image title

New Regents Professor has a passion for public service

January 31, 2023

The new year is getting off to a great start for Stacy Leeds

On Feb. 1, she becomes the first Native American female dean of Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

And on Feb. 9, the renowned legal scholar will be sworn in as ASU Regents Professor of Law — one of the most prestigious honors a faculty member can receive. The distinction goes to tenured professors who have made unique contributions to the quality of the university. 

According to Leeds, being named Regents Professor was unexpected. 

“Well, it took me completely by surprise because I had no idea that I was in the mix or that I was under consideration,” said Leeds, with a humble smile. “So the powers-that-be across our campus keep good secrets on occasion.” 

Leeds is among a select group that makes up less than 3% of ASU’s faculty, and is one of four professors selected this year. Members of this elite circle are recognized for their research by both local and national colleagues. 

“This is great news,” said Brian Gallini, who was associate dean while Leeds was dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law. 

“Stacy is hard-working, compassionate and has a great sense of humor, all of which comes together to form a superior leadership style and corresponding positive culture. (She) approached each task with an admirable mix of calm, evenness and a refreshing amount of common sense that truly built up everyone around her," said Gallini, who is now dean of Willamette University College of Law.

Career and contributions

Leeds’ extensive experience and contributions certainly qualify her for the position of Regents Professor. She is a scholar of Indigenous law and policy, and an experienced leader in economic development and conflict resolution. She is a trailblazer with a passion for both scholarship and public service. 

Her legal expertise has had a powerful impact on Native American communities throughout the nation. Leeds was the first woman to serve as a justice for the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court and was recently appointed founding board member on the Foundation for America’s Public Lands, a congressionally chartered nonprofit.

Leeds is also the Foundation Professor of Law and Leadership at ASU and a leading educator in Native American law with a commitment to helping the next generation of lawyers. 

“It is threading the needle between scholarly work and on-the-ground work in the communities. For me, I would never envision doing one or the other," Leeds said. "So the thing that has probably been the single most important thing is that I have been given the space to really be in both of those universes. They inform one another.”

Leeds says all of this has enriched both her teaching and research “in ways that I can’t imagine.”

Professor helps student review work on laptop

Regents Professor Stacy Leeds (right) helps review work done by Natalia Sells, who is studying for her Juris Doctor of law. Photo by Enrique Lopez

The Indigenous influence

Leeds is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the seeds of her success were planted while on the Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee reservations in Oklahoma, where she lived most of her life.

It was this culture, along with support from many mentors, that led to a career in law and eventually to where she is today.

“I come from a Native American community and that’s the reason that I went to law school in the first place,” she said. “There were still so few Native American attorneys able to represent tribes. I knew I wanted to help empower communities.”

In the 1970s, modern day tribal governments started to reform and get their strength. Leeds watched the wholesale redevelopment of sovereignty and nations all around her. 

“I grew up alongside these emerging tribal governments,” Leeds said. “So advocacy was a very natural space. I can't remember a time when I had a consciousness that didn't involve that.” 

Leeds recalls the time when Wilma Mankiller, the chief of the Cherokee Nation, visited her elementary school. She stored away her observations of Mankiller’s approach to leadership. 

“She impacted me,” Leeds said. “Not just seeing a woman in this position, but seeing a person in a position that was uniquely herself in that role. She didn't take on the identity of what she was doing. She was doing work, but it wasn't like that role took her identity away from her.” 

At some point Leeds came to understand two things — what she wanted to do and what it would take to do it. 

“It was very easy to connect the dots that, if I became educated and went back to work for the tribes, I was going to make a big difference.” 

The combination of the political environment of her youth and her pursuit of law was a perfect pairing. Her understanding of discrimination and social injustice led her to advocate for Native American nations, as well as other underrepresented cultures.

“It was something that resonated with me all along,” Leeds said. “I realized I did not have to limit my work to the Native American community, but I could help all marginalized communities — particularly in the legal profession.”

Top photo: Stacy Leeds, newly named Regents Professor and Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law Dean. Photo by Armand Saavedra

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

image title

Thunderbird professor dreams big, reaps the rewards

January 31, 2023

Get to know Valerie Sy as part of our New Faces on Campus series

Editor's note: New Faces on Campus is a new monthly feature by ASU News showcasing faculty members who have been hired in the 2022–23 academic year.

Valerie Sy isn't afraid to make big and bold life decisions.

At age 40, she left a successful business career to pursue her PhD.

Closer to 50, she transitioned to academia.

One day in the future, she wants to open her own yoga studio. And that’ll probably happen given her track record.

"It is important to look at your life strategically, with a long-term orientation,” said Sy, an assistant professor of global innovation strategy and entrepreneurship at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. “Create goals, review and refresh them often, and don't be afraid to make a major change to get where you want to be.”

