Assistant Professor of Business Administration
Gies College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Aravinda Garimella is one of the newer and younger professors on this year’s list. But she’s made a huge impact in a short time. With nearly two-dozen nominations, Garimella was one of our most-nominated and popular professors on this year’s list. She’s also won a teaching award in each of her year’s teaching including the Dean’s Outstanding Teaching Award at the University of Washington Foster School of Business before she even graduated with her Ph.D. in Information Systems.
Garimella realized she wanted to become a professor when she was working for a consultant at Ernst & Young on digital transformation projects in the Middle East. “I realized over time that the two components of the job I enjoyed the most were solving complex problems and teaching (training clients),” Garimella says. “I thought a career as a business school professor would allow me to do more of both – I was right!”
Garimella is currently researching how humans and artificial intelligence can work together to solve complex problems. “It is fairly well known that human bias can creep into A.I. algorithms; however, in a recent research project, my Gies colleagues and I found that bias can transmit in the opposite direction as well – A.I. algorithms can also bias human decision making!”
Current age: 36
At current institution since what year: 2018
Education: Ph.D. in Information Systems, University of Washington 2018
List of courses you currently teach: Database Design and Management (undergraduate course) and Economics of Digital Platforms (doctoral seminar course)
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was working as a consultant for Ernst & Young on digital transformation projects for clients across the Middle East. I realized over time that the two components of the job I enjoyed the most were solving complex problems and teaching (training clients). I thought a career as a business school professor would allow me to do more of both – I was right!
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
I am currently researching how humans and artificial intelligence (A.I.) can work together to solve complex problems. It is fairly well known that human bias can creep into A.I. algorithms; however, in a recent research project, my Gies colleagues and I found that bias can transmit in the opposite direction as well – A.I. algorithms can also bias human decision making! A.I. uses quantitative, tangible, and observable criteria to make decisions while humans use intangible, qualitative criteria along with intuition. This contrast is interesting, and it is important for us to learn how to best leverage the complementarity of human and machine intelligences.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… A journalist. I have always enjoyed uncovering and telling stories. Thankfully, I get to do a lot of that as a researcher.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
Empathy. The personal lives of students are not disconnected from their academic lives. One cannot teach effectively while maintaining an apathetic attitude toward the struggles and challenges students face outside the classroom. Over spring break, I reached out to students to learn about the effects of the pandemic on their wellbeing and mental health. Their responses informed my instructional choices for the remainder of the semester. As a professor in information systems, I teach technical courses that are intimidating to some students. I make sure to take time strengthening fundamentals in a systematic manner before introducing advanced content. On the first day, I do no coding. Instead, I trigger students’ algorithmic thinking by having them break a complex problem into smaller manageable parts and display their results using art supplies. I always ask myself – if I were taking this course, what would I want the professor to do to help me learn better?
One word that describes my first time teaching: Exhilarating
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That re-inventing yourself continuously is the name of the game, both with research and teaching. We live in a dynamic world, and we are training our students to face and be successful in this world. We cannot do this if our course material is out of sync with the current trends and technologies in the market.
Professor I most admire and why: Dr. Praveen Dhyani, my undergraduate professor in computer science, who taught the course “Formal Language and Automata Theory.” Dr. Dhyani would kick off most lectures with a deep and difficult question and leave it open and unanswered, often until the end of the lecture. He pushed us to look at problems from unique angles and come up with creative solutions. His course sparked my curiosity like no other course did. That year, I found myself reading every book on the Turing machine that I could lay my hands on. I think that is what the best teachers do – kindle the love for learning.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
They are active and social learners, eager to participate in class activities. They are generous when it comes to helping their classmates.
What is most challenging?
Staying up to date with current events and market trends in order keep my course material relevant.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Engaged
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Entitled
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Helpful. I use grading not just as an evaluation tool but also as a teaching tool.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
Ceramic painting and learning new languages.
How will you spend your summer?
Long walks, decorating our new home in Champaign, gardening, making progress on my Spanish learning and staying safe!
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Egypt, Mumbai, and the Pacific Northwest
Favorite book(s): Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, and Barrister Parvateesam (inTelugu, my native language) by Mokkapati Narasimha Sastry
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
Parks and Recreation. I love Leslie Knope’s contagious optimism. Her can-do attitude is inspiring.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
Flamenco music for its bold intensity
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Impact on the upliftment of local communities, opportunities for the amplification of marginalized voices, and active dialogue between researchers, practitioners and communities.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Mastering cultural competence. Harnessing technology creatively and responsibly to address important and relevant problems. Operating in a more socially and environmentally sustainable manner.
I’m grateful for… The conducive environment for research and teaching at Gies College of Business, sincere and hardworking students, generous colleagues, wise mentors, and my loving and supportive parents and husband.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“I joined the databases course pretty nervous because I am not technically strong, coding was intimidating to me. But, Professor Garimella explains concepts so clearly and is very supportive, so I felt encouraged to keep trying. It was gratifying to learn SQL, which is a skill many interviewers look for. Professor Garimella made me feel supported and cared for during the unprecedented COVID-19 times.”
“It is difficult to tell if the speed at which Professor Garimella adapted and transitioned our curriculum online should be credited to her background and familiarity with tech or is a byproduct of her being a caring person, but I can certainly say that as the stay-at-home order carried on, it became more and more apparent what a blessing having her as a professor during this time was. I appreciate the effort she went through in coordinating alternate meeting times for those in different time zones and reaching out to struggling students.”
“I have never had a professor care so much about me and my personal success. Throughout this year, she made herself accessible to students and gave us everything needed to succeed. Her heart shows through her teaching and creates an awesome environment in class.”
“Professor Garimella did an amazing job of teaching us this chaotic semester and helped me discover a potential career path I’d like to pursue.”