From first-generation student to college president

Scott Dalrymple.

Dalrymple visited the School of Management this winter. (Photo: Tom Wolf)

Scott Dalrymple, MBA ’91, grew up in a tiny, working-class community in Upstate New York. Aside from his teachers, he didn’t know anyone who had gone to college.

“College just wasn’t part of my world. In my house, for instance, we didn’t know what the word ‘undergraduate’ meant,” he says. “Our town had a lot of honest, hardworking people, but not a lot of great jobs. College seemed like a way to live like the characters in books.”

Dalrymple earned his bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Geneseo at 19 years old, and came to UB for graduate studies. A top student in his class, Dalrymple received his master’s in English in 1989 and set out to find a job in advertising.

After searching for books on the industry in Lockwood Library, he discovered they had all been put on reserve by Arun Jain, a longtime School of Management professor who passed away in March 2016. Dalrymple immediately went to Jain’s office, hoping to get him to release the books. Instead, the professor grilled him about his career goals and skillset, ultimately recommending that he obtain an MBA.

“The next day I signed up for the MBA program, and it changed my life,” he says. “I’m very grateful for that conversation, that he took an interest in me and asked some tough questions. That doesn’t happen very often.”

At commencement, Dalrymple received the Sidney N. Kahn Memorial Award for Excellence in Sales and Marketing, presented to the top graduate student in sales and marketing.  

“The MBA program really changed the way I think about the world and made me much more analytical,” he says. “Through my MBA, I gained the ability to deconstruct a situation, think about it logically and determine what to do about it.”

With Jain’s help, Dalrymple landed his first job, as an analyst in the marketing research department at National Fuel Gas Co. He later transferred to the company’s finance department, where he worked while completing his PhD in English at UB. After receiving his doctorate in 1997, he moved to Kansas as an internal consultant at Koch Industries, but soon felt drawn back to higher education.

“I had originally planned to be an English professor,” he says. “But having an MBA and some business experience, I was able to talk my way into a job as a business professor, primarily in marketing and strategy.”

Beginning in 1999, Dalrymple held faculty and department chair positions at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, and Hartwick College in Oneonta, where he earned tenure. He was named dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Excelsior College in Albany in 2010 and served as founding dean of the college’s School of Public Service.

In 2014, at the age of 46, Dalrymple was appointed the 17th president of Columbia College, where more than 25,000 students attend either the traditional campus in Columbia, Missouri or one of 35 satellite locations (including 17 on military bases). In his first year as president, Dalrymple and his wife, Tina, visited all 36 sites, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“As a college president, I get to be on stage and shake the hands of our graduates each year, and that is immensely satisfying,” he says. “At Columbia College, we have many first-generation college students, and I’m very proud of that. I enjoy helping them be that first one to climb the social ladder.”

Outside of the office, he enjoys woodworking and writing science-fiction short stories. He and Tina have five children and two grandchildren in their blended family.

Asked for his advice for undergraduates today, Dalrymple doesn’t hesitate. “Delay gratification,” he says. “Too many graduates seem to think that once they’re employed, they ought to be able to relax and live the good life. But your work is just beginning. Forget the new car and the 80-inch TV for now, and work harder than everyone else. The rewards will come.” 

Written by Matthew Biddle