Jack Derby appointed ELS program director, Cummings Family professor

Jack Derby poses for a portrait in the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex on March 7. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily

On Feb. 12, Jack Derby was appointed director of the entrepreneurial leadership studies (ELS) program and the Cummings Family professor of the practice in entrepreneurship. Before joining the Tufts Gordon Institute as professor of the practice in entrepreneurial marketing and sales in 2006, Derby headed several companies and startups.

The Cummings Family Professorship in Entrepreneurship, originally named the Cummings Family Chair in Entrepreneurship and Business Economics, was formerly held by Professor Emeritus George Norman and housed in the economics department. As of this year, the endowed professorship has been moved to the School of Engineering to support growing enrollment in the programs of the Gordon Institute. According to Tufts Now, the ELS minor is currently the largest at the university.

Derby was the first faculty member of the ELS program to receive the Henry and Madeline Fischer Award in 2015, given to the School of Engineering’s teacher of the year, as judged by the class of graduating seniors. Junior Alexander Wulkan, who has taken two courses with Derby, shared that in the classroom, Derby is known for his hands-on approach to teaching and passion for students.

“He is super energetic and has tons of knowledge because he brings all of his industry experience into the classroom and treats everybody with respect, as if we were professionals that are working for him,” Wulkan said of Derby. “The attention to detail that he has is really remarkable, and something that I have been trying to translate into what I do.”

According to Wulkan, Derby’s enthusiasm for teaching is exemplified in the ways in which he seeks to help students, whether that is in a classroom project or trying to find a job post-graduation.

“Regardless of whether [Derby has] met you once or knows you really well, he’s happy to connect you with people in the industry and teach you how to market yourself in the best way possible. That’s something that I’ve never seen in any other class at Tufts,” he said.

Outside of the classroom, Derby has over 40 years of industry experience, including providing sales and marketing services for emerging and middle market companies. Derby said that he and other faculty members in the ELS program use this wealth of experience in their teaching.

“One of the things ELS does, and we pride ourselves on, is that we bring our students real-life social and business problems, and they [have the opportunity] to solve them,” Derby said.

Wulkan appreciates that the ELS program ensures that its students experience the concepts that they are learning, because he believes that you cannot learn entrepreneurship from just a textbook or a lecture class.

“[Many] of the classes [that] I’ve taken here, especially in economics, tended to be really theoretical. What I loved about ELS is that you become a student sales consultant with autonomy over your own project, and you are working in the real world with clients,” he said.

However, it seems like students might not have to wait until graduation to gain all this from the program. Wulkan expressed “you learn a lot about yourself when you go through an entrepreneurship class, it prepares you for the real world and fosters intellectual creativity and curiosity that no other program at Tufts can give you.”

Derby is bringing the passion and energy that he has shown in the classroom into his new role. For now, there are two short-term goals that Derby will focus on. One is finding a “common language” as to how ELS and its objectives are defined. The other is to ensure a successful run of the 14th annual $100K New Ventures Competition.

“I’m very excited that we’ve gotten applications [for this competition] from seven colleges within the university this year,” Derby said.

To take the ELS program to “the next level,” Derby emphasized that he will not be working exclusively off his personal vision.

“Over the next six months, ELS professors and the board of advisors will identify what that long-term vision is going to be,” Derby said. “Once all professors and the board of advisors are on the same page, there will be opportunities for students and alumni to provide input and be involved in the process.”

Wulkan is excited about Derby’s ability to engage with others in the entrepreneurship community, including the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society, of which Wulkan is the president.

“[One of the goals of the club is to] better foster the Tufts startup ecosystem within the ELS program itself and getting as many people engaged with entrepreneurship as possible,” he said, adding that collaborating with Derby will be fundamental toward achieving that goal.

Sophomores Lea Pensoy and Chloe Amouyal, co-presidents of Women Entrepreneurs at Tufts (WE@T), expressed a similar sentiment about Derby’s appointment.

“While neither of us have been taught by Jack before, we have heard nothing but good things; we’re looking forward to getting to know him and working with the ELS [program] as WE@T continues to grow,” Pensoy and Amouyal told the Daily in an electronic message.

Derby expressed his hope that every student involved with the ELS program under his leadership will gain an entrepreneurial mindset.

“[I hope students gain] an intense curiosity in their lives and in their careers; a courage to be wrong, go outside the normal bounds and experiment with the world around them,” he said.