Interim Dean Alexander McKelvie: Leadership Through an Entrepreneurial Lens

Alex McKelvie

For the past year, Alexander McKelvie has served as interim dean of the Whitman School of Management, but he’s been anything but a seat filler. Instead, McKelvie, a professor of entrepreneurship, who was previously the associate dean of undergraduate and graduate programs and former chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises (EEE) has been using his expertise to ensure that Whitman’s progress continues through new initiatives, partnerships, experiences and the creation of a more inclusive and welcoming culture that is keeping Whitman on an upward trajectory. 


“I think I was asked to become the associate dean and the interim dean because of how I approach things with an entrepreneurial mindset,” McKelvie explains. “I’ve been at Whitman since 2007. People know me and know how I work. It’s one thing to compile a ‘to-do’ list, but innovation really doesn’t count until something gets done, and that has always been engrained in me.” 


“This past year as interim dean has been about continuing to leverage the pockets of excellence that exist at Whitman while looking for creative and novel ways to work with partners in supporting student learning across various disciplines,” he continues. “I am passionate about figuring out where the bigger opportunities are and where the future of education is going, both for Whitman and the entire University. So, serving as interim dean has been a very entrepreneurial process for me in terms of finding solutions that benefit the School and making things happen.” 


Many accomplishments have been celebrated since McKelvie took on the role as interim dean, of which he is proud to have been an integral part. But, he is also quick to credit the team of innovative thinkers at Whitman—ranging from administrators and faculty to alumni and donors—who supported the School’s “Roadmap to Whitman’s Second Century” strategic plan put into place a number of years ago under former dean Eugene Anderson.  


The entrepreneurial ecosystem that surrounds McKelvie has led to a number of accomplishments in the past year alone. One of the most outstanding is the continued growth and diversity of Whitman’s undergraduate population. While the fall of 2022 saw the largest incoming class in the School’s history with 626 true first-year students, this fall is expected to see a class of first-year students that is highly qualified, diverse and, remarkably, more female than male. 


“Having a greater percentage of women than men is rare at any business school, but gender equity has been an ongoing goal at Whitman for some time,” he says, noting that there has been a targeted effort to have female faculty, role models, mentors and business leaders help create a more welcoming culture for young women seeking to study all areas of business. 


While the Class of 2027 will be the second largest in Whitman history, the acceptance rate was cut drastically by design, creating a more competitive student body and making Whitman a more desirable and sought-after place both among business schools and the schools and colleges at Syracuse University.  


“The incoming class is going to look much different, but we are not just chasing stats,” McKelvie explains. “We are bringing in students with academic and leadership excellence and a cohort that is closer to where our aspirations are as an exemplary business school.” 


The graduate programs have also seen growth, as the traditional master’s degrees remain popular with international students, and online programs, particularly the MBA, continue to draw working professionals from across the country. 


Another area that showcases McKelvie’s entrepreneurial leadership is the expansion of interdisciplinary programs and degrees. “Too often, business schools operate in silos, but we value partnerships with other programs that make education more relevant, novel and valuable. This, in turn, attracts more students to Whitman—and the entire University—for the unique experiences we can offer.” 


This past year saw Whitman pilot an M.D./MBA Program with SUNY Upstate Medical University allowing students to earn an MBA and a medical degree concurrently in five years. This pilot program has proven successful, creating a lot of interest and preparing to welcome more new students in the fall of 2023.  


In addition, Whitman recently announced two dual degree programs with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs—a master’s degree in public administration (M.P.A.) combined with an MBA, and an MBA with a master’s degree in international relations. Just a few months ago, Whitman and the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics announced interdisciplinary options that include dual undergraduate degrees in sport management and business or in public health and business, as well as a joint Master of Public Health (MPH) and MBA degree for graduate students. Also, Whitman announced a graduate-level Certificate of Advanced Study in Technology Law and Entrepreneurship (CASTLE) with the College of Law and an M.S. in Biotechnology/MBA dual degree with the College of Arts and Sciences. 


“These interdisciplinary programs are piquing student interest and bringing together various disciplines that Whitman and its partner schools share in order to help solve increasingly complex problems. Problem-solving skills can be greatly enhanced by business backgrounds ranging from entrepreneurship, supply chain management, finance, business analytics and more,” he says. “Through these interdisciplinary partnerships, we’re creating well-rounded students who will graduate with very specific skills and the ability to navigate complex topics in a world of accelerating change.” 


McKelvie’s focus on greater engagement with alumni has also helped the Whitman School address trending issues that impact students, faculty and changing workplace culture. For example, a recent gift of $500,000 from David ’91 and Dina ’91 (A&S) Nass is being directed to focusing on mental health issues faced by those entering a highly competitive workforce. The Nass gift will be used to start conversations demystifying mental health; this critically important topic will be woven into the Whitman culture through guest speakers, symposiums, technological resources and more. While the initiative is still in the early stages, both McKelvie and the Nass family hope it will ultimately share resources with other colleges and schools across campus. 


“This specific focus on mental health and work-life balance is something we really haven’t seen other business schools doing at this level, and it is thanks to the generosity of our alumni—in this case, the Nass family—that we will be able to better prepare our students for professional and personal success as we look to create other signature programs in line with this vision,” McKelvie says. 


The Whitman School also recently announced a local leadership initiative made possible through a generous gift from David Panasci ’80 to help connect student talent to local business leaders, expand professional networks and contribute to community building through a program offered in collaboration with Leadership Greater Syracuse that aims to keep students in Central New York after graduation. Launching this fall, it will offer students insight into regional leadership; economic development; diversity, equity and inclusion; and a vision for the future of the greater Syracuse community.  


“This program will introduce Whitman students to so many opportunities to see central New York, as a great place to launch their careers,” says McKelvie. “The vision behind it is that students will become more engaged citizens while at the Whitman School and will, in turn, stay on to contribute to this city’s long history of business innovation and success. We are grateful to David Panasci for helping the School provide this opportunity for our students and for the future of the Syracuse community.” 


While these initiatives are continuing to help Whitman raise its profile with ranking organizations and peer institutions, the entrepreneurial lens that is second nature to McKelvie keeps his wheels turning. He is committed to doing all he can in his role as interim dean to move Whitman further into the spotlight with other solutions, including pushing the research agenda to make sure that Whitman faculty are well supported to do world-class work in areas like AI, digital transformation, entrepreneurship, blockchain and more. He also hopes to see the Whitman School continue to cement relationships with more high-profile companies and business leaders, and to create additional experiential learning opportunities that take students out of the classrooms and into unique situations they won’t find at other business schools.  


“Today’s Whitman School is not the Whitman of five years ago, and that wasn’t by accident but through a commitment to identifying opportunities and finding ways to make things happen,” says McKelvie. “So many things have been made possible because of the partnership approach we’ve taken and our ability to build bridges within our own halls, across campus and into the greater Syracuse community. I hope we will continue to combine forces, break down silos and set up structures that are non-competitive and foster an environment where everyone gets what they need. And, of course, I want to make sure that the new permanent dean who is selected will have a strong foundation so they can make their mark, as well as a visionary and entrepreneurial-minded support system to make great ideas continue to happen at the Whitman School.” 

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