The P&Q Interview: AI & Tech Professor GJ de Vreede, Dean Of The Stevens School of Business

Stevens Institute of Technology and its School of Business is just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, an epicenter for finance and fintech. Courtesy photo

Gert-Jan “GJ” de Vreede will take over as dean of Stevens Institute of Technology’s School of Business effective September 1. He will also be a member of Stevens faculty and plans to spend at least some time in the classroom.

de Vreede will replace retiring dean Gregory Prastacos, who has led the Stevens School of Business since 2012.

Born and raised in the Netherlands, de Vreede earned his MS and PhD in information systems from Delft University of Technology, a technology- and engineering-focused school with a business college – much like Stevens. He is a widely recognized scholar in artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing, and collaboration engineering.

“This spring, I got connected with Stevens and it felt like going home. It so aligns with my personal background, with my philosophy on research and training students. In the Netherlands we say, ‘like hand in a glove’ and that’s how it felt,” de Vreede tells Poets&Quants.

AN EMPHASIS ON AI, ENTREPRENEURSHIP, AND TECH

de Vreede’s entrepreneurship and new technology expertise is a fitting complement to Stevens, a private research university in Hoboken, New Jersey, serving about 8,000 students per year. Some 62% of its graduate students in Fall 2023 were international.

One value proposition of its School of Business is preparing students for the digital economy, particularly in the fast-growing fintech space. Its STEM designed MBA rose from No. 85 to No. 69 on P&Q’s MBA composite ranking this year.

The B-school is home to the Center for Research toward Advancing Financial Technologies (CRAFT), the first fintech-focused Industry University Cooperative Research center funded by the National Science Foundation. Just last month, it was selected as the founding academic partner for NJFAST, a fintech and insurtech startup accelerator in partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play.

“GJ de Vreede is an outstanding selection to lead Stevens’ School of Business into the future. His impressive scholarship in artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship and technology aligns perfectly with Stevens’ strengths and strategic vision,” said Stevens president Nariman Farvardin. “Under his leadership, I am confident the School of Business will continue elevating its national reputation for developing the next generation of innovators and business leaders.”

de Vreede most recently comes from the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business where he has served as interim dean since August 2022. At USF, he led a consolidation effort to combine three separate USF campuses and business schools into “One USF.” That meant realigning curriculum, work policies, evaluation procedures and more across the three campuses’ b-schools. He also rolled out a new workplace readiness program for all Muma undergrads and oversaw an impressive climb in rankings for several programs as academic director of Muma’s graduate programs.

He previously taught information systems at the University of Nebraska Omaha from 2002 to 2015. There, he created the Center for Collaboration Science, an interdisciplinary research and education center focused on how people work together.

Poets&Quants recently caught up with de Vreede to talk about his career, accomplishments, and his plans for Stevens School of Business. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with a bit about your background and your path to Stevens Institute of Technology.

I was born and raised in the Netherlands. I graduated from Delft University of Technology, which is like Stevens in the Netherlands: A technology focused engineering school, but also with business like colleges. About 22 years ago, I moved to Omaha to join the University of Nebraska at Omaha as a professor of information systems. There, I set up the Center for Collaboration Science that included faculty from all six colleges, and we worked on projects for the local community, the national community, and federal agencies to study how people work together and how you can make them more productive and more effective.

GJ de Vreede will become dean of Stevens School of Business effective September 1.

In 2015, the University of South Florida called me up and we moved South. In 2018, I was invited to serve as interim dean of the Sarasota-Manatee campus. USF, at that time, was three different campuses in the same system, but with our own accreditation. They were completely independent – they each had their own leadership, each had their own business school with its own dean and its own AACSB accreditation.

By law, we had to consolidate in 2020. To prepare for that, the three deans started working together and I was one of those three. Then in 2019, I became associate dean for research and graduate programs for the three campuses.

In 2022, the dean of the Muma College of Business became president at the University of North Florida, so I became the interim dean. I’ve done that now for almost two years; I have about 11 days to go.

This spring, I got connected with Stevens and it felt like going home. It so aligns with my personal background, with my philosophy on research and training students. In the Netherlands we say, “like hand in a glove” and that’s how it felt.

What do you think sets Stevens School of Business apart from its competitors?

