The Carlson School of Management, the U's business school and the biggest in Minnesota, has new management.

Jamie Prenkert, an employment lawyer who became an academic and was most recently an executive associate dean for the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, arrived in Minneapolis this summer to become dean of the Carlson School.

As he met with students, faculty, alumni and business leaders during his first few months, Prenkert identified something at Carlson that some would call a Minnesota trait.

Gov. Tim Walz calls it "hiding our light under the basket." I think of it as a dignified humility with a dash of insularity.

"I knew very good things about the school, but I continue to learn so many more," Prenkert said in an interview last week. "There is an opportunity to sharpen the message about those things in a way that both raises our connections here in Minnesota, in the Twin Cities, and pierces more effectively nationwide."

He arrived at the U at a moment when it's going through enormous change. President Joan Gabel left this spring just as he was considering the job. Interim President Jeff Ettinger is a well-regarded Minnesota business executive, the former CEO of Hormel, but only expected to have the role for a year or so.

And it's nearly impossible to meet with a collegiate leader these days who isn't worried about the next few years, when schools are expected to see fewer prospective students because of the drop in U.S. births just after the 2008 recession.

"I think high-quality flagship, public research institutions are in a good place in that regard and an excellent business school within that environment is particularly well-placed," Prenkert said.

Prenkert is still having debut moments himself. Last week, he presided over his first big public event: the launch of a $40 million remodeling of the buildings that house the Carlson School.

Prenkert and his predecessor, Sri Zaheer, jointly thanked Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Cos., for expanding her family's association with the school by making a sizable contribution to the remodeling.

The school is named for her father, Curt Carlson, who started a trading stamps business in the 1930s in Minneapolis and later turned it into a travel and hospitality conglomerate. One of the two buildings will now be renamed in her honor.

An atrium, auditorium, classrooms and study spaces will all be updated. While the atrium is at the center of the main building, it is largely cut off from classrooms. That will change in the remodeling to promote a greater sense of collaboration among students.

The update will also create new space for Carlson students to work with Twin Cities businesses. Several dozen firms — large and small, for-profit and nonprofit — bring problems to Carlson professors each school year to have students analyze, conduct market research and offer solutions.

Both undergraduate and graduate students get involved in that work, the scale of which is distinctive, Prenkert said.

"There'll be 40 sections or so over the course of the year in that impact lab. There are smaller groups within each," he said. "That's a lot of interaction with the business community."

It's been nearly a decade since the Carlson School, facing a decline in demand for the bread-and-butter MBA, created a graduate program in business analytics. That program is still going strong, along with a broader menu of other master's offerings in things like marketing and supply-chain management. Some are designed for students who didn't study business during their undergrad years.

"Those specialized master's programs have been a place that we have expanded and that are a better option for some folks to advance their career," Prenkert said.

The more recent change at Carlson has been in the undergraduate program. The school is in its second year with a new curriculum that, Prenkert said, caught his eye even before he knew the dean position would be opening.

Under Zaheer, Carlson faculty redesigned the undergraduate degree, pursued by about 3,000 students at any given time, with nine new courses and three "signature experiences," including work in the impact lab with Twin Cities businesses.

"It's impressive for the ways that it's designed, but also for the nuances that I continue to learn," Prenkert said. "The courses sequence carefully and build on themselves, particularly in data analysis and problem-solving."