New Dean Makes Her Mark at Webster University - Higher Education
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New Dean Makes Her Mark at Webster University

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Dr. Simone Cummings, recently named the new dean of the Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University, became intrigued with business at a young age, as she watched her father go to work as a marketing executive for Anheuser Busch.

Growing up, she remembers tagging along to her father’s focus groups. She would sit in the back room and watch the moderators interact with people who were testing  the different products.

“I thought, ‘Okay, this is pretty cool,'” says Cummings. “He seemed to have a great job. He always had tickets to concerts for me and events that they were sponsoring. And I thought, this is something that I’d like to do with my life, too.”

Dr. Simone Cummings

After taking an organizational behavior course at Washington University in Saint Louis, Cummings learned from her professor that there are fewer layers of management at hospitals then at huge corporations. At the time, Cummings desired to eventually become a CEO of an organization, and working in hospital administration was the fastest way for her to reach that goal.

Cummings worked for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Regional Hospital and Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C. However, after 12-hour workdays and being on call during the weekends, she felt that the hospital environment was not ultimately for her.

“I was sitting in line to the CEO [at Columbia Hospital] and I was in the administrative suite, so I was really well on my way to moving up into the CEO position,” says Cummings. “But while I was there, I found that I worked a whole lot. I was on call a lot on the weekends and I just felt like I didn’t have much of a life.”

After leaving the hospital, Cummings followed her passion for research and made the decision to go back to school for her doctorate, earning her Ph.D. in Health Policy and Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After living in North Carolina for four years, Cummings and her husband transitioned to Boston when both were hired by educational institutions at the same time. Her husband got a job at Harvard University and she became an assistant professor at Simmons College.

“We had a nice life, but I wasn’t really all that thrilled with the Boston area,” says Cummings, who returned to St. Louis in 2002 to teach at Washington University’s Health and Administration program.

After the program closed in 2008, Cummings stayed at the medical school and conducted research full-time. However, Cummings continued to face challenges with what her next step in life would be after her research group folded. Eventually, she decided she would try consulting and got a job at a healthcare consulting firm in the St. Louis area.

After she missed working in academia, Cummings began teaching on the side. In 2013, she joined the Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster as an associate professor.

“Webster is a great place,” says Cummings. “What I really like about Webster is the fact that our faculty is so very close. It has truly been a wonderful experience and it’s in large measures with the support I’ve received from the faculty. We have the best faculty here in the Walker School in Webster. They have been very supportive and have been great with our students. The staff as well.”

Cummings moved up the ladder of administration and was eventually named the Dean of the Walker School of Business and Technology in 2017. This makes her Webster’s first female African-American Dean. In addition to her current role, Cummings occasionally teaches in the business school to maintain a close connection to her students.

“I would say that this job has been the best part of my career so far,” says Cummings. “I love my job. I love every day, getting up and getting the opportunity to shape how the Walker School is going to move forward. It’s a very large role and it’s a role that makes a difference for not only students but also staff and faculty and the university overall.”

As dean, Cummings has focused on increasing the quality of the Walker School’s academic programs. The Walker School recently added a new program in data analytics and is upgrading their Bachelor of Science in computer science program. Additionally, Webster is upgrading their MBA by adding different emphasis areas such as oil and natural gas in order to make it more applicable.

In addition to working at Webster, Cummings volunteers frequently. She is on the board for the Lift for Life Academy, St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute, the YWCA and she sits on the sub-district commission for the history museum in St. Louis.

Though she is happy with her current position, Cummings has aspirations of someday becoming a college president.

“There are always things that I want to accomplish,” says Cummings. “When I counsel students or friends, I always tell them to put a plan in place. If you want to move forward, then you have to figure out where you are going to go and how you’re going to get there. For me personally, while I love what I am doing and want to continue doing this for a little while longer, my ultimate goal is to be a university president.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at swood@diverseeducation.com

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