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Business in the Forefront

What’s new at Southern’s School of Business? A recently completed building designed to enhance learning, accreditation by the prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, a rock ‘n’ roll dean, and program enhancements including a planned STEM-aligned MBA. And that’s just the beginning.

THE SUN IS SHINING ON THE MORNING OF SEPTEMBER 15. But with an offshore storm kicking up fierce winds in New Haven, there’s a sense of anticipation among the standing-room-only crowd gathered outside for the opening of the new School of Business building. Guests are greeted by a steel-drum band. Skubie Mageza, a popular young host at ESPN, is serving as master of ceremonies. And the promised guest lecturer is Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, a legendary guitarist who played with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers — and is now an expert on national security and asymmetrical thinking. 

Then Jess Boronico, the dean of the business school, steps up to the podium — long rocker hair flowing — and teases the upcoming building tour with a song verse from rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer: “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside. Come inside.”

Soon after, the crowd does just that, touring the 64,000-square-foot building located on the corners of Farnham and Wintergreen avenues. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, speaking at the event, summarizes the experience quite nicely: “Walk in that building you know it’s about opportunity. Walk in that building, you know it’s about respect.”

A New Leader

A SELF-DESCRIBED EDUCATOR AND ENTERTAINER, BORONICO JOINED SOUTHERN AS DEAN OF THE BUSINESS SCHOOL IN JUNE 2022. He came to the university with a wealth of experience in higher education leadership, including posts at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), the University of New Haven, William Paterson University, and Monmouth University. At NYIT, which has campuses around the world, he served as a dean for 13 years, working in Canada, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and New York City.

Jess Boronico, dean of the School of Business

Boronico did not grow up planning to work in academia. A gifted musician, he began studying classical guitar at age 6. “I wanted to be the next Eric Clapton,” he says. He found success as a young man, performing up and down the East Coast with the band Babylon.

But earning a degree was always on his radar. Boronico, like 57 percent of Southern’s first-year class, is a first-generation college student. His father was a tradesman and neither of his late parents completed high school. “My parents were wonderful, the most influential people in my life,” he says. “They encouraged me and inspired me to pursue college because it provided access to opportunity.”

So, he enrolled at Farleigh Dickinson University, where he became a mathematician, and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees. There, Boronico also discovered the power of mentoring, courtesy of Richard Bronson, now professor emeritus of mathematics. “He stepped up and was just wonderful to me,” sums Boronico.

Professor Bronson brought his family to watch Boronico’s band play. He also convinced him to apply to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he ultimately earned a doctorate.

Today, Boronico — known on campus as Dean Jess — is building on his parents’ and Bronson’s belief in the power of education. It’s a commitment echoed by the faculty and staff at the School of Business, who are determined to provide students with an exceptional education complete with: realworld, experiential learning on campus and beyond; access to industry-standard technology; academic programs aligned with workforce needs; comprehensive career services; and more. Read on for some of many developments.

A New Home for the School of Business

THE NEW BUILDING IS DESIGNED TO SUPPORT STUDENT LEARNING AS WELL AS LOCAL BUSINESSES AND NONPROFITS. Organizations are invited to partner with the business school and its students and/or to rent a wide variety of specialized spaces.

In addition to nine general classrooms and lecture halls, there are case study rooms that seat 66 people — perfect for business-pitch competitions. For those studying market research, there’s a Behavioral/Marketing Lab with a built-in observation room. It’s equipped with one-way glass as well as visual- and audio-recording capabilities — and is an ideal site for focus groups and other market studies. A state-of-the-art area designated for financial markets and data analytics houses Bloomberg Terminals. Developed more than four decades ago, the terminals are the industry standard, used to provide lightning-fast access to news, data, insights, and trading.

“Southern is the only one of the Connecticut State Universities to have them,” says Amy Grotzke, assistant director of external relations. “So, business students can gain an understanding of the system — or even earn Bloomberg certifications, which they are eligible to do for free. It sets them apart and provides them with a competitive edge.”

Sustainable Southern

THE BUILDING ALSO IS IN A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN IN TERMS OF SUSTAINABILITY, the first constructed by the State of Connecticut to have a net-zero-energy carbon footprint. Put simply, the facility generates as much energy as it uses: 90 percent comes from solar panels in the parking lot on lower Farnham Avenue. The remaining needs are met by a below-ground geothermal field near the building. A large electronic display inside the main entrance shows electricity consumption, exemplifying the building’s uniqueness in the state.

Learn more about AACSB at

AACSB Accreditation

AACSB ACCREDITATION IN SPRING 2023, THE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS ACHIEVED A MILESTONE earned by less than five percent of business schools worldwide: accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the oldest and largest global accrediting organization for business schools.

It’s been a long-term goal, one Dean Boronico says is “a testimonial to what is attainable through collaboration and a belief in a common mission.” He lauds Ellen Durnin, the former dean who served from 2010 to January 2021, and Robert Forbus, former accreditation coordinator and professor of marketing, for their past accomplishments and leadership. More recently, he recognizes Kauther Badr, Esq., the current accreditation coordinator and associate professor of management, and Alison Wall, director of assurance learning and associate professor of management, for their guidance — in addition to significant contributions made by School of Business faculty, staff, alumni, and the community-at-large.

AACSB accreditation is important on several levels, says Benjamin Abugri, MBA director and professor of finance: “When you graduate from an AACSB-accredited university, the job market looks at you differently. . . . At the most fundamental level, AACSB accreditation shows that a business school engages in continuous improvement in every aspect of its operations: research, teaching, curriculum, resource deployment, everything.” Southern’s business school plans to establish a chapter of Beta Gamma Sigma, a prestigious international honor society that is exclusive to AACSB-accredited universities.

“Now, we are pursuing accreditations from two other organizations: the European Foundation for Management Development and the Association of MBAs,” says Boronico.


GRADUATE EDUCATION IS A MAJOR FOCUS OF THE BUSINESS SCHOOL: plans are in place to fully STEM align the MBA program by the fall 2024 semester — embedding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into the entire MBA curriculum. Abugri explains: “An MBA prepares students for decisionmaking roles with for-profit and nonprofit organizations. This is about learning how to embed STEM into the decision-making process to make better decisions.”

The STEM-aligned MBA is a tremendous draw for international students. Those pursuing a STEM MBA in this country have an extended optional practical training (OPT) period of three years for internships, etc., due in part to workforce needs in the U.S. In comparison, a standard MBA has a one-year OPT. International students also typically seek out a university with AACSB accreditation.

As a result, international student enrollment is expected to increase dramatically at Southern when the STEM-aligned MBA program is launched.

Venugopal Prabhakar Gantasala, associate dean, is leading outreach efforts with universities and high-tech companies around the world in locations including India, Ghana, Nigeria, China, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

“We anticipate that we will more than double our MBA enrollment,” he says. A global citizen in his own right, Gantasala was born in India and worked 12 years in England. He then joined Dean Boronico at NYIT, also working in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, New York City, and now, New Haven, Conn. “The dean’s mentorship during the last 15 years is a big reason why I am here. We share a firm belief in servant leadership — and I am so excited about the prospects at Southern.”

Boronico concurs: “It is important to provide opportunity for students from across the world to engage with our students, and it is equally important to provide our students from the U.S. with diversified perspectives, to show them firsthand what globalization is all about.” ■

Read more in the Winter 2024 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.


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