POCATELLO — After spending more than 12 years teaching at Arkansas State University, Shane Hunt wasn’t convinced he needed to find a new job. But because his son was graduating high school and was going to attend college out of state and his daughter was still in middle school, he and his wife decided that if they were ever going to consider moving, this was their window of opportunity.
So Hunt, who had served as the dean of the College of Business in Jonesboro and was at the time the R.M. “Bob” Wood Endowed Professor in Sales Leadership and a professor of marketing, started accepting calls from recruiters and doing interviews.
He says that none of the universities he originally talked to were a good fit; their priorities or campus cultures weren’t compatible with him or they were located in communities where his family wouldn’t want to live. Then he got a call from Idaho State University. They were looking for a new dean for the College of Business in Pocatello. Was he interested? He was.
And Hunt stayed interested after visiting the campus and talking to the students and the professors. What was the difference between ISU and all those other business schools? Hunt says he saw a genuine focus on student success at ISU.
When Hunt arrived on campus for the visit, the first meeting was with students of all different majors within the College of Business. He turned to an accounting student next to him and asked that student what his favorite thing was about being a business major at ISU.
Hunt said the student told him, “Well, Dr. Hunt, the thing that I like the most is every one of my professors cared about me and every one of them helped me get a great job.”
That, for Hunt, was the perfect answer.
“We do a lot of great things as professors. We write books and we do speeches and we do consulting and we do all kinds of different things,” Hunt said. “But the single most important thing at any business school in the country should be the educational experience our students have, and we have way too many business schools that have strayed away from that. And what I saw (at ISU) was a group of people — of professors and staff — who had this genuine caring for their students and investment in them to help them have better lives, which is what I believe in, which is what happened in my life.”
ISU saw something in Hunt as well, and in November 2019, he was offered the job.
In a press release announcing the hire, Laura Woodworth-Ney, ISU's executive vice president and provost, said, “Dr. Hunt’s experience and knowledge will serve Idaho State well. He will bring to this position an enthusiastic, student-centered model of excellence. We are very excited to welcome him to the Bengal family.”
Hunt has only been on the job a short while, but he’s already incredibly happy with his decision to relocate.
“After being here for a couple months, all those things that I liked (when I first visited) have been true times 100,” Hunt said. “The kindness of people, the way that there’s a student focus throughout the college, throughout the university. We feel very blessed and thankful to be here.”
In addition to his love of ISU, he also has enjoyed Pocatello itself.
“I can’t begin to express how much we’ve loved this community, how much I love the views from my house, how much I love the weather in the summer.” he said. “This is the best weather of any summer of my life. As a family, to go out and hike and do the outdoor activities here, it’s amazing. … I’ve never liked living somewhere as much as I’ve liked living here, and I think my wife and son and daughter would all say the same thing.”
‘THE GREATEST ADVENTURE OF MY LIFE’
Hunt describes himself as “a pretty dull person” — he’s a plain burger, “meat and bun only,” kind of guy. But, he says, there are two things he’s done in his life that are interesting.
The first is that when his son Andrew — who is a freshman at the University of Oklahoma — was 6, they decided to attend games at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums in the U.S. after watching an Arizona Diamondbacks game in Phoenix.
“Something I’d always wanted to do when I was a young man, before I had a family, I always wanted to go see all the 30 of the Major League Baseball stadiums,” Hunt said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if that was a father-son adventure we could have?’ So I told my wife, ‘I really want to make a goal to say that Andrew and I will go to all 30 Major League stadiums before he graduates high school,’ and we made it.”
It took them nine years to the day — from Aug. 8, 2008, to Aug. 8, 2017 — to complete it.
With his daughter, Sarah, he wanted to have a father-daughter adventure as well.
“The absolute best thing as an adult that has ever happened to me was becoming the father of a daughter,” Hunt said. “With Sarah, everything was new. I had no sisters. I had no experience with that, and I’ve loved every second of it."
An idea began to spark when the family made a detour to Grand Canyon National Park on the way to San Francisco where Hunt was speaking at a conference.
“It is breathtaking. It is one of the most remarkable things you’ll ever see,” Hunt said.
A couple years later in 2013, they made their first trip to Yellowstone National Park.
“It was one of the most awe-inspiring things. It’s still my favorite national park,” Hunt said. “I tell people, ‘There is no place more special on Earth than Yellowstone.”
He and Sarah decided to embark on an even more ambitious endeavor than what he did with Andrew: visiting all 62 of the country’s national parks before she graduates high school. They’ve managed to visit 43 parks since they started.
“It’s been the greatest adventure of my life,” Hunt said.
It was during this national park adventure that Hunt was introduced to Pocatello for the first time in 2016 when he was taking his family and his in-laws to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. They came through Pocatello on their way. He says he was blown away by the community as well as the climate and the geography.
“We just kind of made a mental note,” Hunt said. “There wasn’t anything more to it than like, ‘This is a really special place. It’s beautiful.’”
He said when ISU reached out to him last year, the recruiter said the job was probably in a place he’d never heard of, and Hunt said, “I know exactly where Pocatello, Idaho, is. I know exactly where that is, and it’s amazing.”
Even so, Hunt said that before he and his wife visited ISU last October, they still didn’t think they’d relocate from their longtime home in Arkansas.
“When we got here, we were blown away by how kind everyone was, how supportive the community was,” Hunt said. “The thing that stood out most to me as a first-generation college student was how everyone here at the Idaho State University College of Business cared about our students.”
