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When new students see Snead Hall — the home base of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business — for the first time, Naomi Boyd, Ph.D., wants them to feel like they belong.

“If students know this is a space where they are free to be who they are, they will be empowered to question everything, harness the power of innovation, and know they have our support to propel them to their true potential,” said Boyd, the new dean of the VCU Business School.

The 145,000-square-foot, four-story building, which opened in 2008, is an incredible space capable of educating the next generation of innovative business leaders, Boyd said. “I love our building, and I want to incorporate learning labs for industry-led projects, externships with corporate plug-ins that will allow students to work where they learn and immediately apply the knowledge they are getting in their courses.

“It is not only our job to impart knowledge to our students, but to make them ready to face the many challenges that a technologically advancing, global business marketplace imposes. We can meet them where they are, provide opportunities to develop them into the world’s next leaders, capable of changing our world. It’s truly our mission to have them leave Snead Hall and walk into industry and not miss a beat. To really prepare them for what’s to come next, we have to embed mindful leadership into our mission and curriculum, and truly create a culture of care. We need to create a curriculum that allows our students to live the life that they want to live.”

‘These are my people’

Boyd herself felt right at home when she visited the university for the first time.

She wasn’t looking for a change. In fact, she loved her job as associate dean for innovation, outreach and engagement at West Virginia University, and as chair, professor and the Fred T. Tattersall Chair of Finance in the John Chambers College of Business and Economics Department of Finance.

But forces — from headhunters to her husband — kept prodding her to check VCU out.

When Boyd came here, she realized “these are my people.”

“I immediately saw all of these incredible opportunities to really impact and influence,” she said. “And that’s really why I came to VCU. The ability to work on an R1 urban campus [R1 denotes a doctoral university with very high research activity] that has an incredible reputation, grounded in medicine and the arts, in the heart of Virginia’s capital city surrounded by industry gave me the sense that the opportunities here are endless.

“Our student population is so rich and diverse and if we harness that we have something really special. At VCU we truly organically have what organizations are looking for in terms of a diverse mindset capable of leading corporate social responsibility, sustainability and innovation.”

Boyd officially started July 1, but has been meeting with leaders from across campus, the community, and within the school since VCU hired her eight months ago. Where traditional business schools can be very rigid, Boyd said, VCU has the opportunity to change that model. “If we embrace our culture, our people and our potential, there is truly no end to where we will go as a school and VCU as an institution. The new university brand says exactly that: ‘We are different and that is why we are here.’”

Short leap from dance to finance

Boyd grew up in Dallas where she attended a performing arts junior high school primarily for music. Eventually, her passion for dance took over. She spent her high school years deeply embedded in Dallas’ arts community at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Boyd empathizes with first-generation students because she was the first in her immediate family to go to college as a traditional student. It was her first foray into the life of dorms, student loans and trying to figure out how to pay tuition.

“I ended up going to the University of Texas [at Austin] because I was very pragmatic,” she said. “It was the cheapest option in the state, so, from a financial perspective, it was doable.”

Boyd received a B.F.A. in dance from UT Austin, while also training at Dallas Black, Ballet Dallas and, eventually, Ballet Austin. When life took her young family to Lubbock, Texas, she decided to hang up the pointe shoes and go to business school, as her father had done. Retiring early was primarily driven by a back injury, a common one among dancers and gymnasts alike. She found new ways to be creative using her analytical abilities to pursue an M.B.A. in finance from Texas Tech University and eventually a Ph.D. in finance from the George Washington University.

When people wonder how she made the leap from dance to finance, Boyd is unfazed.

“Why wouldn’t I?” she asked. “From an intellectual perspective, being a dance major, I wrote critical analyses of different pieces of dance, art and theater almost daily, so moving into a discipline that is so focused on analytics, looking for trends and shifts in terms of the marketplace … building out that narrative came naturally in many ways.”

After spending eight years in the Office of the Chief Economist at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Boyd became embedded in the work of understanding innovations that were happening in trading and capital markets. Her research focuses on investments and market microstructure, and she firmly believes that her work at the commission during a time of such incredible change in financial markets helped her see how technology is moving the entire field of business into new, uncharted domains.

“Coming to VCU, which houses a top school of the arts, to lead a business school is like coming full circle for me,” Boyd said. “I’m really just excited to have the opportunity to integrate business into the strong, rich cultural aspects of the university. This is a place where great things truly can happen. It is a place where we don’t just talk about innovation, but we create that innovation and bring it into industry.”

Question everything

“My big focus is on disruption,” Boyd said. “My charge to our faculty, staff and students is to question everything: disrupt the way you work, learn and teach to ensure we are not boxed into the way we have always done things. Questioning things leads to innovation. And innovation allows us to emerge as leaders.”

Boyd said she believes wholly in the mission of VCU to provide access to high quality education for the commonwealth. To do that in a meaningful way, she hopes to grow programs that are informed by industry, to harness the power of the school’s diversity and to capture the strength of a renowned R1 institution to break down silos and create interdisciplinary degrees.

And, most importantly, she said, to support the school’s faculty, staff and students to change the world around them in impactful ways.

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