Dr Anthony Lee Of Westcliff University: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Invest in Education: Upskill the people in your organization to harness AI’s potential responsibly.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Anthony Lee.

Dr. Anthony Lee became president and CEO of Westcliff University, which traces its history back 30 years, in 2012, starting with a small student body of 30. Under his leadership, Westcliff has grown significantly, with thousands of graduates from over 100 countries and multiple satellite campuses across the U.S. and abroad, with undergraduate and graduate programs in 21 fields, focusing on business, entrepreneurship and STEM. Dr. Lee recently opened Westcliff Preparatory Academy for high schoolers and Westcliff Early Learning Academy for primary school students, he also acquired Western State College of Law due to his dedication to expanding Westcliff’s educational offerings to learners of all ages.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. What do you think makes your institution stand out? Can you share a story or example?

Westcliff University turns theory into practice. We’re not just teaching the future; we’re building it with our students.

Our institution prides itself on integrating real-world applications into the academic curriculum — and artificial intelligence is no exception. A standout example is our “AI in Practice” initiative where students work on live AI projects with industry partners in our SMART MBA Consulting Capstone Program. Students provide real startup companies with MBA-level consulting services under the mentorship of our faculty. During the process, they are encouraged to use AI for research and first-draft ideation to help come up with innovative marketing and social media outreach tactics.

This hands-on approach enhances student learning and familiarity with AI programs, preparing our students for the future job market and making our institution a center for future visionaries and leaders

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I learned that the power of resilience enables you to bend but not break; that vision is executed by looking beyond the horizon; and the importance of uplifting your team and organization through empathy to understand and acknowledge their needs.

1) Resilience: To overcome the challenge of transitioning Westcliff’s courses to 100% online during the pandemic, I had to learn the importance of adaptability and perseverance.

2) Vision: Anticipating disruptions like the ones caused by AI, we took the lessons learned from restructuring during the pandemic and transformed our curriculum early on to include AI and machine learning, setting a foundation for our student’s future success.

3) Empathy: Consistently identifying and realizing the diverse needs of our staff, faculty and students has helped us to create a more inclusive and supportive educational environment.

Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

AI in education isn’t just a tool for learning; it creates the architecture necessary for each student to receive personalized educational journeys and thrive in their future careers.

AI is fundamentally reshaping education by personalizing learning experiences and improving student accessibility. This disruption is beneficial to our overall performance as it enhances student outcomes, increases enrollment due to innovative offerings and reduces operational costs through automation. This technology also presents a beneficial challenge to us as educators in holding students accountable while harnessing AI as a resource, to keep them engaged in authentic yet ethical learning experiences.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Machine learning isn’t just crunching data; it’s unlocking personalized pathways to student success.

Machine learning algorithms have revolutionized data analysis in education, enabling us to tailor educational experiences to individual student needs, predict student success and barriers to it and identify areas for improvement in teaching methodologies.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

The initial process of bringing in AI to transform our data into a roadmap for success was clear: The future of education is data-informed, not data-driven.

A pivotal moment came when we started working with AI-based algorithms to facilitate the objective assessment of student learning outcomes. As generative AI started to become ubiquitous throughout our coursework and increasingly prevalent in the assignments turned in by students, it became apparent that our true mission as an institute of higher learning is to give students the knowledge and tools to succeed.

Of course, as the challenge of detecting plagiarism in the AI era grows more apparent, it becomes imperative that we cultivate academic integrity through exemplary behavior rather than relying solely on enforcement measures. That realization enabled our faculty to see the advantages of AI-empowered objective assessments that analyze both student and program learning outcomes. The method we arrived at, termed our “Socratic Metric,” involves the aggregation of all relevant data from a particular course, including reading assignments, lecture notes, videos and completed student assignments to verbally assess a student’s comprehensive understanding of the course material and how their authentically completed assignments relate to the aggregated course material.

