2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Kelly Blanchard, Purdue University (Krannert)

Kelly Blanchard

Lecturer

Purdue University, Krannert School of Management

For Purdue Krannert economics professor Kelly Blanchard, teaching is a labor of love. “I enjoy trying to figure out how individual students learn,” she said in an a 2017 article highlighting her use of a mobile app and technology to better connect with students. “I know what worked best for me as a student, but I’m always interested in experimenting with new approaches and new technologies, especially ones that can improve the learning environment in my large lecture courses.” Also in 2017, after being nominated and selected by faculty peers, Professor Blanchard was inducted into the Purdue Teaching Academy which gathers the best teachers across campus to create a collective voice for teaching and learning.

Professor Blanchard has been recognized for her excellent teaching the last six years, at both the school and university levels. What sets her apart is setting ambitious learning goals for students and her use of technology to help them remain engaged and to achieve.

Age: 48

Education: PhD, Economics, Purdue University; MS, Economics, Purdue University; BA, Economics, Wittenberg University

At current institution since: 1998

List of courses you currently teach: Microeconomics (undergraduate); Managerial Economics (undergraduate); Personnel Economics (graduate)

Twitter handle: none (I’m more of a social media parasite; I feed off of the accounts my family gives me access to rather than maintaining them on my own.)

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I’m most proud of my recent induction into Purdue’s Teaching Academy. It’s an honor to be included in the group of professors who have achieved that recognition here on campus.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” In college, I found that economic theory provided a way of thinking about life that I hadn’t seen in other disciplines. Eventually I realized that most people weren’t familiar with this way of thinking, and I wanted to share the insights and applications of economics with others. A former student recently told me how much he appreciated that my courses focus on teaching students how to think, not what to think. That’s affirmation to me that I made the right decision.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Scary. My first class was a 7:30 a.m. Friday morning recitation of 25 students. As a new Ph.D. student, I had hoped I would be assigned to a research assistantship rather than a teaching assistantship and was disappointed I had to teach. I had never taught before, I didn’t feel organized, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even up to speed on the material I was supposed to be teaching. On top of that, I had to get dressed in the dark that morning and ended up wearing one navy shoe and one black shoe. On the bright side, the students were just as bleary-eyed as I was and didn’t notice the mis-matched shoes (or at least didn’t mention that they noticed them).

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Most of my research involves evaluating changes in my teaching practices to see how they affect student outcomes.  For example, I started asking questions in my large lectures that were tough questions from the previous semester’s exam. I now typically ask 12-15 of these throughout the semester. My analysis showed that students who worked through those questions in class and submitted a correct answer to that question saw a 1% point increase in their course percentages for each question they responded to. I’m always thinking about changes or improvements I can make to class, and it’s important to me that I can verify that changes I make have a positive, measurable impact on student success in my courses.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? My most memorable moment as a professor is the first time a lecture hall of 470 students applauded at the end of a 75-minute lecture. I’d had students talk to me individually about what they liked or didn’t like about a given lecture, but that was the first time I felt like students were communicating as a group that they had a positive experience in my lecture.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? There are two main differences I’ve seen in how business education has changed since I first started teaching. One is the importance of technology at every level of education. For example, I’ve moved from giving quizzes on scantrons in class to having students respond to questions in class on their cell phones. Giving students an academic use for the phones they already have in class encourages them to use them for more than social media. The second is the increased willingness of business programs to incorporate more ethics teaching in business courses. There’s so much more discussion of social outcomes and what impact those have on the conclusions of academic theories. “Correct” answers aren’t always clear, but I’ve seen an increased willingness to recognize that the discussion itself is valuable even if there isn’t clarity in the answer.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be an editor. I love the whole writing process.  I love organizing my thoughts into paragraphs and trying to think of stronger vocabulary words I can use to more accurately express my ideas. I spend way too much time wordsmithing anything I write, but I enjoy every minute of that time.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: I wish someone would’ve told me that teaching large lectures often feels more like a performance than a lecture, and perfecting that performance takes a different kind of effort than preparing to lead a smaller class discussion on a topic.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: One of the reasons I chose economics as a discipline is that it combines stories, pictures, and math. The logic, graphs, and equations together encourage a deeper understanding of the economic way of thinking. The first professor who clarified this trifecta of economics for me was Dr. Fred Tiffany from my undergraduate alma mater, Wittenberg, and I will always be grateful for that.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? Undergraduate students are eager to learn.  They’re paying money to hear what experts in a variety of fields have to say about all kinds of things, and they really want to soak up as much information as they can.

