Setting Off Sparks at Shenandoah: Miles Davis

For Associate Professor of Management, Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Dean of the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. Business School Miles Davis, Ph.D., setting off the spark for students at Shenandoah University begins with exposing them to opportunities
that mesh with their potential, and with challenges necessary for students to stretch their abilities, take responsibility for their successes and realize the potential opportunities that exist “at the top.” Davis is passionate about education as a force for change in the lives of students.

“I was one of those people who had some struggles in life,” he said. “But it was through meeting an educator who convinced me of the value of a high-quality education that I said, ‘Okay, I can turn my life around. Education can make a difference in my life.’”

Education has certainly made a difference in Davis’ life. On July 1, he assumed the role of dean of the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. Business School, succeeding W. Randy Boxx, Ph.D. Under Boxx’s leadership, the business school earned AACSB International (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation in 2007; a process begun by former Dean Stanley E. Harrison. Also during Boxx’s tenure, Halpin-Harrison Hall, the $13 million facility housing the business school, was built, dedicated and opened.

As Davis prepares to lead the business school toward the next stage of its evolution, his passion for changing lives through education is matched by his commitment to the idea that collaboration and serving others are values that should influence one’s business practices and decisions. His rich history of experiences with people from different faiths and cultures reflects the business school’s mission to create successful, principled business leaders with global perspective.

“I try to find a common ground,” Davis said. “There are lots of small things we can argue about and things we can disagree on, but what are the things we have in common? Understanding and appreciating other cultures doesn’t mean we have to change our particular views. It just means we have to understand that different people have different perspectives.”

Davis’ vision for the future of the Byrd School is a theme he developed, “Excellence
in Innovation.” He hopes to pursue a steady path of growth while maintaining Shenandoah’s small-school status. But his primary focus is taking care of the faculty and ensuring Shenandoah’s business programs are among the best available. For Davis, this involves ongoing evaluation and analysis of current programs, of asking, “What will students need to compete in a world that is constantly changing? And how do we deliver that information in a world that is always in flux?” He stresses that, in order to stay ahead of the rapidly evolving global business community, “We must constantly rethink ourselves.”

“I hate the phrase, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”’ Davis stated. “The problem is that you’re becoming reactionary, you’re waiting for something to break to fix it. I would prefer that we intentionally break something and rebuild it to make it better, because then we’re actively engaged in a process that allows us to see when something needs to be broken.”

Davis cites the faculty as the business school’s greatest strength. Unlike many business schools whose faculty have terminal degrees but little experience in the world of business, many of Shenandoah’s business faculty possess terminal degrees along with years of practical business experience. But it’s Shenandoah’s small-school status that Davis finds most beneficial for students.

“Our ability to know and engage our students is one of our greatest strengths,” he said. “One of the things we do well is the part of our mission statement about globalization. We engage the world, and for a small school, that’s a good thing. Quite frankly, most of us will get to know your name. We will engage you. I get to hear the good, and I get to hear some of the more personal challenges students are facing. I think it’s important for students who are away from home for the first time to have a faculty member or support services to help them navigate the challenges, not just in the classroom, but the challenges in life.”

“Everyone has the potential to make a contribution,” Davis stated. The challenge
he sees is in helping students recognize their unique place in the world, and in connecting with them where they are in their individual situations. For Davis, those opportunities to help students recognize their potential are truly what “setting off the spark” is all about.