7 Questions With...

Melissa Gruys, Dean, Richard T. Doermer School of Business, Purdue University Fort Wayne
Aug 9, 2022
Jeffrey Crane
7 Questions With...

Melissa Gruys’ has a passion for helping students achieve their education and career goals. As a first-year generation student herself, Melissa’s life was wholly and completely transformed by education. As Dean of the Richard T. Doermer School of Business, she works every day to provide that same experience to the students at PFW. Melissa shared with us details about the outstanding work being done at the school of business, what she loves most about Fort Wayne and a little about her interests outside of work as well.

Q1: What does a normal day look like for you?

There is no such thing as a normal day in my position and that’s one of the things I love most about it! My activities are quite varied depending on the day of the week. I have a lot of events on campus with students, faculty and staff, and I engage frequently with professionals and businesses in the community. I absolutely love attending events on campus that serve and interact with students. I like to volunteer to serve food, hand out swag items or whatever I can do to help. I am involved in many Purdue Fort Wayne events outside of the business school also (i.e. serving on the Chancellor’s Diversity Council) and I do a lot of service professionally outside the university (serving on several Boards of Directors). I also serve as a Peer Reviewer to assess other university business schools for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), our business school accrediting body. 

Q2: Since coming to Purdue University Fort Wayne (formerly IPFW) in 2016, what has been one of your biggest takeaways?

My biggest takeaway from my time in the Doermer School of Business (DSB) is that it pays dividends to hire and retain wonderful people. I work with such a talented team of individuals in DSB and it has enabled us to achieve spectacular outcomes in student enrollment and retention, and has produced many amazing student achievements. For example, The Doermer School of Business undergraduate and MBA program enrollment has increased by 35% and 115%, respectively, in the last five years (with 2% UG and 39% MBA increases in fall 2020 despite COVID). As a result of our efforts to increase student retention, our retention rate for first time, full-time freshmen in the Business School improved 16% since last year, to a rate of just under 93%. Recent data also shows that enrolling in our School of Business first year freshmen success course doubles the odds that students will be retained in spring semester of their first year, compared to students not enrolled in the course. We hold a Best Business Schools ranking and we are ranked 40th in the nation for our online undergraduate program, according to U.S. News and World Report. 

We have worked together and done everything possible to help our students succeed. We have been innovative in weathering COVID and continued to provide high-quality education through it all. We have learned that we can face any challenge as long as we do it together. We are strong and resilient. I am incredibly proud of all our faculty and staff and am honored to work with them.

Q3: How do you spend your free time? 

I heard someone say recently that work ethic is a pre-existing condition for them. I laughed, as this is also the case for me! I do work too much, so I perhaps have less free time than I could. But, I also love my work, so in a way, I see it as not only who I am, but also as a chosen pastime or hobby. I am trying to be more mindful of finding a reasonable work-life balance. 

When I am not working, I love to hang out with my family – my husband Scott, and kids, Hannah (19) and John (17), and our sweet golden doodle, Winston (5, or 35 in dog years). We are empty-nesters this fall when John starts college at Indiana University and Hannah heads back to Purdue University (house divided!). I like to hike in the woods and we all like to try new restaurants. In terms of hobbies, I was decades ahead of the adult coloring curve…I find coloring very relaxing.

Q4: What do you enjoy most about the city of Fort Wayne and why? 

I love that the city of Fort Wayne has a small town, friendly Midwestern feel (like where I grew up in Minnesota), but is large enough to have great amenities, entertainment and restaurant options! I have become involved in the Onboard Fort Wayne program, which is designed to help newcomers get acquainted with Allen County. I serve as a Community Connector being matched with new residents to welcome them and help them get acclimated to Fort Wayne and Allen County. I wish the program existed when I moved here and I’m so glad it does now. Just another demonstration of the friendly, helpful nature of our citizens. 

