By Aliza Leichter on behalf of the YU Observer
Debra Pine is the assistant administrative dean of Sy Syms School of Business as well as an accomplished Wall Street professional. The YU Observer had the honor and opportunity to interview Dean Pine about her illustrious career, initiatives at YU, and her advice for current students.
YU Observer: What was your background before you came to YU, and what led you to YU?
Dean Pine: I have an MBA in Finance from NYU and I worked on and around Wall Street for over 25 years in a variety of roles including bond trader, analytics developer, QA manager, project manager and COO of a front office technology department. In addition to gaining skills and experiences during those years, I had a front row seat for some significant historic events. I was at my desk in the World Financial Center across the street from the World Trade Center when the first plane hit it on 9/11/2001 and I worked at Lehman Brothers during their bankruptcy in 2008. When I left Barclays and came to YU in 2013, I did so with the goal of giving back to and helping the next generation of my community. This was a major career and lifestyle decision and one that I find very fulfilling.
O: What led you to become interested in advising students?
P: One of my favorite responsibilities during my time at Lehman Brothers was coordinating the summer internship program for my department. In that role, I screened resumes, interviewed and selected college juniors for the program, augmented and customized the firmwide summer program for our department and then participated in the decision process for extending full time offers. I truly loved working with and mentoring the college students. When I was looking for the next chapter of my career, coming to YU and working with business students seemed like a natural fit. When I started at YU, my role was split between Sy Syms Advising, the Career Center and Admissions. This broad early involvement helped me build close relationships with those teams at that time.
O: As Administrative Dean of Sy Syms School of Business, what are some initiatives that you have helped create?
P: That’s a tough one to answer for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many people are involved in the important decisions that are made and much of what I do is behind the scenes. One of the initiatives that I pushed forward was the use of electronic waiting lists for registration. When I started at YU, the waiting list process was completely manual. Students had to fill out forms requesting overtallies and those forms were reviewed and processed manually. I convinced my colleagues to “try out” the Banner waiting list system and we’ve never looked back. This past spring, we piloted a block schedule registration process for incoming Sy Syms students to ease the stress surrounding first semester registration and ensure that every incoming Syms student is taking the right courses. Though there was some hesitation about it, in the end, it went smoothly and was well received.
O: What problems are you seeing with the online program, and what advice can you give to students on how to deal with virtual learning?
P: At first, it was hard to separate the problems of online learning from the problems of transitioning to any new method of instruction as quickly as we did. Now, with the perspective of these many months, I see the absence of informal contact as one of the most difficult challenges. Speaking personally, I miss the informal chats with students in the hall, outside of my office and between classes. My advice to students is to seek out opportunities to connect with other students, professors, advisors and deans! Two of my students from last spring asked me to have “lunch” with them over Zoom. It was great to catch up and chat without an agenda. It was almost normal. OK, it wasn’t normal, but it was still a great way to connect.
O: What questions do you wish students would ask you about your experiences that you feel they would benefit from?
P: I love talking to students about major selection and career choices. I believe that figuring out what plays to your strengths and what energizes you and finding a career path that involves the intersection of those attributes is ideal. My prior work experience includes roles which would be suited for Finance, Business Analytics and Strategy & Entrepreneurship majors, so I’m always happy to chat about all of that. Additionally, I spent many years of my career navigating the challenges of being an Orthodox Jew in the workplace and juggling parenting and career responsibilities and can speak about those topics as well.
O: What advice can you give to students who are entering the workforce during COVID?
P: My advice during COVID is not different than it would be during normal times. Use your connections. Be focused but be flexible. Be persistent, but not annoying. Don’t procrastinate.