By Khristina Rhead

Jennifer DeBoer

Started in 2018 by then-Western School of Business Dean Peter Sherman, the two-year, Outdoor Industry Master of Business Administration (OIMBA) program at Western prepares students to become leaders in the outdoor industry, whether it’s in the fields of product development, entrepreneurship, or customer service. 

Since 2019, Dr. Scott Borden has been the program’s director and has overseen the successful graduation of the OIMBA’s first three student cohorts — comprised of 74 graduating students. 

But in July, students in the OIMBA program received news that both Borden and Dr. Taryn Mead, an assistant professor and product track coordinator for the OIMBA program, would be resigning from their full-time positions and transferring into part-time roles as they began new positions with the University of Arkansas, Walton School of Business. 

Borden will stay on as the director of the program in a remote capacity until the beginning of January. Both Borden and Mead will stay on as program advisors until their current students graduate in 2024. The pair also plan to remain at Western as guest lecturers. 

After a search process, it was announced that assistant professor of business administration Dr. Jennifer DeBoer will become the OIMBA program director, effective Jan 1, 2023. 

DeBoer grew up in California’s Central Valley in Modesto, a mid-sized agricultural town. Although she said that area wasn’t always the most exciting place to grow up, she appreciated how close Modesto was to Yosemite — and how the Central Valley offered her and her family lots of opportunities to ski, snowboard, and hike.

After finishing high school, DeBoer went on to receive an associate’s degree at Modesto Junior College before transferring to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied Business Economic Management. 

Upon her graduation from UC Santa Cruz, DeBoer worked for a spell before being accepted to the sustainability-focused Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Humboldt State University, in northern California. 

Looking to take her education in business sustainability further, DeBoer ultimately decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Sustainable Business Management, which she received in 2019 from the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

DeBoer notes that she was not always drawn to a career in teaching, but the opportunity presented itself when she grew tired of commuting from school to work downtown while studying in Santa Cruz.

So DeBoer decided to apply for a job as a teaching assistant for a macroeconomics class on campus.

She was hired, and soon found that teaching economics posed rewarding challenges. As a teacher, she was presented with nuanced questions from students which required a far deeper understanding of the subject material.

That experience spurred DeBoer to realize that she loved the challenge of answering difficult questions. 

“The personal challenge and the personal growth that I experienced in being a supplemental instructor at UC Santa Cruz really twisted what I decided to pursue, or what I wanted to pursue. So, at that point I decided ‘maybe I do want to be a professor,”’ she recalls.

Additionally, DeBoer appreciated that by teaching business she could influence future CEOS and managers on issues of sustainability, as well as matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 

“If I got into a job in private practice and could influence one company, I wasn’t going to have much of an impact. Whereas if I could train and teach future business leaders to think a little bit more carefully about environmental and social impacts, I could have a much bigger impact indirectly,” she explains.

After receiving her MBA from UC Santa Cruz, DeBoer initially taught for a year at College of the Redwoods in northern California. After obtaining her doctoral degree, she began teaching at Ripon College, a small liberal arts school in rural Wisconsin. 

In search of the right fit, she began applying to a handful of schools — one being Western — and the rest is history. 

The Borick Business building

Coming from teaching in the Midwest — where she says students tend to only answer a question if they’re certain they have the right answer — DeBoer was pleasantly surprised to witness Western students who weren’t afraid to engage in class, even if they didn’t always have the right answers.

On the basis of that experience, she became convinced that Western was the right place for her. 

Later, when the OIMBA director role opened up, DeBoer jumped to apply, citing her desire to continue making an impact on future business leaders as her driving motivation.

“I love the fact that it’s interdisciplinary; that not everyone has a business degree. I think that most of the larger societal and environmental issues that we’re facing right now are because businesses have a lot of power and a lot of control and their run by individuals that have a narrow business background,” says DeBoer, adding, “I want to see more leaders coming into businesses, particularly in the outdoor industry, that have diverse backgrounds, so that we have more well-rounded, more comprehensive decision-making that takes place.”

When she officially signed on the director gig, DeBoer was careful to ensure that as the program’s director she would still be allowed to teach at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

DeBoer sees the program’s interdisciplinary approach as its biggest strength, along with the fact that its outdoor focus differentiates it from larger, more established MBA programs — and plays to Western’s faculty strengths and passions.  

Although Western’s business school currently offers three courses — refining leadership styles, marketing and brand strategy, and understanding and implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles — that lead to a certificate in partnership with the Outdoor Industry Association. In the future, DeBoer would like to see the OIMBA program expand upon their certificate offerings. 

“One of the long-term plans that I have for the program is to experiment with [offering more] credentials,” she says.

More specifically, Dr. DeBoer is interested in granting credentials to current professionals in specific areas that she believes need to be improved upon within the outdoor industry, including diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as well as finance. 

In the near future, she hopes that the OIMBA program can offer courses in the aforementioned topics — as well as expanded offerings — to current employees at prominent and influential outdoor companies. 

“I could go to VF [Corporation], or REI, or Patagonia and say ‘hey, do you have some promising employees that you want to support through educational experiences?” They can come and take these three classes [at Western] and they’ll get a certificate in sustainable finance,” explains DeBoer of her vision.