The new business dean at the Montana State University Billings chose to earn a doctorate in accounting after a gritty High Plains ranching experience.
During the severe drought of the late 1980s, Barbara Wheeling and her husband had to ship hay from Billings to feed their cattle on a badlands ranch 30 miles southeast of Sidney, just over the state line.
When the drought didn’t break, the high cost of the hay and the haul forced the couple to sell the family ranch.
“I realized then that if I had had more knowledge of accounting, I could have analyzed our finances better. I also realized that other farmers and ranchers needed that knowledge,” she said.
So the Grafton, N.D., native earned a doctorate degree in accounting and wrote a specialized textbook, “Introduction to Agricultural Accounting,” to help others learn what she wished she'd known.
Wheeling earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from North Dakota State University, a master’s in business administration from the University of Wyoming and took the coursework for her doctorate at the University of Illinois.
In order to study with a professor who specialized in her field of interest, she wrote her dissertation and graduated from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta.
The diminutive professor knows her way around not only universities but tractors, cows and horses. In between teaching jobs at Colorado State University-Pueblo and Southern Utah University, she attended farrier school to learn to trim and shoe horses.
Finding her way around campus won’t be difficult because Wheeling taught at the MSUB business school for more than seven years before becoming dean on July 1.
She was teaching at MSUB when Gary Young, a former business dean and interim provost, offered Wheeling a position as an associate provost. When the funding for her position wasn’t renewed in 2011, she became the associate dean of business at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan. This spring, she applied for the dean’s job in Billings.
“I’m happy to be here. It was a pleasure to know people asked me to apply,” Wheeling said.
The Billings economy was another draw for Wheeling, since Kansas was facing some lean financial times.
“I’m happy to be in an environment where we can make things happen. The Billings economy is boosted by the activities in the Bakken area,” she said.
In 2010, after nearly a decade of work led largely by Wheeling, the business school won accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International. Only about 30 percent of U.S. business schools and fewer than 10 percent business schools worldwide have this accreditation.
MSUB took two years to hire a dean for the business school, which has 700 students.
Before Wheeling was selected, the school had two interim deans, Dr. Tim Wilkinson, who is dean at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., and then Mike Campbell.
In addition to getting the school re-accredited next year, Wheeling is interested in developing some new specialties, possibly a master's degree and programs in big data management and social entrepreneurship.
“Some companies are getting into social entrepreneurship, trying to produce products that make a profit,” she said. “We’ll be trying to match our skills with their needs.”
Her other interests include exposing business students to different cultures, including more interactions with Native American tribes, and enterprise resource planning. That's basically getting different parts of a business to talk to each other.
“There aren’t many schools in the country that specialize in this,” she said.