Technology is a key differentiator. Technology is everywhere, and it’s going to be everywhere if the last few years with AI has taught us anything. But Stevens is more than just focusing on the technology as a tool that you engineer. They really are looking critically at how you can best use technology, how you can make decisions with technology, while still using critical thinking and keeping an ethical compass. So it’s not just about the bottom line, but also about the sustainable bottom line for businesses.

Another thing that sets Stevens apart is that they’re very innovative. If you see where Stevens came from, you really have to tip our hat to the current dean, Gregory Prastacos. He has taken a fairly small school to a full fledged accredited business school that is ranking really high. It increased the number of programs and has become comprehensive. I think people outside of the education field don’t recognize or appreciate how difficult it is at times to start new programs – to get people on board, to get the community engaged, to get the faculty engaged, and then get enrollments growing. But they have done that.

Personally, you could tell probably from my brief narrative, I like building things. I like to be in an environment that’s a bit entrepreneurial. I see myself as an academic entrepreneur. It’s not a matter of if we should do it, but how are we going to do it? And I think that is what sets Stevens apart. I visited many business schools, and they don’t all have that innovative outlook.

I think that is gonna pay dividends in the future. There’s so much opportunity out there that we can capitalize on, and there’s so many needs. I mean, businesses are struggling with the pace of development at the moment. If you think about upskilling and reskilling, they are looking for help. So we have a role to fulfill.

The other thing that really struck me when I visited Stevens the very first time compared to other universities is the silos are not so firm. There is a lot of permeation between the colleges, between the disciplines; people work together. At the University of Nebraska Center on Collaboration Science, on my management team, there was a management professor, another management professor with an IS background, and a psychologist. We also had somebody from arts and communication and education and public administration. They were all working together. We had PhD students working on projects with faculty from different disciplines.That is where the magic happens. I think that’s what I’m seeing at Stevens. You see what the engineering school is doing with the humanities, with the business school in entrepreneurship, where those things come together. I’m really excited as you can tell.

What is your vision and major goals for the business school in your first term?

There’s a couple of areas where we really want to make headway, and one is expanding on international and graduate enrollments. Maybe that’s through different recruiting, but especially looking at some of the programs where we can integrate and make cross linkages between the colleges.

Another is the infusion of AI throughout all the majors because the workforce of tomorrow is the workforce that needs to know how to use these tools wisely. They say AI won’t replace you, but somebody using AI will replace you, so we have to make sure that our graduates are the ones that know how to use these tools well.

I’m also going to be exploring different types of experiential initiatives for students. So, for example, a new initiative announced a few weeks ago is the New Jersey Fintech Accelerator at Stevens Institute of Technology, (NJ FAST). It’s a partnership between Stevens, the Economic Development Authority, the governor of New Jersey, and Plug and Play. It’s going to be an incubator with fintech startups, and there will be room for some of our students to work alongside those startups, intern, participate, and so on. That’s going to be a significant shift and the type of experiences we can give our students, and I want to explore more opportunities like that.

Will that be geared to students of all levels, or more for MBAs or graduate students?

I believe for students of all levels, but it depends on the type of fintech initiative. You can imagine that if the tech is more based on, say, an app like Excel, or those types of payment apps, they will be looking at students that have more of a technology background in app development. If it’s focused more on AI and prediction of financial markets, they will look at financial engineering and finance students. Fintech is such an umbrella of technologies that there will be something for everyone.

Two other things I want to explore at Stevens: One, as I mentioned, is reskilling and upskilling. So the notion of certificates, and potentially stackable certificates. For example, how does an organization govern their AI use and the implementation of AI? We all focus on the technology. We’re all amazed by what Claude and ChatGPT can do, but now how do you use that from a policy point of view within the organization? How do you train your people? How do you monitor that they’re using it well, and cover your liability? I think there’s a lot that we can offer to train people.

Then, last but not least, is the development of partnerships with the business community. We often talk about public private partnerships, but I like to think of it as the four ‘Ps.’ – public, private, and philanthropic partnerships. You see that a little bit in the incubator that I just mentioned, but getting parties from different backgrounds together to create an initiative that is new and that meets a need in the market. Then you can make a difference.

NEXT PAGE: Why Stevens wants to be the B-school for fintech

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