Professional Development: Dean Jason Wingard's Plan for Lifelong Learners

September 10, 2015

With a B.A. from Stanford, master’s degrees from Emory and Harvard, and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, Jason Wingard is a one man exemplar of the value of professional education.

After a career working at universities, think tanks and at Fortune 500 corporations, the new dean of Columbia’s School of Continuing Education plans to use his broad experience to help the school adjust to changes sweeping through both the economy and higher education.

“The global shifts in the economy and markets around the world indicate that jobs do not have the shelf life they used to,” he said. “Universities need to be nimble in response to these. Here at Columbia we attract the best and brightest students, and we have a rigorous curriculum to prepare them.”

The school offers master’s degrees in a wide variety of areas, from bioethics and narrative medicine to sustainability management and actuarial science, as well as certificate programs in specialties such as human rights and psychology. It also has programs for high school students and for recent college graduates.

It caters to those who want to add new skills to their resumes, something Wingard has done throughout his working life. He has served as vice dean at the Wharton School and executive director at Stanford’s Educational Institute, been a partner at a management consulting company and also founded his own consulting firm. Until July, when he joined Columbia, he was chief learning officer at Goldman Sachs.

“My career certainly has been nontraditional in many respects,” said Wingard, explaining that he always knew he wanted to make an impact but never charted a specific career path. “Most people don’t, and most people shouldn’t,” he added.

Indeed, given the fast pace of corporate change, Wingard says that companies—and their employees—must be ready for anything. That philosophy is reflected in the title of his third book: Learning for Life: How Continuous Education Will Keep Us Competitive in the Global Knowledge Economy, to be published in September by the American Management Association.

In the book he looks at how various organizations have adapted to change. One project by the National Football League, which he helped design, was aimed at helping players—whose average time in the league is three to five years—learn how to become entrepreneurs and establish sustainable business careers.

“If you have been too narrowly defined in what your career is, if the world changes dramatically, then you may not be prepared for what is in store,” he said.

That is why lifelong learning has become so essential, he said. “We can train you to pivot from your original career into a new, changing marketplace that expects skills to constantly adapt to, and align with, the demands of a dynamic business environment,” he said.

Dean Wingard discusses his recently published book, Learning to Succeed: Rethinking Corporate Education in a World of Unrelenting Change.