Finding kindred spirits to succeed in learning and life

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An interview with Dr. Dexter Purnell about the new Bachelor of Science in General Business from UNT.

Dr. Dexter Purnell is an entrepreneur and educator with significant experience in the entertainment industry as an artist manager, record producer, recording engineer, and sound engineer. He has worked with Grammy award-winning artists, as well as record labels such as Sony, Disturbing Tha Peace Records, Def Jam Records, Asylum Records, and more. 

At the University of North Texas, Dr. Purnell has found the support he needs to foster a learning environment where students and faculty from all walks of life have a path to success. Wanting to bring the same opportunities and mentorship to his students that he has had, Dr. Purnell is now expanding on his work at UNT in the new Bachelor of Science in General Business (B.S.G.B) program on Coursera. We spoke with Dr. Purnell to hear more about the kindred spirits he has found in his students, his faculty, and now Coursera.

What drew you to UNT? Why are you excited to be teaching there?

The environment at the University of North Texas is great! The organizational culture is amazing. I feel extremely supported here. The leadership really listens and values the input of faculty and staff members.

This is truly an amazing place when it comes to research and teaching. As an R1 institution, UNT is one of the top research universities in the country. There are only 146 other institutions like UNT in this regard and I wanted to enjoy this reputation along with my students.

And I love the students! I have students with all kinds of unique backgrounds—and having a unique background myself, I can really sympathize with them. I know that Coursera draws a wide variety of learners and that excites me.

You’re passionate about reaching a broad array of students with different backgrounds and learning paths. Tell us about your own learning and career journey that gave you this passion.

I began my higher education career as a student at Valparaiso University. I played football there before I left school to pursue my entertainment career. I then started a family and as I thought about what I wanted for my kids, I figured it would be difficult to tell them to get an education when I hadn’t done that myself. I wanted to set an example for my kids.

As I was finishing my bachelor’s degree, one of my instructors told me to consider being a professor someday. But thinking back on my time playing football at Valparaiso, I gave my professors grief and didn’t think I was meant to be anyone’s professor.

Upon finishing my undergraduate degree, I thought, “That was pretty easy. Why not knock out another degree? While I’m in the student mindset, I’ll go get another degree!” Then after completing my master’s degree, I kept hearing the voice in the back of my head saying, “You should try being a professor.” So, I became an adjunct professor! Soon I realized that I still had time to pursue my career in entertainment and here we are twelve years later.

With your successes in entertainment, why continue your career in academia? 

The reason I stay in academia is that I love getting the chance to inspire people. During one of my first jobs as an assistant professor, my department chairperson gave me a rock that had the word “inspire” written on it. To inspire means to breathe life. My job is to breathe life into people. I stay because I love to inspire.

Teaching on Coursera offers a whole new way to inspire people from all over the world. What excites you most about this BSGB program being on Coursera?

I am most excited about this BSGB degree being an opportunity for UNT and Coursera to help learners who may not have the time or flexibility to sit in a classroom. A degree from an R1 institution carries a lot of weight for my students, as does UNT’s accreditation from the AACSB—a globally recognized accreditation with the longest standing of its kind.

What kinds of learners do you think will be a good match for this program?

The ideal student is probably someone who has worked in the business world for a while, but perhaps they want to take the next step in their career. They might be happy where they are, but also feel like they could go even further if they learned some more skills or concepts. This degree is great for professionals who have had some business success and want to advance their career or their knowledge.

I’ve had students who have never taken a business or marketing class before. And when they start my class, they’re surprised to realize that marketing is everywhere (whether they can tell or not). When it comes to business management, some of my students have never formally learned any business management concepts. But if you’ve ever managed someone in any way, you probably understand more about management than you think you do.

Please note that the Bachelor of Science in General Business is intended for first-time college students who have earned less than 30 credit hours.

As someone with a great deal of real-world business experience, how important do you feel it is for students to learn real-world skills?

There are always opportunities to take what you’re learning and apply it to your life and to your career. It’s my job to make sure my students see the connections between what they’re learning and the real world. This is why I make real-world examples a key part of my courses.

Speaking of the real world, how does this new program support learners who are balancing real-world commitments as they pursue a degree?

This program gives you the flexibility and freedom to finish earning your degree at your own pace. And although it’s offered on Coursera, you’ll still be working with and learning from UNT professors who teach on the UNT campus. There’s no difference in coursework whether you’re on Coursera or on campus. To put it simply, this is a quality degree.

This has been such a wonderful conversation. Do you have any final advice for someone who is considering this new program?

Don’t be afraid! There can sometimes be a sense of fear or doubt when considering a degree. But as long as you can manage your time, you can succeed in this program. Will it be rigorous? Yes. But will it be doable? Yes. And you’ll be happy with the impact that your hard work can have on your life.

Learn more and apply

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