Sarah Gardial took over as the dean of the Henry B. Tippie College of Business in July. Since then, she’s been meeting with businesses and working with faculty to set a strategic plan for the college. Gardial spent 26 years at the University of Tennessee, holding positions in the dean’s office and then working as the university’s vice provost for faculty affairs.

What interested you in taking the job at the University of Iowa?

Two things. One is that I have been in business education for close to 30 years now. We’re at a pivot point, where things are changing very quickly and leadership in colleges of business is probably more challenging now than it ever has been. It is an exciting time in terms of opportunity, but the more important thing is how did I end up here at Iowa. I was definitely interested in going to a good school that was also ready to take the next step. ... And the college at Tippie characterizes a faculty that is ready to move forward.

What is the next step?

We don’t know (laughs). Here’s the dilemma for us: Our job is always to say, as students are coming through our program, what will we need to be doing to make sure they are the best positioned for success once they get into the real world? In order for us to answer that question, we have to go to business and industry and say, where is your world headed? What do you need for us to be thinking about? How are the folks that are coming to your organization equipped for what they are heading into, and how are they not? And how do we close those gaps? It’s about a dialogue that is going on.

What are you hearing from businesses?

I’ll put it into two big buckets. Every business will tell you, we are generating all kinds of data. We don’t always know what to do with it, how to understand it, how to mine it, how to turn it into knowledge for our organization. So bring us students that have the kind of technical and analytical skills that will help us sort through this massive data problem that we have. Globalization is the second area we hear about. We are in a global environment. It doesn’t matter if we are an Iowa company. Students have to understand that people they’ll be working with are from different cultures, different political systems, different economical systems, and how to work with them. And there’s this other bucket that hasn’t changed in 30 years. That’s the soft skills, the leadership skills. It never goes away. ... There’s a sense from some businesses that students are coming to them worse and worse over time because they are so insulated by technology, they are interacting less with people.

How do you deal with the soft skills?

There is something that’s being done on our campus called flipping. The faculty member is going to record the lecture, put it on a website, and the student listens to it outside of class. Because when you come to class, we’re going to work. We’re going to put you into groups. We’re going to apply what you’ve learned. We’ve got to flip this idea that the classroom is for listening and taking notes.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Tippie College right now?

I’d say the biggest challenge facing all business schools right now is how do we stay relevant in a world where people can get business education from a whole lot of places that may or may not include campuses, that may or may not include online, that may or may not include (massive open online courses), more and more that’s competing with what we do? We’re a middle man competing in a digital world. Where’s the value add to what we do? That’s the question business schools are asking. The question that specifically the Tippie College is asking within that larger context is, how are we going to have impact and make a footprint in that dynamic world? We have a strong college that has been very siloed in the sense that we haven’t done a good job integrating across other colleges, all the disciplines.

What do you do for fun?

We’re enjoying getting on our motorcycles and exploring Iowa. It’s a brand-new part of the country for us, and so we spent some time this summer up and down the Mississippi, and we’re going to head out west this summer into western Iowa. The other thing my husband and I love is live music, so we’ve been trying to get out and do a lot of concerts in town and then travel a little bit to those.