alternative fuels

Energy to spare: Get to know Linda Nichols, the marathon-running, globe-trotting new dean of the Collins College of Business

In August 2019, The University of Tulsa Collins College of Business welcomed a new dean: Linda Nichols. The first female dean in the college’s 85-year history, Nichols is an internationally respected expert in the energy sector who has been a faculty member at TU since 2011.

Nichols recently joined us for a wide-ranging interview, focusing on topics as diverse as her combination of industry experience and scholarly training, as well as her vision for the future of the university’s business college. One of the most important takeaways from our meeting was Nichols’ message for future students: “At the Collins College of Business, you are not just a number; you are an individual. We strive to help each student reach their career goals. We are not just teaching subject matter. We are preparing future business leaders.

Q. You have a background in both business and academia. What motivated you to pursue an academic career? How have you connected those two areas and how has that combination been a resource to you during your career?

I decided that I wanted to be in academia when I was an undergraduate student. I love teaching and working with young people, helping them to develop into professionals.

First, however, I wanted to gain work experience to see how the “real world” of business operated. That experience was invaluable to me when I entered academia. It made me a better teacher because I could share real business situations in the classroom.

Q. You worked in the energy sector before entering academia and you have been the director of the School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce since 2018. What is it about the energy sector that interests you?

The energy sector is amazingly dynamic. It is an industry that will never die, as the world will always need energy.

The industry has evolved a great deal since I worked in it full time. Alternative fuels are now part of the mix, and advances in technology have allowed us to produce sources of energy economically that had not been producible in the past.

Q. What are some of the important topics affecting energy today and in the future for which training in a business school uniquely prepares graduates?

The Collins College of Business recognizes the particular importance of the energy industry in our region. Currently, 41% of all graduates from the college are employed in the energy sector. That encompasses all of our majors.

We prepare our students to work well in an environment of change, such as is prevalent in the energy industry. Our School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce also offers industry-specific courses.

We have an undergraduate degree and a minor in energy management. These enable students to learn about the inner workings of the industry and its specific jargon, as well as many other aspects of the industry including, among other things, commodity markets. Not many schools in the United States offer this unique opportunity to their undergraduate students.

Q. During the past 10 years, you have provided industry training in 20 countries across five continents. Would you give us a few glimpses of your activities? Why do you engage in such work?

I have engaged in industry training on financial reporting matters because it keeps me current and on top of issues in the sector, as well as provides me with good contacts. From these opportunities, I learn so much about current problems and concerns facing the industry and reporting issues within it.

Over the years, I have done training for major integrated companies, including ConocoPhillips, as well as independent producers. The knowledge I have gained from these sessions is invaluable, including learning about new technologies and company strategies for weathering the cycles we see in the energy sector.

Q. What are some of the challenges facing business education in the United States at both the undergraduate and MBA levels?

The landscape of business is changing, and that affects business education tremendously. Advances in technology, for instance, have altered the nature of job responsibilities for those entering the business world.

Business education needs to recognize the rapid speed of change in the business world, and we need to ensure we are preparing our students to be change-agents in their careers.

Q. What is your vision for your college’s future? What kinds of innovation would you like to see occur during the next 10 years?

We need to be at the forefront of change in the business sector. To do so, we must work closely with the business community to make sure we are providing our students with the skill sets they really need, including the integration of new technologies into their roles. We also must provide our students with more spaces within our building that are conducive to teamwork and innovation.

In short, we want to make sure that we continue to provide the business community with graduates who can hit the ground running, even in a rapidly changing environment.

Q. Beyond being a senior academic and an internationally regarded expert in your field, who is Linda Nichols? What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Linda Nichols after her first half-marathon (Walt Disney World 2015)
Linda Nichols at her first half-marathon (Walt Disney World, 2015)

I love running. I started running only four years ago and have now run four marathons and many half-marathons. A few years ago, I ran the New York City Marathon. That was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. For vacations, I love cruising and have been on many such journeys, including a trans-Atlantic crossing from Barcelona to New York on the Carnival Horizon. This summer, I literally sailed on the last cruise ship from the United States to Cuba. The vessel that was on the way there the following week was diverted to Cozumel, Mexico.