Making History at BYU’s Marriott School of Business
As an undergraduate economics student at Brigham Young University, Brigitte Madrian dreamed of making history at the school. Turns out she ended up doing just that, but in a more significant way than she imagined.
Madrian, who graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from BYU, and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hoped someday to return to BYU and become the first female professor in the Department of Economics. Earlier this year, however, she distinguished herself in a different way — by becoming the first woman to serve as dean of BYU’s Marriott School of Business.
It’s a position that will help her bring the diversity to BYU that she wanted as a student. In fact, her appointment is particularly significant because only 20% of business school deans in the U.S. are female.
“I completely underestimated what having a woman in this position would mean for the students, faculty and staff,” Madrian says. “Many people have come up to me with tears in their eyes to thank me for being here, not because they know me personally, but for the validation it gives them for their own aspirations.”
Coming back to BYU was a homecoming for Madrian, whose roots at the school run deep. While growing up, she often visited the Provo campus to see her father who taught sociology there. Later, as an undergraduate student determined to get a Ph.D., BYU helped Madrian discover her love of economics and prepared her for future opportunities in the field.
“It was a blessing to have a vision of what I wanted to do so I could be very deliberate,” Madrian says.
After earning her Ph.D., Madrian didn’t return to BYU right away. Instead, she worked as faculty for Harvard’s Economics Department, the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and, most recently, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“I was loving my job and wasn’t looking to leave Harvard, but the invitation to be considered at BYU fell into my lap,” she says. “It was a good opportunity to make an impact in a different way than I did as a professor at Harvard.”
Molding the Next Generation
As dean of BYU Marriott, Madrian hopes to help students achieve their goals and add diversity to their experience.
“When I graduated from BYU and MIT, there were no female professors in economics,” she says. “There were very few female role models throughout most of my career.”
Madrian wants to change that paradigm for others by increasing the number of women who teach at BYU Marriott. She’s helping current students get into Ph.D. programs so they have the credentials to come back as professors.
Her other goals are to increase BYU Marriott’s capacity, revamp the minor program to better help nonbusiness majors and emphasize the ethics curriculum.
“It’s been an amazing time,” she says. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
Not only is Madrian enjoying the role of dean, but she’s now achieved another dream — being part of BYU’s Department of Economics. In addition to her joint appointment to BYU Marriott’s Finance Department and the Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics, she recently received a courtesy appointment to BYU’s Department of Economics, which Madrian hails as a bucket-list accomplishment.
“When I posted about it on social media, people were really excited about the idea that something I planned on doing 25 years ago finally happened,” Madrian says. “Sometimes the things you thought weren’t going to happen do. Life unfolds in strange and exciting and unpredictable ways.”