First Gordon Professor in Entrepreneurship announced at Evening for Elon in New York City

The gathering for Elon alumni, parents and friends at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts shared in the announcement that Haya Ajjan has been selected as the first Sheldon and Christine Gordon Professor in Entrepreneurship. 

A record crowd of 1,400 alumni, parents and friends of the university was on hand Wednesday Night in New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for the announcement that Haya Ajjan has been named the first Sheldon and Christine Gordon Professor in Entrepreneurship. 

The news was shared during the annual Evening for Elon celebration hosted by Trustee Ed Doherty and his wife, Joan. For the past seven years, the couple, who are parents of an Elon alumnae, have brought together supporters of the university from around the Northeast to gala New York City events. The gathering in the center’s David Geffen Hall was the university’s largest alumni event of the year and followed last week’s inauguration of President Connie Ledoux Book. 

Book was joined in making Wednesday night’s announcement by Christine Gordon, who established the professorship within the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business with her late husband, Sheldon. Their gift is part of the leadership phase of the university’s Elon Leads comprehensive fundraising campaign. The couple’s daughter Martine, a 2016 Elon graduate, was also on hand for the announcement, while their daughter Katie, an Elon senior, remained at Elon to work on this fall’s production of “Sweeney Todd” that begins this week. 

After Director of Alumni Engagement Brian Feeley offered welcoming remarks, Ed Doherty took the stage to offer an introduction of President Book. Doherty, chair of the board of trustees, just last week was at Elon in Schar Center, where he administered the oath of office for President Book during her inauguration. “Her inauguration speech was both inspiring and visionary, and the message to the Elon community was loud and clear — Connie Book is an outstanding, forward-thinking leader poised to take Elon to new heights,” Doherty said. 

The Gordon Professorship announcement was a highlight of an exciting evening as Book discussed the work to develop Elon’s next 10-year strategic plan as well as the accomplishments of the Elon Commitment plan, which is being concluded. She offered a look at the significant progress that has already been made in the Elon Leads campaign, which has as its top priority the growth of scholarship support for students. 

“I want you to hear this evening that while we are thinking of big ideas about our future through the strategic planning process and raising money to support all that is happening at Elon, all of it is centered on the student experience powered by mentoring relationships,” Book said. “This is the heart of Elon University.”

In her remarks Wednesday night, Christine Gordon remembered her late husband, noting that he loved a challenge and “his imagination had no boundaries and he was never afraid of risk.” That made an endowed professorship in entrepreneurship a natural avenue to support Elon as it prepares students to take on those challenges in the years ahead, she said.

Ajjan’s selection for an endowed professorship is the latest achievement for the associate professor of management information systems, who is director of the Center for Organizational Analytics and was named earlier this year as the Faculty Administrative Fellow for Innovation and assistant to the president. She joined the Elon faculty in 2010 and was honored with the Love School of Business Dean’s Award for Service in 2013, the school’s Dean’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship in 2014 and was recognized in Elon’s President’s Report in 2014 and 2018. 

Ajjan has received five Faculty Research and Development Awards. She founded the Center for Organizational Analytics, a hub for analytics research, practice and curriculum development. The center has emerged as one of Elon’s most significant, innovative and popular initiatives and an important resource to help students reach their career goals after graduation.

“My heart is filled with warm thanks. I am grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Gordon for their generosity and for recognizing the teaching, research, mentorship, and service we practice at Elon,” Ajjan said. “Mr. Gordon once said he hopes the professorship will help cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset among all Elon students. Our multidisciplinary analytics program allows us to work with students across campus—from business, communications, statistics and computer science—to help them develop the entrepreneurial mindset in the way they approach client problems and the way they solve them.”

Raghu Tadepalli, dean of the Love School of Business, said Ajjan exemplifies the student-centered approach to scholarship that is emphasized at Elon. “She cares about her students. She helps her students. She’s willing to mentor them and guide them. The students sense this. The subjects she teaches are always changing. She brings a desire to learn. She is a lifelong learner and the students see that as well.”

