Purdue Profiles: Charlene Sullivan

January 24, 2012

Charlene Sullivan, associate dean of undergraduate programs and finance professor. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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In nearly 35 years as a finance professor at the Krannert School of Management, Charlene Sullivan has kept her focus not on Wall Street, but Main Street. Her common sense, applied approach to business has proven successful both in and out of the classroom. The recipient of numerous teaching awards and a longtime member of the Teaching Academy and the University Senate, Sullivan also has earned accolades for her work in the Technical Assistance Program (TAP) and Purdue's Speakers Bureau.

In her new role as associate dean of undergraduate programs at the Krannert School, Sullivan is charged with invigorating and expanding the student experience through initiatives such as an expansion of international and experiential learning opportunities. She also will ensure that the school's undergraduate curriculum remains vibrant and progressive by leveraging its strength in analytical, quantitative business insight.  

What brought you to Purdue and the Krannert School?

My father-in-law had gone to Purdue as an undergraduate and fallen in love with Big Ten sports, especially football, so my husband came to a lot of games here while growing up and we became fans, too. We were undergraduates at the University of Kentucky in 1971 when Purdue recruited him for a job in the University's business office. We were so excited to be leaving the SEC for Big Ten country!

I got a job on campus in what was then called the educational placement office, where I learned about Krannert's new Master of Science in Management (MSM) degree program. Unlike the master's program in industrial administration (MSIA), it was designed for people who didn't necessarily have a background in engineering or science. I finished the program in about 15 months, stayed on to get my Ph.D., and then joined the faculty.
What drives your commitment to teaching and research?

It was during my Ph.D. studies, I got the opportunity to teach and really fell in love with the students. I figured out that everyone needed to understand the principles of finance, regardless of what they thought they were going to be when they grew up. So I had a lot of enthusiasm for what I was teaching and tried to light the fire in the students!

My first faculty appointment at Krannert was as a research associate in the Credit Research Center, which at the time was the only research center based in an academic setting that focused on consumer and mortgage credit. The research we were doing was unique; it was marketed as unbiased academic research that was used to craft public policy. We testified on it before state and federal legislative bodies. We presented it to managers of financial institutions. We were called on frequently to explain our work to the media and to lawyers. The first Wall Street Journal quote I ever had related to a column about developments in consumer credit markets.

I've continued to take an applied approach both in my teaching and my engagement work outside the classroom, particularly through activities associated with Purdue's Technical Assistance Program. 

What topics do you address in your assignments from the Speakers Bureau?

Serving on the boards of Purdue Federal Credit Union and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago gave me an opportunity to develop and discuss economic forecasts, especially in the area of the general domestic economy, consumer spending, the role of consumer credit as a driver of economic activity, and the health of the household balance sheet.
So several times a year, the Speakers Bureau has a request for an economic outlook.  What makes my presentations unique is that they take the perspective of the household sector of the economy, which in the United States drives 70 percent of the growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

What are some of your broad goals for Krannert's undergraduate program?

Walk across the Purdue campus and you will see how global Purdue has become. This is especially true in Krannert. For some undergraduates, taking a class with students from other countries is the closest they have been to another culture. It's the same for international students whose only experience outside their native countries may be coming to Purdue.

The ability to understand other cultures -- through study abroad or working in class with a globally diversified team -- is an important part of the education for all undergraduates.  Remember that Purdue's strategic plan is to prepare students to be global leaders! Developing more opportunities for global exchange is a priority for our new dean (P. Christopher Earley) and a very exciting opportunity for Krannert.

Through my work with TAP, I also know how important it is for students to be engaged and involved in real hands-on activities outside the classroom. They get a lift when they can apply their classroom knowledge to address real-time management problems.

At Krannert, we've developed experiential learning opportunities for MBA students. We want to involve undergraduates more in the same type of activities. They are eager for experiences that develop and improve the skills they'll need to be innovative leaders.