Isenberg Doctoral Program at 50: Accounting PhD Pushes Social Entrepreneurship at Liberal Arts College
March 22, 2019
Dennis Hanno ‘90PhD, who has been president of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., since 2014, learned about more than accounting during his time at Isenberg, where he later served as a faculty member and undergraduate dean. “Isenberg opened so many doors and opportunities for me,” he notes. “As a PhD student, I worked with great people. They embodied Isenberg’s positive culture and community.” Chief among his mentors were PhD director Tony Butterfield and the members of his committee—former department chair Jim Smith, Thomas Kida, and Richard Asebrook. Dennis’s dissertation was one of Isenberg’s first in the then-nascent field of behavioral accounting. Today, Isenberg is a research powerhouse in that discipline. “I also learned a great deal as a teaching assistant for several semesters with Ron Mannino, who taught large introductory accounting classes. I still find myself quoting Mannino in the classroom.”
A Beloved Educator
After graduation, Dennis joined Boston College’s business faculty, before returning to Isenberg two-and-a-half years later. BC’s loss was Isenberg’s gain. Focusing on decision making in auditing and accounting education, his writing graced the Journal of Accounting Research and other top publications. In the classroom, he earned kudos as Isenberg’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year and, in 1996, as the Massachusetts Society of CPAs’ Educator of the Year.
When Isenberg’s beloved undergraduate dean, George Spiro, died in 1998, Hanno was the overwhelming choice to succeed him. In that role—with encouragement from his mentor and Isenberg’s dean Tom O’Brien—Dennis created innovative programs that emphasized community outreach, social entrepreneurship, and international education. In 2006, he moved on to Babson, where he left a similar mark as its undergraduate dean, vice provost, dean of its graduate school, and then provost and vice president.
An Innovative College President
So how does an Isenberg PhD accounting graduate add value to a liberal arts college like Wheaton? “First of all, I bring an understanding of research to the role,” Dennis explains, citing his PhD training in experimental design, including his minor in psychology. “That confers credibility in discussions of educational strategy and policy.” Just as critical, the Wheaton College president has strived—in his own words—“to connect our liberal arts programs to postgraduate student outcomes.” To that end, he secured funding early in his presidency to allow every Wheaton student to pursue an internship.
Just as timely, Hanno has elevated social entrepreneurship to central status at the college. Many business schools, including Isenberg and Babson, have strong entrepreneurship programs. Why not, asks Hanno, equip Wheaton’s students with real-world entrepreneurial skills that empower their commitment to liberal arts and social change? After all, he says, social entrepreneurship broadens their horizons as world citizens and fosters appreciation for experiential learning and risk taking. Those assets were well-served in January 2018, when Hanno and Wheaton secured a $10 million gift toward social entrepreneurial initiatives. “And,” he adds, “we now have our first chaired professor in the discipline.”
A growing number of Wheaton students serve as instructors in IDEA4Africa, an independent organization founded by Hanno. The organization imparts entrepreneurial skills in the East African nations of Rwanda and Uganda. (Former Isenberg dean Tom O’Brien and a former professor, Larry Zacharias, are active board members. So are two Isenberg alumni, Tony Jordan and Dave Clarkson.) Before joining Wheaton, Hanno sparked previous Africa-focused initiatives at Babson and Isenberg. It all began at Isenberg, he says, with student trips to Ghana.
“Beginning with Isenberg, I’ve done my best to convince business students to pursue a broader education,” Dennis remarks. “Now I’m connecting liberal arts students with business skills that will help them to further their own goals.” Another priority for Hanno is building community on campus. In a recent initiative, Hanno and teams of faculty and staff, armed with balloons and good cheer, visited the homes of 100 high school seniors who had been accepted by the college. In their first semester at Wheaton, every first-year student has dinner with Dennis and his wife, Susan, at the president’s house. And during Thanksgiving, the couple hosts thirty to forty international students.
“Building community—I learned that at Isenberg,” Dennis insists. “Isenberg offers a unique environment and culture. Throughout my career I’ve tried to build on those values.”