What’s the biggest challenge? The biggest challenge in teaching undergraduates is keeping them from letting stress have too much control. There are a lot of activities that compete for a student’s time and attention, and it’s difficult for them to balance classes, social life, projects, clubs, etc.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? I’m impressed with most of what my students accomplish, but the student who has most impressed me is one who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in economics and then went on to complete a Ph.D. and a post-doc, and she is now working on research to reduce achievement gaps in childhood education.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? I’ve had students who’ve struggled to achieve the goals they set out for themselves, but I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had a student who has just totally disappointed me.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? As I mentioned before, they appear to be more stressed than they used to be. Achieving good grades in classes has always been important to students, but it seems like it’s harder for many of them to be content with putting forth a strong effort and accepting that they might not be the best at everything.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Students who get an A in my class usually have strong math skills and are able to apply those skills intuitively to a variety of problems.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” I think students would describe me as a fair grader. On writing assignments, I post detailed rubrics so it’s clear what’s expected to earn a certain number of points. On multiple choice exams, I encourage students to think through not just why the right answer is right but also why the wrong answers are wrong. There’s not a lot of gray area where an answer could be, maybe, kind of right, and I think students appreciate that clarity.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? I don’t know of a song titled “It’s In the Syllabus”, so I’ll go with “We’re All In This Together” from High School Musical.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Apathetic

“If my students can evaluate the costs and benefits of the decisions they make in their daily lives, then I’ve done my job as their professor, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve had gray hair since second grade. In elementary school, my best friend’s mom used to like counting the number of gray hairs I had when I would come over to play. By high school the gray was pretty obvious, and by the time I was 30 it was easier to count the brown hairs than the gray hairs.

What are your hobbies? I read a lot. Every summer, I reread a few Jane Austen novels and all the Harry Potter books and then pick out some new material. I also play the piano and the violin.

How did you spend your summer? The best part of my summer was a study abroad course I taught in Madrid, Spain.

Favorite place to vacation: Madrid is pretty amazing, but my favorite vacation spot is still Corolla, North Carolina in the Outer Banks.

Favorite book: It’s a tie between Pride and Prejudice and the whole Harry Potter series

Favorite movie and/or television show: Favorite movie is Sweet Home Alabama, favorite TV show is Big Bang Theory

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: I’m not a huge country music fan in general, but I’d have to say Carrie Underwood is my favorite artist.

Bucket list item #1: People are more important to me than experiences, so I don’t really have a bucket list. Any day I get to spend time with family and friends is exciting to me, regardless of what we’re actually doing.

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? The biggest challenge I see at the moment is teaching students how to deal with ethical dilemmas. I see more interest in helping students do that than I’ve seen in the past, but it’s an area where there aren’t solutions that a set of formulas can clearly provide. As a result, it’s a challenge to figure out the most effective way to train students how to approach potential ethical problems.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” If I had my way, the business school of the future would have more teachers so that students and teachers can relate to one another more personally rather than in large lecture halls.

“And much less of this…” If I had my way, the business school of the future would have less emphasis on getting internships early on. I think college students should be able to spend at least a little time just enjoying the college experience before they have to confront “the real world.”

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: Success for me in 10 years would mean I’m still teaching and still interacting enough with students to know what they care about. I’d also like to be spending time writing a couple of textbooks.