While some might simplify this as a beefed-up final oral exam, in reality, it’s a strategic starting point for discussion between educator and student as well as an indication of the authenticity of a student’s work. The Socratic Metric is patent pending and is currently being prepared for beta testing throughout the institution.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

In an AI-enhanced future, the most valuable skill is being uniquely human. Human creative, ethical and critical thinkers will lead the way.

We’re focused on embedding critical thinking, problem-solving and digital literacy across all programs at Westcliff. We believe these skills, combined with an understanding of AI and its applications, will be invaluable in the job market going forward. While most people think that AI is autonomous in its academic and business influence, the truth is that prompt engineering, or the instruction set that makes AI tick is the true foundation of its functionality and represents the human creative element that drives this technology. We offer AI-specific training including prompt engineering for our Westcliff faculty via our LITE Program to ensure they are always at the forefront of educational innovations.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

Keeping pace with AI isn’t just about learning new tech; it’s about fostering a mindset of lifelong curiosity and adaptability.

The rapid pace of AI development presents a challenge in keeping curricula up to date. Ensuring that faculty and students are sufficiently tech-savvy to engage with emerging technologies requires continuous investment in training and resources — and a challenge that we’ve always been up for.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

In the rush towards AI, we must anchor ourselves in ethics; technology should serve humanity, not the other way around.

Data privacy and bias in AI are significant concerns we’re addressing by incorporating ethics into our AI curriculum to ensure students understand the societal implications of these technologies and the importance of designing inclusive, unbiased systems.

What are your “Five Things You Need to Do If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

Adapt, educate, ethically engage, collaborate, and innovate — these are not just actions but the pillars of thriving in an AI-disrupted world.

  1. Embrace Change: Stay informed about AI advancements and be open to restructuring business models accordingly.
  2. Invest in Education: Upskill the people in your organization to harness AI’s potential responsibly.
  3. Prioritize Ethics: Integrate ethical considerations into your AI strategy to ensure technology benefits all.
  4. Collaborate: Engage with other industry players, academic institutions and policymakers to share knowledge and best practices.
  5. Innovate: Encourage a culture of innovation that allows experimentation with AI applications within your organization.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

AI won’t replace educators; it’s here to amplify the human touch in teaching, making education a partnership if not a delicate dance between humans and machines.

One common misconception is that AI will replace educators. Instead, AI serves as a tool to enhance teaching methods, personalize learning and save valuable instructional or prep time through automation. Addressing this, we emphasize the complementary role of AI in education, showcasing examples where the technology supports and enhances pedagogy rather than replacing human instructors.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Adversity introduces a man to himself.” — Albert Einstein

In facing adversity, we don’t just discover who we are; we create who we become. Adversity is not a barrier; it’s a pathway.

This quote resonates with me deeply, especially when our institution was navigating the complexities faced during the COVID-19 pandemic in shifting from a hybrid education model to a fully online learning environment. Fortunately, Westcliff was already well-versed in the art of synchronous Zoom lectures, so our challenge was to refine a highly successful pedagogical venue that already existed.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

The question isn’t whether education can keep up with technology. The real question is how we can ensure technology enriches education for every learner, everywhere.

That’s why we are expanding our international affiliate institutions around the globe, ensuring that education remains accessible and relevant to diverse populations so that we can readily introduce this rapidly changing technological landscape. These thoughts drive our commitment to innovation and inclusivity, ensuring that we prepare students on a global scale not just for the jobs of today but for the challenges of tomorrow.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Imagine a world where education is a right, not a privilege — this isn’t just a dream, but a mission we can achieve with technology as our ally.

I champion a global movement toward “Education for All,” focusing on breaking down barriers to access quality education worldwide. Leveraging technology, especially AI, will democratize learning and make education accessible to those in underserved communities. Westcliff is not only talking the talk but also walking the walk with our affiliate institutions around the globe in Nepal, Jordan, and Dubai.

How can our readers further follow you online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/alee5/. You can also learn more about Westcliff University at westcliff.edu or by following any of Westcliff’s social channels:

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.