Office of Public Affairs

Dean Joanne Williams connecting students with real world professions

Joanne Williams — USM’s dean of the College of Management and Human Service — knew the answer before she asked the question.

“How many of you professors have either owned a company or managed one?” she asked. A collection of School of Business faculty, including several new professors, sat behind a long conference table.

Williams beamed as almost every hand went up.

The professors’ connection to the business community exemplifies the work that happens throughout the College of Management and Human Service, she said.

“These are all the professional schools,” Williams said. “They’re embedded in the community.”

It’s a message that’s been building since she was selected by USM President Glenn Cummings to take over the college in 2015. Cummings, who began at USM in July of that year, surprised her with the promotion, initially as the interim dean.

Williams, who had started the Sport Management program at USM and served as its chair, was tasked with helping the coalescing college excel.

Besides the School of Business, the College of Management and Human Services also includes the School of Education and Human Development, the School of Social Work and the Muskie School of Public Service.

“Each of the schools is really unique,” she said. “They have their own strengths and identities.”

They fit together when they’re examined from the need to prepare students for professions in the community and, whenever possible, forge connections while they are still enrolled.

The success is extraordinary.

“Last year, we did more than 1,000 internships and field placements in our college,” Williams said. “Connecting our students to real world experiences is one of our strengths. There are a lot of really good things happening.”

Williams hadn’t imagined this career — in this place — when she was young.

She grew up in the village of Lowton in the northwest of England, about halfway between Liverpool and Manchester. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education in London’s Brunel University in 1987 and taught school for three years before she decided to come to the United States. She’d been an exceptional field hockey player and devoted coach, so she decided to pursue graduate work in Sport Management.

“I wanted to explore the business side of the sports industry,” she said.

She enrolled at Springfield College in western Massachusetts, intending to return to England after earning a master’s degree in 1991. Instead, she stayed.

She went to work in the sport industry, working for several years in professional golf and tennis. She served as the tournament director of the McCalls LPGA Classic at Stratton Mountain, VT.

In 1997, she earned her doctorate at Springfield College and served as a professor and administrator at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts before coming to USM in 2007.

Now in her third year as dean, she strives to be forward thinking.

As enrollment increases, programs are striving to better serve students and the community.

For instance, the Master’s in Social Work program is working on low residency requirements that would allow some working students to gain experience with their current employers.

“It’s really hard to go back to school,” Williams said. “We’re trying to look at how to keep the quality program and give the students what they need but also find a way to do it that’s more flexible for them.”

Meanwhile, the Muskie School of Public Service's graduate and undergrad programs are growing. The school is preparing to launch a new bachelor's degree in Public Health.

The School of Education and Human Development is trying to offer more courses online and the School of Business is working to refocus its undergraduate curriculum and mission statement around entrepreneurial thinking.

The aim is to continue seeking ways to be better and meet the needs of changing students and a changing marketplace

“Our educational programs are very strong,” Williams said. “Our innovation will make us stand out in the crowd and give our students great skill sets as they go out into the world.”

Story by Daniel Hartill and photo by Alan Bennett,  USM Office of Public Affairs