Record, Feb. 11, 2008
MTSU Alumna Gives Back in a Big Way
Scholarships are wonderful, but they target individual students. A professorship in a particular discipline influences generations of students. That’s one major reason why MTSU alumna Pam Wright (B.S. ’73) decided to establish an endowed professorship in entrepreneurship in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business at the university she loves and has served for many years.
“I felt it met what I wanted to achieve,” Wright explained, “which was a broader concept of what will serve as an opportunity to promote growth with entrepreneurship in middle Tennessee and beyond. The middle Tennessee community has been extremely beneficial to me, and the spirit here has greatly contributed toward my company’s success.”
The $1.25 million pledge, paid over a period of five years, will provide funding for the endowed chair and will allow university officials to launch a search for the position and to begin chair activities. The first installment has been completed.
“An endowed chair typically represents the best in their field,” Joe Bales, vice president for development and university relations, noted. “Pam has helped us establish the first chair of this type, and we are eternally grateful to her.”
Wright is president and CEO of Wright Travel, which she established in 1981. The largest agency of its kind in Tennessee now employs 70 people and operates offices in eight states.
“I wanted not only to be just an alumna but a business connection to this community,” she said. “The university has been fabulous in allowing me the opportunity to participate and contribute through board and committee involvement.” Wright has served on the MTSU Foundation Board and the College of Business Advisory Board. In 2002, she was among the first group to receive the Exemplar Award, presented to alumni who have served as models of achievement in business and industry to students.
Wright said she had been thinking for a few years about how she might contribute to the university.
“I met with Jim Burton [business dean] a while back, and he promoted involvement between business and the university,” she said. “In addition, whenever I was at a board meeting or an event and heard Dr. [Sidney A.] McPhee talk … he creates a lot of motivation to do something to contribute to the university.”
“There is always a need for scholarships to support our students,” Burton commented, “but given the shortage of faculty in the business disciplines, one of the issues that we have is attracting and retaining the highest quality faculty. This endowed chair will enable us to do that. This person will hopefully be an outstanding teacher, researcher and publisher and will provide leadership in entrepreneurship and continue to build that program on the basis of what our excellent faculty is already doing.”
Burton noted that the curriculum for the entrepreneurship program at MTSU originally was a joint venture between the departments of Management and Marketing and Business Communication and Entrepreneurship (formerly BMOM). The dean also alluded to a report recently released by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce that touts entrepreneurship as a driving force for creating jobs in the region. Rather than being an alternative to not finding steady work, entrepreneurship has become a deliberate choice for students who want to be their own boss, he said.
President McPhee viewed the endowed chair in the context of the university’s goals in the Academic Master Plan.
“A gift such as this is a rare gem because an endowed professorship of this kind brings together the three major goals of the university, enabling us to be even more student-centered in the discipline of entrepreneurship, enhancing our academic quality, and demonstrating the power of partnership between business and education,” he said. “We are grateful to Pam Wright, whose success as a person and a businesswoman will serve as an example to thousands of students in years to come.”
Burton was quick to point out that the endowed chair was the product of a team effort. “I’m extraordinarily grateful to Pam, for her generosity and vision and her sitting down with Joe [Bales] and working through the issues to bring this to fruition. Joe was very influential in making this happen, and his role should not be underplayed.”
Wright said her motivation to launch her own business came from a very strong work ethic, good parenting, and her sense that there was a need for this kind of business in the travel industry.
“When I opened it, it was not my intention to expand it to other states,” she said. “That came as a result of continued success, and frankly, hard work, commitment and passion for what I do. And maybe the ability to believe that no one told me I couldn’t do it,” she added with a laugh. “I am a very lucky person. After 26 years, I still love doing what I do.”
Wright said she encourages students to explore entrepreneurship but cautioned that it is a life-long commitment. “People can make choices to change careers—that’s much easier to do when you haven’t made a commitment to own your own company. It’s a big decision. Plan on spending a lot of time and putting in a lot of work.”
NOTE: Entrepreneurship Week will be from Feb. 23 to March 1. Dr. Robert Lahm, assistant professor, BCE, is coordinating events at MTSU. Visit http://mtsu.edu/~rlahm.