The Grunsten Legacy
For The Chicago School, it’s the end of an era.
After more than two decades on the Board of Trustees, Ricardo Grunsten is stepping down as its longest-serving member and relinquishing the chairman’s gavel he has so adeptly wielded for 13 years. He leaves behind a markedly different institution than the one he joined as a novice trustee in 1990—one that will long bear the evidence of his insight and business savvy.
“During Ricardo’s tenure, The Chicago School has grown from a small regional graduate school with a single campus and fewer than 100 students to a nationally recognized institution of higher learning with campuses in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., a robust online-blended learning community, more than 4,100 students, and 16 master’s and doctoral degree programs,” President Michele Nealon-Woods said in announcing his retirement.
But it’s about more than numbers. What Mr. Grunsten hopes will define his legacy is a focus on innovation and internationalization, and an evolution from a fiscally tenuous operation to a financially and academically vigorous institution that would significantly broaden the reach of psychology education. His expertise in marketing didn’t hurt either.
“I could see that there would always be a need for more therapists, but psychology is so much more than that,” he says. “We needed to consider broadening the appeal of the field, and we did. Marketing was a big part of that. Instead of focusing on what we wanted to sell, we needed to look at what the market wants to buy. An understanding of psychology is critical in knowing how to run a business and knowing how to change minds, for example.”
A major turning point in The Chicago School’s evolution came with the hiring of Dr. Michael Horowitz as its seventh president in 2000, a step that Mr. Grunsten identifies as his proudest accomplishment. Together, they met weekly and forged a path to the future—a trajectory that would result in a coast-to-coast presence, academic and service partnerships throughout the community and world, an astute business-minded board, and the creation of international opportunities on five continents.
“It’s easy in this country to assume an arrogance of ‘we know best,’ but it has been humbling and eye-opening for our students to become involved with the rest of the world.”
An Argentinian by birth, he pushed TCSPP particularly hard to extend its reach beyond the United States borders.
“It’s easy in this country to assume an arrogance of ‘we know best,’ but it has been humbling and eye-opening for our students to become involved with the rest of the world,” he says. “We’re doing great things in countries like Rwanda, but those activities also give us greater stature and sophistication, as well as more market appeal.”
Mr. Grunsten’s contributions were formally recognized at the May 18 Board of Trustees meeting, held for the first time at the school’s two-year-old Washington, D.C. Campus, where Dr. Nealon-Woods announced the creation of the Ricardo Grunsten Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Community Service. The prize will be given annually to students who exemplify the mission, vision, and core values of The Chicago School in their academic and professional endeavors.
Although his days of active involvement have drawn to a close, Mr. Grunsten says he will continue to follow the school’s progress, especially as “psychology continues to evolve along with the rapid changes in our culture.”
“There was a time when someone would go to a psychologist because something was wrong. I never liked that model,” he says, adding that The Chicago School’s approach has advanced far beyond those early days. “I’d rather see people use psychologists the way they use personal trainers—to make sure they stay psychologically fit. That’s the direction I see The Chicago School continuing to go.”