Sy is a new face at Arizona State University, and made a major change to be here.

She has several goals while at Thunderbird: conduct research in strategy and entrepreneurship, advance understanding of long-term success and business startups, and be influential in the lives of her students.

ASU News recently spoke to Sy to ask about her life, career and research.

Question: Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you’re from and how you ended up in academia?

Answer: I was born in New Jersey, and as a child, my family moved from New Jersey to Florida, back to New Jersey, then to Texas, where I went to junior high and high school. I attended the University of Texas at Austin for my Bachelor of Science in electrical and computer engineering. Following graduation, I worked for 3M in information technology, and after five years, I returned to the University of Texas at Austin in the evenings for my MBA. I stayed at 3M for 17 years, eventually moving into management in marketing services, sales operations, strategy and business development.

In 2016, I was gifted the opportunity to make a big decision about my career, and I opted to leave 3M and pursue my dream of becoming a university professor. At 40 years old, I studied for the GRE, applied to PhD programs and started my doctorate studies at Texas A&M University in College Station. I graduated in May 2022 with a PhD in strategic management and entrepreneurship, and happily took a position here at Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU as an assistant professor of global innovation strategy and entrepreneurship.

Q: What is your area of research or academic focus? What are you most excited about regarding your research?

A: I conduct organizational research in strategy and entrepreneurship, specifically in the areas of knowledge, innovation, technology and networks. Having spent my practitioner career in a company that reached its 100-year anniversary during my tenure, I am fascinated that companies and organizations can outlive their human constituents. I believe that founders instill an entrepreneurial spirit into their burgeoning organizations thus enabling and inspiring successive cohorts of managers and employees to continuously innovate and extend the viability of the organization into the unforeseen future. As entrepreneurship becomes increasingly important around the world, I hope to advance our understanding of the internal and external factors that contribute to the success of new startup ventures, as well as extending the longevity of established firms through corporate entrepreneurship.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to study this field? What was your “aha” moment?

A: Since I entered the workforce with a degree in engineering, I mostly viewed the world with a technical lens. When I went back to school for my MBA, I gained an entirely new perspective on how the world works — through business, management, money and profits. I also realized that I loved school, and I vowed to return one day. I continued working at 3M with a refreshed outlook on how technology and business are intertwined. In most roles, I was a boundary spanner who bridged communications between two groups, such as engineers and marketers, software developers and business clients or technologists and managers. After several more years of working in a large company, I decided it was time to build upon my practical skills and return to academia to help organizations and individuals better manage technology and business together.

Q: How do you want to see this field advance to the betterment of society?

A: There has been a lot of conversation recently about artificial intelligence and virtual reality. I want to ensure that our research and teaching recognize the importance of the human element in programming these technological advances — that people are responsible for making ethical choices for the computers right now and into the future. As we continue to create organizations that develop, use and maintain these technologies, we must educate leaders and workers to understand the importance of their roles and make the right decisions to steer artificial and virtual applications toward good, specifically for the overall betterment of our society.

Q: What is something you wish more people realized about what your research?

A: I wish more people realized that management researchers take their jobs very seriously. It takes a lot of effort to ideate, conceptualize, develop, write and publish our research. Scholars are constantly seeking new phenomena to explore, new questions to ask and new angles for evaluating established theories. The academic discourse process, though sometimes very lengthy, is especially valuable for the management discipline because of the importance in society. Without management research, we would not know what comprises an effective organization, its leaders and constituents or its strategic implications. 

Q: What brought you to ASU and Thunderbird, and what do you like about the university?

A: I heard about Thunderbird many years ago from a colleague at 3M. When I saw the job posting and read more about the connection with Arizona State University, I was even more interested in exploring this unique learning environment. Combining the diversity and global reach of Thunderbird with the resources and organizational wisdom of ASU is an unparalleled force within higher education. I was especially attracted to the opportunities at Thunderbird to conduct research with some of the greatest scholars in international management, to teach students from all corners of the world and to engage with amazing staff, faculty and alumni all around the globe. All within the ASU enterprise as well, I knew there was the potential to make a big impact here.

Q: What specifically would you like to accomplish while at Thunderbird?

A: I hope to continue to shape global management practice through meaningful research and effective teaching at Thunderbird. For my research, I will broaden the scope of strategic entrepreneurship into more international contexts. For example, what does it mean to be an entrepreneur in different countries, how do multinational companies operate constructively through corporate entrepreneurship, and how can we encourage and promote entrepreneurial activity around the world? For my teaching, I hope to be influential in the careers of future leaders as they take the management lessons learned at Thunderbird forward into their next job, their next new venture or the next company or organization in which they work.

Q: What’s something you do for fun or something only your closest friends know about you?

A: I have been practicing yoga for over 20 years, and I would like to open a yoga studio one day!

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Reporter , ASU News