Assistant Dean for Finance & Management, College of Agriculture; AMP Budget Model Redesign Team
Dan Ramia has a head for numbers, but recognizes that he’s in the minority. A 34-year finance veteran of the University System of Maryland—first overseeing budgets at UMD Eastern Shore, now as the Assistant Dean for Finance & Management at the College of Agriculture (AGNR)—one of Dan’s responsibilities is making the complex business of dollars and cents actually “make sense” for a diverse campus audience. Dan has proved this is not only necessary, but rewarding. A recent collaboration he established between AGNR and the Clark School of Engineering has helped bridge a critical data divide using a product called iDashboards, which provides an accessible, visual understanding of data for decision-making. “People are not engaged by a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers,” says Dan. “We have found that programs that provide visual engagement have great impact.”
This innovative thinking is one of the reasons Dan was tapped for AMP. As part of the budget model redesign team, Dan has brought his experiences and success at AGNR—including his success with iDashboard—and his intimate knowledge of running a campus-level budget on the eastern shore, to the AMP team as they address projects like fringe benefits. For a finance guy, the work happening at AMP is a breath of fresh air. “One of the beautiful things about the collaborative nature of AMP is that we’ve created this brain trust. There are a number of us at the college level with 25-35 years of service, so we have this vision, and we also know the inner workings of the system in order to use it for our benefit. It’s a great time to harness that knowledge and use it to take the institution forward with a real budget model and real budgeting. There is such a huge need for that.” Below, Dan talks about the secrets to a thriving campus, how to engage people, and the importance of knowing where the money goes:
What do you see as one of the biggest challenges for providing a first-class education? The biggest challenge these days is funding, and knowing what it takes to deliver a first-class educational experience. We have worked on what they call an incremental budget for so long, which is where we had a mix of state appropriations, tuition dollars, etc., but from a college perspective none of these funds were allocated based on what was actually being given back to the students, or the services being provided. And it’s not just students; using my college as an example, we do a lot of non-credit work across the state and are located in every county, as well as our research farms.
Why does AMP matter? AMP matters because, as a campus, we need to be more efficient in operation. From a budget model redesign aspect, we need to fully understand how funding is used and, in the system of record, represent how we think we will spend in the current year. We’ve not done that in the past. There’s been so much funding that—while represented from a balance sheet perspective—was not budgeted for, nor determined how it would be used in the coming year.
Name one great idea for promoting a happy and healthy campus: Mindfulness. That’s become a big part of my world, and I would love to see this be part of what we promote as a campus for the good of others.
What’s the last good book you read? Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. He came up with this concept of the golden circle. Most companies, most businesses and most people operate off of what they offer; yet the really successful ones, in his view, are the ones who have determined why they offer it. It’s not about the product, it’s about why they create that product. The bottom line is we should be looking at how we engage people and make them feel valued and part of the contribution.