David M. Szymanski said that becoming dean of the Lindner College of Business was a path he simply fell into — a journey he never knew existed until his academic pursuits opened the opportunity for him.
“Life is a little serendipity, and I didn't know that this would happen,” he said. “There are things you come across that you didn’t even know about as opportunities.”
The son of a postal worker and an administrative assistant from Buffalo, New York, Szymanski is a first-generation college student. At age 14, he realized that sports were his route to higher education and played basketball and tennis for the University of North Carolina at Asheville where he completed his undergraduate degree in economics.
As a student-athlete, he graduated fourth in his class and later completed his master’s in economics at Vanderbilt University. He went on to complete his Ph.D. in marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After being appointed as dean in 2010, Szymanski spent over seven years at the college. During his time, Szymanski saw Lindner grow as the undergraduate population doubled in size.
“The average freshman coming in today is what our honors student used to be,” he said. “It’s a different group of students. They are talented, they are coming in with AP credits and great ideas of who they are and who they want to be.”
He has hired almost 100 new faculty members whom he believes elevate the quality of education students receive.
“We began to develop infrastructure and support for students,” he said. “Career services didn't exist, which now it does; we brought co-op into the college and has been transformative for us, [and] we have tripled the number of students going through professional experiences in the past three years.”
Szymanski highlighted ongoing efforts to renovate Carl H. Lindner Hall into the new College of Law building, calling it “the last piece of the puzzle.”
“The new building is being designed by a company out of Copenhagen — Henning Larsen,” he said. “It is going to be very progressive and it’s going to be a building for everyone — not just business students.”
He is most impressed with the top floor plans for Lindner. Called “the attic,” it will provide a space “to bring students together from different disciplines with different perspectives,” Szymanski said.
At the end of the 2018 spring semester, Szymanski is leaving the University of Cincinnati to become the president of the University of North Florida.
“The hard part is the people,” he said. “You don't get to take them with you, but they make you who are.”
Though he says he will miss the students, community and his staff, Szymanski remains excited for his next step in life.
“He’s undoubtedly left the college in a great place,” said third-year finance, mathematics and economics student Alex Stringfellow. “I’m excited to see who will be chosen to continue the upward growth.”
Szymanski echoed Stringfellow’s comments, saying he looks forward to learning who will assume the role as dean.
“You have the fondness in the heart and the hand to help, but the reality is, you have people with great ideas and new directions, and you let them run with it,” he said of the transition process, saying if anyone from UC needs advice, he will always pick up the phone.
Despite his impending departure, Szymanski says he plans to revisit UC in the future. All three of his children completed their graduate degrees as Bearcats, and he hopes his granddaughter will choose to do so, too.
Szymanski said the UC student body filled him with optimism throughout his tenure as dean, and he looks positively toward the future.
“I tell people that I see the future every day, and I’m good,” he said. “It gives me great confidence and wonderment of how you [the students] can be that smart when you are that young. It’s very encouraging.”