Another thing I really enjoy about Fort Wayne is the generosity of the people who live here. We have had unwavering support from our donors. This type of support, particularly from the Doermer Family Foundation, allowed PFW to purchase the Park 3000 building (3000 E. Coliseum Blvd) which became the new Richard T. Doermer School of Business Building. Richard T. Doermer, a long-time Fort Wayne business leader, community supporter and philanthropist, who passed away in 2010 after a long career in the banking industry, believed that a solid education in business was vital to succeeding. He said, “Partnerships between business schools and local businesses are extremely beneficial to both parties —students get first-hand knowledge in a ‘real-world’ setting and the hosting business knows if it hires those students, the money will have been well spent.” We are so grateful to the Doermer Family Foundation for their ongoing support!

I also love the coordinated work that the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. and other regional professional organizations do together to advance the economic development and interests of our community. It is rare that such entities work so well together for the best interest of the region. 

Q5: What would students be surprised to find out about you?

Students are sometimes surprised to find out that I am a regular person! I have an open door policy and I tell faculty, staff and students that they are welcome to come to me with items of concern, whether they be large or small. I attend student events and get to know students. I support them in any way I can in order for them to gain the knowledge and expertise they need to be successful in their business careers. They initially see me as a leader, the CEO of the Doermer School of Business, if you will, but then they get to know me as a person and see how much I want to help and support them. Our faculty help me to provide this support to students by working with our student organizations to bring in guest speakers and provide professional development for the students, bringing teams to compete in student competitions, and by allowing students to work with them on their research endeavors. Our students have achieved great outcomes — many of them having their papers accepted to academic conferences and even having academic research articles published. 

Q6: What is the most enjoyable part about your job and why?

As a first-generation student myself, my life was wholly and completely transformed by education. Since I value my education and see how it has fueled my own success, it is my honor and passion to transform others’ lives in the same way. In my family, my three siblings and I were able to earn 13 degrees (my sisters and I each earned a Ph.D. and my brother earned a Doctor of Chiropractic). My parents are so proud of us and, to his satisfaction and pride, my Dad, who has now passed away, was also able to earn an undergraduate degree in business many years after running successful businesses.

I would do anything to help our students be successful. Seeing students succeed each and every day in their studies, but also in their professional and personal lives, is the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my job! I have attended almost 50 commencement ceremonies for our students and I can’t remember a single one at which I did not have tears of joy for the graduates. I love to keep up with our students and alumni on LinkedIn and see their ongoing successes and accomplishments. It is especially wonderful when alumni choose to hire an intern or a graduate from the business school, demonstrating a virtuous cycle of success and paying it forward.

Q7: Do you enjoy traveling? If you could go anywhere, where would your next vacation be?

I love to travel and have traveled all over the world for my own interest and also to chaperone study abroad trips with our business students. We have spearheaded new collaborative international agreements with universities in Morocco, Romania and Spain, developed a partnership with a federation of private schools in Morocco (more than 5,000 schools), and we are now conducting university recruiting in Morocco for all PFW programs. Perhaps our most premier program is the Doermer School of Business Special Studies in International Business program. The program allows students to take an international business class and travel abroad to the country that is being studied. The students also do projects for local companies who want to explore the possibility of internationalizing their products or operations. A very unique part about the program is that the Doermer School of Business fully funds all student travel expenses. This is especially important, as many of our PFW students would otherwise not be able to afford such a trip. This is particularly true since over half of PFW students are first generation students and over three fourths of them are eligible for financial aid. Many of our students have not had the opportunity to travel within the United States or fly on a commercial flight, and a good portion of them have never been to a large city (beyond Indy). We fund these opportunities through generous grant funding, and donations from individuals and businesses. This program provides a win-win-win situation for all parties involved.

My absolute favorite place in the world to travel, though, is Hawaii. My next vacation will be a trip to Maui and Oahu with my husband, Scott, this fall to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Who doesn’t love the warm weather, white sand beaches and turquoise blue water? There is nothing like the sunsets in Hawaii!

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