Thirty-seven years ago, a newly single mother of two responded to a “help wanted” ad for a position at SMU Cox. Dee Powell’s 10 years of office experience at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and Temple Shalom, not to mention her charming (albeit tenacious) personality, earned her the job. Through four decades and four deans (plus two interim deans), her presence has made an indelible mark.
Roy Herberger was dean of the School when Powell was hired to work in the real estate institute. She quickly moved up the ranks to become Herberger’s executive assistant, and she continues in that role today for Dean Matt Myers. Powell organizes the dean’s calendar, navigates the flow of visitors and calls into his office and generally oversees the business of the business school’s lead administrator. “I quickly learned when I arrived here three years ago that Dee is the glue that holds it all together,” says Myers.
Her favorite responsibility is that of greeter-in- chief. When guests come calling on the dean — new faculty members, prospective students and their parents, alumni, corporate executives and high-profile dignitaries — hers is the first face they see. Powell treats them all with equal respect, puts them at ease and turns acquaintances into friends. “I like people, so it’s not like work at all,” Powell explains.
She thrives on interacting with faculty, fellow staff, Executive Board members and, most of all, students. Student events, from coffee chats to The Boulevard, are a mainstay of life at Cox, and Powell attends often. With the backing of then Dean David Blake, she even helped MBA students organize the Cox School’s first Women in Business Club in the ’90s.
In May 2018, as Powell celebrated her birthday and her 35th anniversary of SMU employment, the SMU Faculty Senate honored her as one of four Outstanding Staff Members for the 2017-2018 academic year, an “expression of the faculty’s heartfelt appreciation, respect and thanks for personal contributions to SMU.” It was Powell’s first time to receive that particular Universitywide honor. Previously, the SMU Staff Association had twice presented her with the Loretta O’Reilly Hawkins Award for “excellence among University staff employees.”
Honors aside, Powell is most grateful for having been hired shortly before her daughter graduated from Ursuline Academy of Dallas. The employee tuition benefit enabled her to send her daughter, and later her son, to SMU. Powell’s fondest SMU Cox memory was when her daughter graduated, and a colleague arranged with Dean Blake for Powell to be on the commencement stage to present the diploma.
Powell remains a fixture at SMU Cox long after her children, and even her granddaughter, have earned their SMU degrees. Smiling broadly, she says, “I’ve always been happy here. If I hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have stayed.” Truly, Dee Powell is an ally for leadership, an ally for Cox, an ally for life.
Editor’s Note: As the Cox School celebrates 100 years of business education at SMU, we celebrate powerful allies, strategic thought leaders and global citizens who drive purposeful leadership. We invite you to nominate a Cox 100 Ally. Dee Powell is our first Ally.