Becoming a leader: Shohreh Kaynama

Learn more about College of Business & Economics Dean Shohreh Kaynama’s leadership journey

Shohreh Kaynama

Work–family balance is one of the struggles most associated with women rising in the executive ranks. Can they really “have it all?” 

For Shohreh Kaynama ’76, dean of TU’s College of Business & Economics (CBE), early family-focused career decisions put her on the path to leadership.

Kaynama enrolled at Towson University (then Towson State College) when she and her husband arrived in the United States. While he completed a residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she completed her undergraduate degree at TU. She gave birth to their first child the day after she earned her MBA from the University of Baltimore.

A second son followed less than two years later, and Kaynama’s desire to stay with her children led her to turn down a job offer from a major local company. Instead she took a position as an adjunct marketing professor at her alma mater. Her personality, drive and follow-through propelled her to a doctorate, through the promotion and tenure process and, finally, into the dean’s office.

According to a 2014 AACSB International member survey, she was one of just 69 female deans (as opposed to 285 males) among its global membership.

Being a women in a typically male domain has never bothered Kaynama. 

Before coming to the United States she spent two-and-a-half years at Abadan Institute of Technology (AIT) in Iran. The exclusive private university had a very difficult entrance exam, a purely business and accounting focus, and up until a few years before Kaynama enrolled, no women. 

Even her family background prepared her for a leadership position in a male-dominated field. 

“I have four brothers. Later on, I have two sons. Even my dog was a male!” she said. “I grew up and lived in a male-dominated environment. But I never felt that gender had anything to do with my succeeding or failing at anything. That is true in everything that I do, even up to now. I don’t feel that because I’m a female dean I should have any special treatment. I should be treated just like my counterparts in all respects.”

But she does recognize how important it is that students, particularly women, to see a female business school dean.

Over 15 years ago, when Kaynama assumed the deanship, two female students come to her office to congratulate her and tell her how happy they were to have a woman in the role.

“It made me think that it’s important to students to see not only that I am a woman, but that I am foreign-born with an accent, and that I have been a relatively successful dean of this college,” Kaynama continued. “They can look at themselves and say, ‘If she can do it, then I can do it.’ Becoming a role model and a mentor is important to students.”

She has spent her entire career at TU, and she has not stopped learning. 

“I really love Towson. It is more than just a place I go to work. This is the place that made me,” she said. “Having said that, the only way I can keep current and know what’s going on outside [of campus] is working with the AACSB accreditation program. I have done site visits to all kinds of universities. I see them, I learn from them, and I bring some of that back here. Every time I go to one of those, my staff says, ‘Oh, no. Shohreh’s going to come back with more ideas!’

“But I’m married to this locality. I love Towson, and I really don’t want to be anywhere else. Towson is home.”