Sharon Matusik ’86, whose mother was a secretary and whose father was an assembly-line worker in Chicago, was a first-generation college student when she came to Colby.
It wasn’t always easy for her. But she thrived on the intellectual challenges she found in the classes she took to get a double major with honors in economics and English, and she has gone on to blaze her own trail in higher education.
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Matusik is the new dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, which was ranked this year as one of the country’s top 10 business schools by U.S. News & World Report.
“Because education opened up so many opportunities for me personally, it is deeply meaningful for me to be able to help other students open up opportunities for themselves through education,” she said.
Previously, she served as dean of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she was honored this spring with the Excellence in Leadership Award. The provost of the university, Russell Moore, said that Matusik had made the business school an invaluable part of the Boulder campus.
“As dean, Sharon brings an incredible blend of kindness, compassion, and strength, which is very rare in a leader,” he said.
Matusik took a somewhat winding road to get to this point in her career. In high school, she “really liked the idea of a liberal arts college,” and decided to go to Colby when her friend’s sister enrolled. “It was not a very scientific process,” she said.
At Colby, she balanced studying with working. Nowadays, through the Colby Commitment, the College is among a small group of colleges that offers to meet 100 percent of students’ demonstrated financial need without loans. But in the 1980s, that was not the case. At one point, she took a semester off to take a job.
Matusik believes she values her education more than she might have otherwise because she worked so hard for it. “It was very formative for me,” she said.
One of her more unusual work-study jobs was helping to make Johnson Pond suitable for ice skating.
“That was quite the job. We’d go out in January with giant fire hoses, cut a hole in the ice, and resurface the pond,” she said. “It’s cold in Waterville, Maine, in January at 10 o’clock at night!”
Matusik’s memories of Colby are warm, despite the frigid winter temperatures she experienced resurfacing the pond.
“I do think that being able to explore both economics and English gave me a broad background that was very valuable,” she said. “I also studied abroad for a year in London. That was a really fantastic opportunity.”
Her Colby education opened doors that might not have opened otherwise, she said. “My goal was to get a good job and go from there,” she said.
That’s what happened. After graduation, she worked in the consulting field for seven years, which she enjoyed. But when she pondered what would be interesting to do for the long term, she decided to get her Ph.D., which she did at the University of Washington, researching outcomes for different businesses.
“You could have two companies trying to do more or less the same thing, with one very successful and the other not so much. I got very interested in the ‘whys’ behind that,” Matusik said in talking about her motivation to pursue a Ph.D. in business.
In fact, much of her teaching and research have been related to entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship are critically important,” she said. “All we know for sure is that the world will be different in the future than it is today. How do you identify opportunities? How do you decide if opportunities have potential? At its foundation, that’s what entrepreneurship is. If we can give students the skills to adapt well and leverage opportunities that come their way, we’ve set them up for success.”
Matusik loved her time in Colorado, where her youngest daughter and husband still live while her daughter finishes high school. But she is delighted to be in Michigan and at the Ross School of Business now.
“The mission here at Michigan Ross is to build a better world through business. The programs here are truly remarkable,” she said. “And I am thrilled to be in a place where people are doing such impactful work through educating and inspiring the next generation of business leaders, and through their research.”