Nicole Jenkins was named the next Dean of the McIntire School of Commerce May 6 — replacing Carl Zeithaml, who served as dean for 23 years. The University announced in June 2019 that Zeithaml would be stepping down at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
Jenkins is currently vice dean of the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky. She earned B.S. degrees in Accounting and Finance from Drexel University, worked as an auditor at PriceWaterhouse LLP and earned her PhD in Accounting from the University of Iowa. In addition to her work at the University of Kentucky, Jenkins has held faculty positions at Vanderbilt University and Washington University.
“I grew up in a family-owned business,” Jenkins said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “My parents owned a trash company. And when you grow up in a family-owned business, you're sitting in such close proximity to that industry and that activity … And so that got me very interested in accounting.”
Some specific parts of the McIntire School that she is excited to maintain include the Integrated Core Experience, ICE — an undergraduate program for third-year Commerce students meant to impart a comprehensive view of the business world — as well as McIntire’s one-year M.S. in Commerce.
“The ICE experience really helps to connect all of the dots of what you're learning in the classroom [and] how it actually translates operationally into corporate life,” Jenkins said. “And I think what's fantastic that the School has done under the current dean is to provide these specialized master's programs. Students who perhaps are receiving an undergraduate major in another discipline have the opportunity to come into those one year specialized programs and receive business experience that kind of rounds out and complements their primary area of study.”
Jenkins values business research, and highlighted the equal commitment of McIntire faculty to both research and teaching as one of the reasons she is excited to work with the School.
“I think the main thing that business schools contribute is they help to broaden the understanding of how financial markets work,” Jenkins said. “If you can identify how markets or individual investors get misled by the actions of corporations, then those who are allocating resources can make better decisions.”
McIntire is home to six research centers — the Centers for Business Analytics, Global Commerce, Investors and Financial Markets, Management of Information Technology and Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The different centers conduct a broad array of research while hosting speaker series, forums and lectures as well as endowing professorships.
Jenkins has also published her own research in multiple accounting journals. Much of her research has focused on the study of share repurchases, which occur when stock prices go down and companies buy back their own market shares.
“What my research has focused on is how companies use those buybacks to artificially increase their earnings per share in a strategic way to present as though their performance is better than perhaps it actually is,” Jenkins said.
A potential implication of these buybacks is a misrepresentation of whether a company’s rising stock price is actually due to its financial health.
“It's not something that's going to be sustainable,” Jenkins said. “It's a mechanical effect.”
One of McIntire’s strengths that Jenkins plans to focus on is innovation. She sees the coronavirus not just as a difficult time for the School, but also as an opportunity to partner with students, faculty and staff at McIntire to continue its legacy of innovation.
“Innovation is part of who they are,” Jenkins said. “And this is just going to be an opportunity for us to really release that expertise in a way that's going to benefit, most importantly, our students, but also, in general, the long term health and success of the School.”
Specifically, Jenkins thinks that lessons learned from current online classes can lead to a richer educational experience for future McIntire students.
“I think faculty have learned a new set of tools,” Jenkins said. “So I think there's a lot of opportunities to use Zoom and other online platforms to expose students to experts around the world.”
Along with overseeing academics at Gatton, Jenkins has managed all diversity and inclusion efforts throughout her time as vice dean of the College.
“I think sometimes when we think about equity, diversity and inclusion, we think a lot about underrepresented people,” Jenkins said. “But I think there's a broader perspective when it comes to inclusion, which is we want all people allowed and welcome to bring their full selves into any environment.”
Finally, Jenkins underscored how excited and honored she is to take up the new position.
“My family and I are very excited for the opportunity,” Jenkins said. “I personally am very honored to have received the offer from the Provost and the President, and I look forward to not only partnering with the staff and faculty in the McIntire School but across Grounds.”