Following a nationwide search—and citing a new vision for a transformative business education—Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has selected the Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson as the next dean of the university's Robert A. Foisie Business School effective January 1, 2021.
Jackson is a widely respected business, academic, and spiritual leader. She has held C-suite and other leadership roles in technology companies, managed the growth of large and small nonprofits, and contributed years of service to the WPI Board of Trustees. She holds a doctorate of ministry in leadership from Andover Newton Theological School, and in 2017 was named the inaugural Director of Lifelong Learning at Yale Divinity School. Jackson also holds master’s degrees from WPI in both manufacturing engineering and management.
“As a university that prides itself on theory and practice with impact, WPI continually aspires to meet the needs of today’s highly dynamic world. As part of our efforts, we are focused on repositioning the Foisie Business School as an essential academic enterprise at the intersection of business, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), and humanity. We are seeking to create a set of unique-in-the-nation experiences to ensure STEM students and professionals have the critical skills necessary to make meaningful contributions through the business world. Our transformational approach required us to embrace a broad search for talent to find the person with just the right expertise, experience, and passion to lead the school, and we have found that person in Dr. Debora Jackson,” said WPI President Laurie Leshin. “She brings a compelling vision for business education, wide-ranging expertise, tremendous depth of technical and business knowledge, and proven leadership skills along with a unique perspective and remarkable insights. She is one of WPI’s most distinguished and accomplished graduates, and I am thrilled that she will be coming home to the hill.”
Jackson’s interest in leading WPI’s Foisie Business School stems from her belief that today’s businesses ought to make a difference not only for their employees and partners, but in local and global communities. "Our world requires strategic thinkers and leaders who are innovative in ways that yield societal impact while also engaging diverse constituencies," she said. "The way people work—and their goals for the work they do—continually evolve, and this is a particularly wonderful time for WPI and the Foisie Business School to reimagine our work and mission so that we can best provide the education and the skills needed by our students, industry, and the globe. I am so grateful that WPI has given me the opportunity to be part of this transformation.”
"Our world requires strategic thinkers and leaders who are innovative in ways that yield societal impact while also engaging diverse constituencies."-Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson
Jackson spent 20 years in software engineering after earning her bachelor’s degree in information systems and operations management at Indiana University Bloomington. She went on to earn her master’s degree in management at WPI with a goal of becoming a business leader, and then completed a master’s in manufacturing engineering in order to more effectively manage in the manufacturing industry. Her extensive industry background includes serving as both the Chief Operations Officer and Chief Information Officer at Smart Energy and holding director positions at Avicon Group, Sherpa Corporation, and Accusoft Corporation.
In 2000, Jackson enrolled in Andover Newton Theological School to heed a calling to the ministry and to better serve humanity. There she earned a master’s degree of divinity followed by a doctorate of ministry in leadership and went on to direct Lifelong Learning at Yale Divinity School. She is currently the director of operations for All Girls Allowed, Inc., a faith-based, non-profit focused on educating and empowering women and girls and engaging partners to realize global impact. In this role, she created and implemented a strategic plan that included the development of the Joyful Life Programs, an innovative online platform designed to serve an estimated $39 billion personal development market. Jackson is also an executive consultant for several nonprofit and faith-based organizations, past director of The Ministers Council, American Baptist Churches, USA, and Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Needham, Mass.
She has written numerous articles and has authored two books on effective leadership, Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7 Rs of Sanctuary for Pastors (2015), which received the Illuminations Book Silver Medal Award, and Meant for Good: Fundamentals in Womanist Leadership (2019).
“At a university where real-world experience is woven into every program, Dr. Jackson is the perfect fit to lead our efforts to create the business school of the future here at WPI,” said Winston Soboyejo, Provost and Senior Vice President. “Her experience and passion for leading companies, building partnerships and striving for success with an emphasis on social responsibility will greatly contribute to the growth and vitality of the Foisie Business School while fostering its innovative and entrepreneurial culture.”
In 2019 Jackson was inducted into the WPI Hall of Luminaries, which recognizes individuals who have made exceptional contributions to their fields and to humanity. (Her
inspiring acceptance speech can be seen here.) She also served as a member of WPI’s Board of Trustees from 2012 until her appointment as Dean; her tenure included chairing the Student Affairs Committee of the Board since 2016. As a trustee, she gained an intimate understanding of the university’s mission of theory, practice, and impact, a mission she plans to continue to advance as dean.
“I have long admired the outstanding faculty, dedicated staff, and the passionate and engaged alumni and students who continue to make the Foisie Business School a success,” said Jackson. “I am truly excited about working with these innovators in continuing the tremendous momentum as we focus on our unique mission to develop talent for a changing world.”
The Foisie Business School at WPI has been recognized for project-based education that integrates the theory and practice of management and prepares students to assume positions of leadership in an increasingly global business environment. Jackson will succeed Professor Steve Taylor, who has served as Dean ad interim since the summer of 2018.