By her own admission, Sarah E. Nutter doesn’t do anything halfway — and she never has.
Take a childhood chore on the family dairy farm in Michigan. The future business school dean was tasked with burning empty milk cartons in a burn pile. Her first round she did one case, earning her one penny from her parents. She quickly worked out if she scooped up all the cartons her 5-year-old body could hold — four cases — she could increase her profit by three cents a trip.
The pile burned bigger and brighter than anticipated. “It lit up like a candle,” she said.
That same spirit of constantly challenging herself ultimately led Nutter to the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business. She became the college’s first Edward Maletis Dean on Jan. 17 after more than 20 years at George Mason University, the last two as dean of its business school. When Nutter found out about the opportunity for the deanship in Eugene, she was not looking to make a move. After all, she was leading a school she loved and had been a part of for many years. So why did the Ducks get a second glance?
During her research, she found the Lundquist College is approaching some exciting growth opportunities and interesting challenges, just as George Mason did when it morphed from a largely commuter school to the largest public university in Virginia.
“The thing I loved, and continue to love at Mason, is it is a young, fast-growth organization,” she said. “During a period of 20 years, I had the opportunity to be a part of that. I started as professor and ended at dean. I’m ready for a new set of challenges.”
Recent Lundquist College student and faculty work also caught her eye. Nutter pointed toward an expanding Portland presence, growing undergraduate programs and the Oregon MBA ranking as a best full-time MBA by Bloomberg Businessweek, as well as The Princeton Review’s No. 1 Green MBA designation two years in a row.
“It’s a clear and distinct competency that we bring to the table,” she said.
It also didn’t hurt that Oregon is a member of the Pac 12 Conference.
“We are Big 10 graduates, so a school that had a presence in sports in one of the power conferences was very appealing,” said Nutter, an avid college basketball fan.
The economist and accountant is bringing a great deal to the table as well, according to her former colleagues.
“Sarah has earned the admiration of the George Mason University community for her leadership, her dedication, and her embodiment of our values,” said Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason. “I have no doubt that she will soon do the same at UO.”
Anne Magro, interim dean at the George Mason School of Business, said Nutter is a collaborative and inclusive leader who holds herself and those around her to the highest standards.
“She puts students first and frames all that we do in the business school — from research to service to community engagement — around furthering our mission of serving students by providing opportunities to learn and grow inside and outside the classroom,” Magro said. “One of Sarah’s greatest strengths as a leader is that she develops others as leaders and is quick to credit the team with any successes. Sarah never talks about ‘I’; she only talks about ‘we.’”
That’s an approach she developed through a lifetime of learning, starting as a kindergartener in a one-room schoolhouse. She turned it into an advantage by learning from older children, later allowing her to skip a grade and start college at Ferris State University at 17.
Staying close to home at Ferris State allowed Nutter to continue supporting her family’s dairy by delivering milk while pursuing an accounting degree. During her senior year at Ferris she met a faculty member’s son, David Nutter. The pair hit it off and attended Michigan State University, where David finished his undergraduate and master’s degree and Sarah her master’s and doctorate.
The couple traveled the world together, starting with her teaching job at the University of Maryland University College in Germany while her husband worked toward a master’s degree in German. They later circled the globe in connection with Nutter’s role as a board member for Empower International Ministries.
While finishing her doctorate, a request for data on expatriate taxation morphed into a job offer when Nutter was asked to train economists at the Internal Revenue Service, where she stayed for five years.
In 1995 Nutter joined George Mason, teaching taxation and accounting. She thrived in Virginia, serving in leadership roles that included accounting department chair, executive MBA director and then acting dean of school of business in 2013.
University leaders selected Nutter as the best fit to lead the university’s visioning process, which she took on with gusto, collaborating with the George Mason community to write a 10-year framework for the future of the university. In 2014, she was named dean of the business school, a 4,000-student program with five undergraduate majors and seven graduate programs.
At the UO, Nutter adds first female dean of the Lundquist College to her list of achievements. In fact, Nutter is heading up a leadership team at the college that has recently transitioned to more than 50 percent female.
With her background in both teaching and research, Nutter describes herself as an enthusiastic cross-campus collaborator and institution-builder.
“Innovation often occurs at the intersection of disciplines,” she said. “How can we work with other units on campus? What can we do to bring about even more breakthroughs for the public good?”
Nutter sees the Lundquist College as well primed for ascension. With recent accomplishments in rankings, program enhancements, leadership gifts and increased national prominence, she thinks the college is crackling with energy and renewed focus. “One of the things I find really exciting about the college right now is the momentum that we have,” she said. “Our engagement with alumni is greater than it’s ever been in the past. That has really allowed the college to accelerate action in several areas.”
Outside of Lillis, one is likely to find Nutter in the stands at a basketball game or hiking in the woods.
“My husband and I are both very much outdoors people,” she said.
Nutter said she is pleased her career path has taken her to the northwest and is eager to discover all Oregon has to offer.
“I think we are really at an inflection point at the university. Here we will be able to do things that you would not be able to accomplish anywhere else,” she said. “The opportunity to be in this place, at this moment is a true privilege.”