|Lemma Senbet, PhD|
As a freshman at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, Lemma Senbet clearly remembers his first day on campus standing in line to register for his engineering classes. Noticing a large number of students filing up for another subject, he asked what the line was for. When he learned that students were enrolling in for the university’s newly established business school, he decided to switch majors.
Unbeknownst to Senbet, that moment would lead to a successful career in economics and a position as William E. Mayer Chair Professor of Finance at the University of Maryland.
Senbet earned a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Addis Ababa University and an MBA in finance from the University of California in Los Angeles. After graduation, Senbet planned to return to Ethiopia. However, civil unrest in the country forced him to wait out the war in a doctorate program in the United States. After searching for universities in New York, he chose UB over Columbia University for the personal attention and family-like atmosphere the university’s doctoral program offered.
Senbet’s first academic appointment was as an assistant professor of finance at the University of Madison Wisconsin.
He progressed rapidly along the tenure track, earning the rank of full professor after seven years, and later, the Charles Albright Chaired Professorship! However, the chance to help build a finance program led him to the University of Maryland.
Currently, Senbet is on sabbatical from Maryland, working as the head of the African Economic Research Consortium, a Kenya-based non-profit organization that conducts research on the management of economies in sub-Saharan Africa.
Five Questions with Lemma:
- If you could create another national holiday, what would it be called?Holiday for Immigrants. The United States is a country of immigrants and that doesn’t receive much attention. The holiday would celebrate the energy and vibrancy that led to the creation of U.S. And it would honor both current immigrants and historic immigrants, and the opportunities created for them to make it in a different environment.
- What’s your fondest memory of UB?We used to have a finance workshop where faculty would encourage students to be outspoken. During the second year of my PhD, we had a professor from another university present. His presentation didn’t make sense and I asked a question that disproved his entire paper and ended the seminar. He couldn’t recover to answer the question and people were in shock. The question I asked was naïve; I didn’t realize it would have far reaching applications beyond what I said.
- Your advice for UB students?Looking back on my own path, I never knew what I wanted to do. One thing simply led to another. Wherever you end up, always do your best. You don’t know where an opportunity will lead or who is watching.
- What was your first job?In college, there was a national service requirement for students to teach in rural areas. The government used young kids to reduce corruption and one of my jobs was to supervise elections. At 20 years old, I would organize campaign speeches and monitor parliamentary elections for the whole province.
- What is your desired legacy?I want to make a difference in the quality of other peoples’ lives through what I’m doing: in Africa, in Maryland, and by training my students.