Ajjan’s work is making an impactful contribution to the life of the university, Tadepalli said. The Center for Organizational Analytics includes faculty fellows and students from Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Communications and the Love School of Business. Students work with businesses, organizations or governments on a variety of analytics projects geared toward solving problems. Creating the center was achieved through Ajjan’s dedication to making it happen.

“When she came to me about starting a Center for Organizational Analytics, I told her I had no money to fund it. She reached out to corporations like HanesBrands or SAS and others,” Tadepalli said. “When the partnerships began to develop I asked if she wanted to take a stipend but she asked that all of the money go for students. All the money to the center she spends on student interns. This is the essence of being student-centered at Elon.”

Tadepalli also noted Ajjan’s own entrepreneurship in building the center. “She is living what an entrepreneur does. She had the idea of developing a Center for Organizational Analytics, she sold the idea of a center, she started to grow the center, she developed partners and now the center is a viable enterprise.”

The Gordons have been generous supporters of scholarships and other university priorities. Sheldon Gordon P’16 ‘19, a visionary real estate developer from West Haven, Connecticut, passed away on Sept. 28, 2017. With wife Christine, they were members of Elon’s Parent’s Council and Christine is still a Parent’s Council member. 

Prior to his death, Sheldon Gordon was widely recognized as one of the most successful commercial real estate developers in the nation. During a career spanning close to four decades, Gordon helped set the standard for designing and creating innovative mixed-use commercial development. Among his projects are The Beverly Center in Los Angeles and The Forum Shops in Las Vegas. Christine Gordon has been a successful interior designer for the past 30 years and serves in leadership roles on many boards and committees, including The Kennedy Center’s National Committee for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

The Gordons were inspired by the strong culture of entrepreneurship that exists in the Love School of Business, which houses the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and in the School of Communications, where Martine Gordon was a student. “I think the professorship is a great opportunity for Elon because of what’s happening in the university’s business and communications schools,” Sheldon Gordon said at the time of the couple’s commitment to create the professorship. “All of the pieces are there.”

Since her arrival at Elon, Ajjan has developed seven different undergraduate and graduate courses that focus on skills that are in high demand by employers, including business computing, business process, technology and analytics, data mining, emerging topics in information systems, spreadsheet modeling, and cyber security. Her research efforts have included studies of women entrepreneurs in South Africa and how refugees in her home country of Syria use data analytics.

“Her research has been impactful,” Tadepalli said. “She has taken on projects that are not only meaningful but also have a big impact in her field.”

Elon University is emerging as a national leader in developing future entrepreneurs. The Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the foundation of a culture that has spawned a maker hub and design thinking studios – including one housed in the new Sankey Hall, adjacent to the Love School of Business. Elon in San Francisco is a Study USA summer program devoted to student internships and design thinking studies.

During an Elon Talks presentation last week, Ajjan talked about her journey to America from Syria. She earned graduate degrees from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Belk College of Business and joined Elon University in 2010, launching her idea for the Center for Organizational Analytics in 2015. The center opened in 2016. Today 18 faculty members and 17 students are working on projects addressing seven problems businesses are facing.

The center has partnered with businesses such as Carolina Biological Supply and groups including GlobalNC (part of the North Carolina Department of Commerce), and the United Way of Alamance County. Through other partnerships developed by Ajjan, the center has gained support for programs from Amazon Web Services, SAS, IBM Watson and HanesBrands. Ajjan’s efforts have placed Elon in a leadership role in the field of organizational analytics, an emerging frontier for business expertise.

Now as the Sheldon and Christine Gordon Professor in Entrepreneurship, Ajjan hopes to continue to build upon her work. “I hope to continue to create new programs across campus and bring students and faculty together to work on important challenges facing business and society,” she said.