.

Marshall says the university is grateful for donations of any amount from a base of alumni and local businesses — including Intel, Tektronix, The Standard and Blount International — who want to see the business school freed from the warren of classrooms and offices it has now.

“It’s not a hard sell,” Marshall says.

Middle East money

Though most of the donors are recognizable Portland philanthropists, the second-largest private donation comes from halfway around the world. Sheikh Fahad al-Athel of Saudi Arabia got his undergraduate degree in business at PSU in the 1970s. PSU spokesman Scott Gallagher says the sheikh’s gift underscores the strong ties the business school has with the Middle East.

Portland State University has the largest population of students from Saudi Arabia of any American university, according to Marshall.

“So we have really strong connections there, and although it seems surprising that someone from Saudi Arabia is also a major donor, I think it speaks to the history and also the forward-thinking engagement by the former dean,” Marshall said, noting that Dawson cultivated ties with the sheikh over many years.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Juanita Bibian and Hanan Buathab, both students at Portland State University, study for a class at the University School of Business Administrations building.

Social capital

While PSU business students are taught to invest capital for the greatest return, the school itself has an interesting twist on that paradigm. Its product is intangible: knowledge and human connections, not widgets.

“This current structure was built to absolutely minimize social capital,” Marshall says, noting the multiple doors that often block off staff and faculty offices and the generally dark, closed-in feeling of the 1970s building at Southwest Sixth Avenue and Harrison Street. “The new structure really will open up the building in so many important ways.”

Business school classes currently are held throughout the campus, with a student body that is 70 percent transfers and often commuting in from across the region. There is only one student study space, and most of the time when students meet one another, faculty or even prospective employers, they do so at area restaurants and cafes.

“They need more places to meet, to be comfortable,” Gallagher says.

PSU contracted with SRG, which designed the University of Oregon’s Lillis Business Complex, and Behnisch Architekten, based in Stuttgart, Germany, for the redesign.

When finished in 2017, the new and renovated spaces will nearly triple the school’s floor space to 135,000 square feet, along with a much more open format, state-of-the-art offices, project spaces and common areas.Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - An artist's rendering of the $60 million remodel of the Portland State University School of Business Administration.

The new entrance along Montgomery Street will take its cue from the Urban Center Plaza, the busiest transportation hub in Oregon that will be even busier once the MAX Orange Line opens next fall.

The overall effect will be one that the school’s administrators hope will bring more people through their doors.

Connolly at helm

Not only is Portland State University’s School of Business Administration getting a new ship, it’s getting a new captain.

Dan Connolly, now senior associate dean at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, will lead the Portland school starting in June.

Connolly has deep roots in the hospitality industry and says top on his list is giving students a good experience.Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Dan Connolly

“Fundamentally, to be successful, it’s about giving students a great education, helping them have wonderful memorable experiences, developing deep relationships with people and getting great jobs,” he says. “It’s the largest business school in Oregon, and that’s great, but what does size give us? I want to be the best.”

Connolly has inadvertently charted a westward migration during his career. Born in a Boston suburb, he spent time collecting degrees on the East Coast — a doctorate from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a master’s in business administration from American University, and a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University — before heading to teach at Michigan State University and now in Colorado.

He says he sees a lot of similarities between Portland and Denver, his home for the past 15 years.

“I joked when I was interviewing that the main difference is we have sunshine and Portland has water,” Connolly says, noting the cities’ popularity with young people and proliferation of breweries.

“We really want to graduate students who are going to be responsible business leaders making good, ethical decisions,” he says.

Connolly notes that an international focus is key to any modern business program and the business school’s large population of exchange students is a key part of that.

“A university’s role, particularly a business school, is to stretch people’s comfort zones,” Connolly says. “So having people in a blended community is a really nice thing.”

Joining Connolly on his move to Portland is his wife and three boys.

“We’re all very excited about embarking on a new adventure.”

By Shasta Kearns Moore
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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