Meet Our Dean: Saby Mitra

On August 1, the Warrington College of Business welcomed its new dean, Saby Mitra. As Dean Mitra leads Warrington into its future, we invite you to get to know him professionally and personally. We asked Dean Mitra a series of questions about his academic career and personal interests. Read on to learn more about Warrington’s new dean.

Q: When did you know that you wanted to be involved in higher education, and why was that an interesting option for you?

Mitra: “I started my career as a computer aided design engineer with an auto manufacturer. This was in the early days of computerization, and I was asked to teach a few programming sessions to a group of more experienced engineers. I still remember the exhilaration I felt in being in the classroom and thinking through different pedagogical approaches that can best explain technical concepts in an easy to understand way. I knew at that time that I wanted to be in academia and many decades later, my love of teaching has not diminished. It was only after I started my Ph.D. program that I understood the importance of research in an academic career. I love the ability to define and work on interesting problems, to work with real-world corporate data and to puzzle over empirical findings when they don’t match expectations. In the last decade, I have focused on various administrative roles that have allowed me to have an impact on the [Georgia Tech Scheller] College beyond my own teaching and research. I have really enjoyed working with talented staff to ensure that we recruit the best students and provide them the best experience possible. I am fortunate to love all aspects of academic life – teaching, research and service.”

Q: What about the Warrington College of Business interested you in becoming dean?

Mitra: “Even before I interviewed here, I knew about the research reputation of our stellar faculty at Warrington. UF is the flagship university of a large and growing state with few other universities of its stature in the region. Being the flagship university in the state, I knew Warrington had very bright and capable students. The ranking and reputation of Warrington programs have also been on the rise in recent years. In the last few months since my appointment as Dean was announced, I have been so impressed by the amazing team of staff and administrators that Dean Kraft has put in place. I am also excited by the enthusiasm of the Gator Nation and the commitment of our alumni. The future of Warrington is very bright and that’s what attracted me here. I am honored and excited to be a part of that future.” 

Q: You have a research background in information technology and AI. What drew you to those topics and what about them continues to excite you?

Mitra: “My research and teaching have always been at the intersection of business and information technology. Whether it’s a technology company transforming the business world or a regular business transforming itself through technology, that’s where all the excitement is today and where the opportunities will be tomorrow. This is also an area of constant change and that makes it a very exciting area for teaching and research. Further, the real roadblock for many companies is not the development but use of the technology for business benefit. This makes the intersection of business and technology even more relevant and interesting.

I have primarily analyzed large data sets in my research using various methods and AI provides yet another tool in the toolkit. My interest in AI started many decades ago with my Ph.D. dissertation, but waned until recently when more data became available to make the methods meaningful. My current interest in AI and analytics is through Ph.D. students who I work with.”

Q: You’ve been teaching for three decades. What do you like about being in the classroom with students? Do you hope to get back into the classroom at Warrington someday?

Mitra: “There are so many aspects of teaching that I love, and I will miss not being in the classroom. I love being around smart and engaged students, and I learn so much from them. Every time I teach a case, especially in a class with diverse and more experienced students, I learn a different point of view that I had not thought about. I love teaching a complex, technical concept to a non-technical audience. If I cannot explain it simply without jargon, I know that I do not understand it very well myself – teaching a concept exposes how well you understand the concept yourself. I enjoy experimenting with different pedagogical approaches to maximize student engagement and learning. I enjoy getting to know the students in a way that is only possible in a classroom setting. I just finished teaching my last MBA class at Georgia Tech. I do hope to be back in the classroom at Warrington someday although not immediately.”

Q: Up to this point, what’s the career highlight that you’re most proud of?

Mitra: “Prior to my last role as Senior Associate Dean of Faculty at the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech, I was Senior Associate Dean of Programs for four years. In that role, I was responsible for all degree and non-degree programs in the College. I believe I had the greatest impact on the College during those years. We grew our Executive and Professional MBA programs, increased the diversity of our student cohorts, improved the reputation and rankings of our undergraduate and graduate programs, improved career outcomes for our students, established several dual degree programs, and significantly expanded our corporate and non-degree programs. I believe that the work we did as a team laid a strong foundation that will benefit the Scheller College for many years.

More recently, I am very proud of our successful transition to online teaching during the spring semester of this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike at Warrington, most faculty and staff at the Scheller College had no experience with online teaching and had only 2 weeks to prepare for the transition. We organized training sessions for faculty, laid out clear rules, expectations and guidelines, set up a website with resources for faculty and students, and provided help sessions for those who needed them. As a result, against all odds, we had a relatively easy transition to fully online spring and summer semesters.”   

Q: If you didn’t decide to pursue a career in higher education, what would you do instead?

Mitra: “I’d probably be a technology entrepreneur, especially in the data analytics space. Unfortunately, I am too risk-averse to quit my day job and start a new venture. I am very happy to be in academia.”

Q: Who are the most significant people in your life?

Mitra: “My wife, Kajori. We have been married for 31 years. She has supported me through life’s ups and downs, even when it meant great inconvenience for her own life and career. I am the whiner in the family; she never complains. My daughter, Isha, is quite awesome, too. We tend to be helicopter parents, but she has done a great job in strategically ignoring us and living her own fulfilling life.”

Q: What can we find you doing outside of work or on the weekend?

Mitra: “Riding my road bike. I was too scared to ride on busy Atlanta roads and preferred biking trails, but I hope to explore Gainesville and Florida. I love to cook and enjoy having friends over. I am a history buff, especially obscure things that no one else seems to care about.”

Q: What was the last thing you read that inspired you?

Mitra: “’Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a book about the history of humankind from the Stone Age to the 21st century. While I am aware that experts doubt some of the scientific claims in the book, I found the early history of humans depicted in the book useful in understanding our world today.”

Q: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Mitra: “’Beam me up, Scotty.’ I wish I could travel anywhere in a flash. I love to travel but I like being at home at night. Plus, I don’t like to board my dog. Wouldn’t it be great if I could travel to Italy after breakfast and be back in the evening, only to leave the next morning for Vietnam?”

Q: What’s your favorite food?

Mitra: “This one is easy. Seafood. I love every kind of fish, shrimp, lobster, scallops, octopus and oysters.”

Q: What’s a fact about you that might surprise other people?

Mitra: “I am actually a very shy person, and I had a great fear of public speaking. In high school, we had to memorize a poem every semester and recite it from memory in front of the class. I would be the one who would invariably freeze when I stepped on the stage. I had to work at it and while it is not a problem anymore, I have a few tricks and tips when the old fear crops up on rare occasions.”

Q: Is there anything else you’d like the Warrington community to know about you that we didn’t ask about?”

Mitra: “I am very open person. I like to be engaged and hands-on. If there is anything they don’t know about me, they will soon find out.”