He added, “College changed everything about my life. I had an amazing mom and dad who sacrificed everything for me to be the first one in our family to go to college. College changed everything about my life and changed everything about my kids’ lives and one day about my grandkids’ lives. You don’t see that passion enough. So when I saw the people here and I saw that and I sensed that culture, that was the thing.”
FROM OKLAHOMA TO ARKANSAS
Hunt wasn’t always the adventuring type.
He grew up in Oklahoma City, the only child of a mailman and an operations director for a staffing service. A first-generation college student, he attended the University of Oklahoma, which is just outside his hometown in Norman. There, he earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in marketing and a Master of Business Administration degree.
He also met his wife, Jenifer, while they were earning their MBAs. They’ve now been married about 21 years.
After finishing school in the late 1990s, he went to work for Fortune 500 business, Williams Companies, which was also located in Oklahoma and mainly deals in natural gas.
“We thought we were quite the adventurers going from Oklahoma City to Tulsa,” Hunt said.
There, Hunt had a career in marketing telecommunications, and he describes the company as “a great place to work.” However, once the company started making changes several years into his being there during the telecom recession in the early 2000s, he decided to go back to school to get a Ph.D.
He said he told his wife during that time, “This is OK and I love what I do, but I can’t imagine doing this when I’m 60.”
Plus, he thought, it would be cool to have the title of “doctor.” Again, he stayed close to home, attending Oklahoma State University in Stillwater while still working at Williams a couple days a week and eventually earning his doctorate degree in marketing.
He originally planned on staying in the private sector, but while teaching during the process of earning his Ph.D., he decided that was the career path he wanted to pursue.
“I never could have imagined how teaching students, helping students, seeing them achieve their goals and getting jobs and writing letters of recommendation, I never knew how much fun it is just being in an environment every day around smart people who are thinking,” Hunt said. “I loved it.”
From there, in 2007, he and his family finally made their first out-of-state move — to Jonesboro, Arkansas, where he took a job as an assistant professor of marketing at Arkansas State University.
“I joke with people that if you take the beautiful mountains (in Pocatello) and replace them with mosquitos, it’s basically the same community,” Hunt said.
‘WE ARE DOING INCREDIBLE THINGS’
Hunt thinks everything the ISU College of Business is currently doing is leading it down the right track.
Faculty and staff support the students. There’s a great culture of entrepreneurship. The school is accredited by an elite organization — the international Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business — and only 876 colleges in the world can claim that honor, which is the highest level of accreditation for business schools. The accounting program also has a specialized AACSB accreditation, which is an even more elite honor, with only 190 schools globally claiming it.
Hunt said there are two things he’s planning on focusing on moving forward.
“One, we’re focused on reducing the cost of college,” he said. “The College of Business, we don’t set tuition rates, but what we can do, what I can do, is help raise scholarship dollars. One of my goals is to double the amount of endowed scholarship dollars we have in the College of Business in the next three years because every dollar that we raise is dollars that go back to students that help them afford college, help them have less debt and have the exponential benefit on that.
He added, “The second thing that I’m focused on is making sure that … our students, regardless of whatever they’re paying, that they get a great value and that really starts by making sure that we have the resources here, especially the professors in the classrooms, to make sure they do that.”
Hunt said good professors are a huge part of what makes a college successful.
"I want whatever class a student goes into to go into that class saying, ‘I’m getting a great professor,’" he said. "… I want to raise money to have more endowed professorships so we always have the best people in the classroom and the students always get the best possible education. If you have a great professor who cares about his or her students, you could put them in almost any classroom anywhere and the students are going to have a great experience.”
He said ISU and Pocatello have a strong entrepreneurial tradition, and he wants the business school to expand on that. He also wants to raise money so students can travel to different areas to attend conferences.
The only thing Hunt thinks the college needs to improve on is getting the word out there about how great it is.
“We are doing incredible things,” he said. “There are no structural weaknesses here in the programs and the way that we do things. What I am most focused on is telling that story. I don’t think enough people know that story.”
Starting in September, Hunt will host a radio show called “The Bengal Business Radio Show,” which will highlight alumni and faculty of the College of Business. The 30-minute show will air monthly on KISU, the university’s radio station.
Hunt also recently announced the addition of the Bengal Financial Literacy Program, which will begin in January.
As part of the program, scholarships will be offered to students who are pursuing the certificate and have completed the first two classes of the program.
“Helping people to develop financial literacy and preparing them to manage their finances has the ability to positively impact generations of our citizens,” Hunt said in a press release from ISU. “I think this will provide a tremendous benefit to students across the ISU campus from all majors and people throughout our community.”
Another big thing Hunt is excited about is a permanent endowed scholarship for business majors in honor of his parents, Loren and Debbie Pilgrim, which is available starting this fall to any student pursuing a degree at the business college.
Hunt said his parents made major sacrifices for him to attend college, and The Loren and Debbie Pilgrim Business Excellence Scholarship Endowment is his way of showing gratitude to them.
“I was only able to go to college because my mom and dad sacrificed for me, and I think there’s no better tribute to my mom and dad than to have this scholarship,” he said. “And because we’ve permanently endowed it, it’ll be there forever — long after I’m gone and we’re all gone, there will still be students at ISU in the College of Business who benefit from that scholarship in my mom and dad’s name.”
Hunt’s father passed away in 2015, and his mother has now moved to Pocatello and is already an avid fan of the Bengals.
“Going to college positively changed every aspect of my life, and that would not have been possible without the love, support and sacrifice of my incredible parents,” Hunt said in a press release from ISU announcing the scholarship.
Ultimately, Hunt said, the biggest goal he hopes to achieve is to change the lives of the students who attend the College of Business.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is the lives that we change and the lives that we improve and the careers that we help to launch,” he said.