Encounter nearly any college student and they’ll tell you that a professor who can take a subject such as financial accounting and make it non-intimidating and easy to grasp, is a professor who deserves to be recognized. So goes the story for Moataz El-Helaly, professor of accounting at the American University of Beirut’s Olayan School of Business and many others on Poets&Quants’ 2018 list of Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professors.
In this year’s call for Poets&Quants’ Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professors, nomination after nomination attested to El-Helaly’s unique teaching style that makes course material easy to understand, simple to recall, and immediately transferable to the real world of business.
More than just a teacher, however, students often reflect on the lasting impression this professor has had on their lives and career trajectories. Namely, choice of major and success in their careers long after taking his course and graduating. Says one former student, “He inspired me and made me love tax and understand it to the point that I joined GE Tax department as soon as I graduated.”
Age is also to note of this top professor whom students adore. At just 32 years old, El-Helaly is one of the youngest in his department, but students say one of the best.
I KNEW I WANTED TO BE A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR WHEN…
With such a stellar track record with students, one may suspect that being an educator was something El-Helaly always knew he’d wanted to do in life. However, he says the realization didn’t come until he found himself capable of explaining the content from his own undergraduate courses to his peers.
For others among this year’s list of Poets&Quants’ Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professors, the epiphany came after years of success in-industry within their respective fields. Before joining the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business in 2007, T. Leigh Anenson held positions ranging from international business consultant to commercial litigator. For this internationally recognized equity law scholar, not only has her research been widely cited in academic articles and leading law textbooks, but court opinions and as a theoretical foundation for historic defenses in modern litigation.
Yet, she says, “I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when I was enjoying volunteering with students in classes and other activities as an adjunct more than practicing law or international business consulting.”
Still, for some, the decision to pursue life as a business professor was less about a defining moment and more about the opportunities and impact that would await them should they actually set out to become one.
For instance, as Matthew Grennan from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School reflects on when it became clear he wanted to be a B-school professor, he tells Poets&Quants for Undergrads, “I am not sure there was a moment, but I love that I can both help create new knowledge (research) and also help others explore new ideas and think about the world from a different perspective (teaching).”
A NEW RECORD FOR TOP UNDERGRAD PROF NOMINATIONS
In this, our second year of recognizing the world’s best undergraduate business professors, Poets&Quants for Undergrads reached a new record for the number of incoming nominations. With close to 400 submissions, the nominations more than doubled last year’s amount of just 190. Among the top vote getters were Moataz El-Helaly with 29 submissions, Benjamin Cole, entrepreneurship professor at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business with 28 nominations, and Amitabh Anand of SKEMA Business School with 25 nominations. Staking claim as the top nominee is the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Lan Nguyen Chaplin who soaked up 15% of total nominations with a whopping 45 different recommendations from students, faculty, and former colleagues.
As we got to know each of the top 50, we learned that no matter what sparked their interest in teaching business school undergrads, the first time setting foot in front of a classroom to deliver a lecture was momentary ous for all. Professors use words such as “electrifying” and “thrilling,” and such phrases as “unforgettable experience filled with fun” and simply, “a blast.”
AWKWARD, OVERDRESSED, AND MEDIOCRE: HOW SOME PROFS REMEMBER THEIR FIRST TIME TEACHING
Not to be confused with business profs being cast as superhuman or invulnerable, several of this year’s top undergraduate professors also admit that their first time getting up in front of students left plenty more to be desired.
“A.w.k.w.a.r.d.,” says Goizueta Business School’s John Kim, “Overdressed,” says MIT Sloan School of Management professor Juanjuan Zhang. Meanwhile, accounting professor Karen Braun from Case Western Reserve University reveals that her first time teaching was mediocre at best.