Ajay Samant, the new dean of the University of North Florida Coggin College of Business, wants to connect graduates to the community and students to the world.
“I see our contribution mainly through our students. We are interested in working with the community in many different areas,” said Samant last week as he was completing his first two months on the job.
Samant became dean, as well as a professor of finance, on July 1. He succeeds John McAllister, who was dean for five years and will return in the spring, after a leave, as a professor.
Samant, 50, spent 18 years at the Western Michigan University Haworth College of Business in Kalamazoo. He joined as an assistant professor of finance and rose to become chair of the Department of Finance and Commercial Law, then served as associate dean and interim dean.
UNF President John Delaney said Samant was impressive.
“He had great experience at Western Michigan as the interim dean. He is a classic academic and also a skilled manager and successful fundraiser,” said Delaney.
“The Coggin College has historically been a prodigious fundraiser, and that is necessary in this economic and academic time. He has terrific interpersonal skills as well,” he said.
Samant said the connection between Jacksonville and UNF was evident from the start.
“When I was interviewing here, it was very clear to me that the community is greatly interested in the university and the university is greatly interested in the community,” said Samant.
“The Coggin College of Business is well poised for making a contribution to the university and the community,” he said.
Samant said about 2,800 undergraduates are enrolled in the college and about 650 students are in graduate programs. He said the college has about 75 faculty and 30 nonfaculty members.
Each year, the college graduates about 800 students, he said.
They tend to stick around.
Samant said about 70 percent of the graduates of the Coggin College of Business stay in Jacksonville after graduation. “That is a very high percentage when you look at universities across the country,” he said.
“Given that so many of our graduates choose to remain in the Jacksonville area, I think my first, most important duty is to maintain the quality of education and take it a notch further.”
Samant said the college offers “what we call transformational opportunities.”
“We have many students here who have never been out of the state of Florida,” he said, and the transformational opportunity would be the ability to study abroad.
“It helps in terms of understanding global economic forces,” he said.
In addition, the college is working on connecting students with industry “so they have a feel for what the business world really wants.”
Samant said the college looks forward to engaging the students in community service and continuing its mentorship program.
He said the college pairs about 40 students with area business people in for-profit and nonprofit organizations for two semesters in a mentoring program.
“They learn a lot in that process,” he said.
“Our expectation is that these students will eventually work in the Jacksonville area and contribute even more to the community,” he said.
In addition, the college will continue to provide insights into financial and economic trends; focus on its transportation and logistics program; and continue to develop its international business program, including bringing speakers to the community.
“Those are my plans at this time, to strengthen these programs,” he said.
“I expect to see the university and the Coggin College of Business play a much bigger role in the business community.”
Samant said Delaney is “very committed to using the expertise that UNF has” to offer to the community.
Samant also will be joining the speaking circuit.
His first impression of Northeast Florida is that “it combines all the opportunities you would find in a bigger city with the quality of life of a small town.”
“What I find very interesting is the sheer diversity of people who live in Jacksonville and the diversity of lifestyles that are possible here.”
Samant hasn’t decided where to live. His wife and twin 13-year-old daughters remain in Michigan for the teenagers to complete middle school.
Samant earned a bachelor’s degree in statistics and a master’s in economics at the University of Bombay, now called the University of Mumbai, in India and earned his doctorate at Indiana University Bloomington.