University of Washington, Foster School of Business
Sorah Seong has a teaching philosophy. It revolves around making her students feel like “co-captains” of the class.
“This allows me to know them personally and let their emerging voices fill in the details of my teaching, such as whom to invite as external guest speakers and which in-class activities to pair with case discussions,” Seong explains. “By harnessing the power of uncoordinated coordination in teaching, I can expose my students to the changing mechanisms of today’s business landscape and let them explore and formulate different ways of solving managerial puzzles in sync with the spirit of our times. Letting my students co-steer the maiden voyage of each class session also allows me to implement a safe haven for everyone, including myself, to voice their opinions freely and be their authentic, vulnerable selves around one another.”
Seong is an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business where she teaches Introduction to Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Capstone. Seong made this year’s list of Best Undergraduate Business School Professors because of her impact in the classroom and fascinating research.
“While studying the prehistory phase of a new market’s emergence,” Seong says, “I discovered that with the rise of social media as a major sensemaking arena, the ways in which collective attention is allocated across various market players have changed fundamentally.”
Current age: 34
At current institution since what year: Fall 2018
Education: Ph.D. in Management, INSEAD; MSc in Theory and History of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE); BA in Sociology with a secondary field in Visual & Environmental Studies, Harvard College
List of courses you currently teach: Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Strategic Management Capstone
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I realized there were so many things I wanted to do in life that it was becoming virtually impossible to rank them. Watching professors at various business schools being actively engaged in, and contributing to, solving managerial challenges across domains and industries confirmed my conviction that being a business school professor would enable me to wear many different hats simultaneously while living vicariously through the inspiring life stories of my students, my coauthors, and all the scholars and practitioners I cross paths within this profession.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? While studying the prehistory phase of a new market’s emergence, I discovered that with the rise of social media as a major sensemaking arena, the ways in which collective attention is allocated across various market players have changed fundamentally. From the perspective of young companies (e.g., startups), speaking the language of gatekeepers (e.g., news media) is no longer enough to gain visibility. Instead, they should be mindful of what they say about themselves—their organizational identities—and when they say it at the nexus of emergent (social media) and institutionalized (news media) arenas for favorable organizational outcomes. For instance, it is found that the strategic value of buzzwords hinges on their origins and timing of deployment: whereas mapping on to a set of social media buzzwords leads to greater firm visibility, doing the same with news media buzzwords diminishes it, controlling for time.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… a creative director or a serial entrepreneur.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I treat my students as co-captains of all the classes I teach. This allows me to know them personally and let their emerging voices fill in the details of my teaching, such as whom to invite as external guest speakers and which in-class activities to pair with case discussions. By harnessing the power of uncoordinated coordination in teaching, I can expose my students to the changing mechanisms of today’s business landscape and let them explore and formulate different ways of solving managerial puzzles in sync with the spirit of our times. Letting my students co-steer the maiden voyage of each class session also allows me to implement a safe haven for everyone, including myself, to voice their opinions freely and be their authentic, vulnerable selves around one another. I set an example by sharing my stories, especially my failures, to instill a multifaceted notion of life and what constitutes it.
One word that describes my first-time teaching: Oh-my-God.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:
Teaching can inform research on a much deeper level than one might think. Personally, discussing strategy and entrepreneurship in the context of undergraduate teaching has helped me get back in touch with business fundamentals, which we, as management scholars, often take for granted and fail to reflect on.
Professor I most admire and why: I have been truly blessed with many wonderful advisors and mentors in my life, and each of them deserves a special mention. I particularly admire Prof. Philip Anderson, my thesis advisor at INSEAD. Phil is extremely generous with his time when it comes to nurturing young minds and helping them become the best possible representatives of their idea-children that they can be. As I stand on the shoulders of giants as an aspiring young scholar, I feel incredibly privileged to have learned firsthand from one of the giants of our time.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Constantly being exposed to wildly varying ideas and perspectives stemming from students’ past experiences and ongoing endeavors. I particularly enjoy leading case discussions through which students’ most critical and creative selves emerge and hosting “creative garage” meetings outside the classroom to discuss new venture ideas for students’ final group projects and/or startup competitions.
What is most challenging? Grading on a curve at the end of the quarter.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Enthusiastic.
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Disengaged.
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… a professor who would grade based on one’s willingness to learn and the grit to push themselves out of their comfort zones.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? Painting, gallery walks, playing music (violin), Pilates, and exploring cityscapes and culinary hotspots.
How will you spend your summer? Doing research and learning new things (like golf!) and relearning old things (like driving, which I haven’t done in the past 15 years!).
Favorite place(s) to vacation: If I had to choose the top three, that would be London, Paris, and Hong Kong. Okay, let’s make it four: adding Singapore to the list.
Favorite book(s): The Bible, especially the Book of Daniel and the Book of Romans
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Not necessarily my favorite movies per se, but I find myself going back to Crazy Rich Asians and Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (don’t judge) whenever I feel nostalgic about my PhD days in Singapore. I used to hop on a red eye to Hong Kong, where my younger brother lives, either to escape reality or to work intensely on research projects without getting distracted. Those were the days of extreme uncertainty in every aspect of my life, but they taught me to inquire and inspire with a sense of resilience and responsibility. Watching these two films brings me back to the recesses of my memory where my past readily embraces my present and vice versa.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I swing between classical music and Broadway musical songs with an occasional pop of pop songs depending on the mood of the day.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of… proactive discussions about the planning and implementation of diversity and inclusion through business and technology, the two major drivers of our society.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… figuring out what works for them to stay relevant, instead of following mindlessly what others are doing, to discover a superior position in a dynamically shifting landscape that can double as a force for good, whether directly or indirectly.
I’m grateful for… every ordinary moment interspersed across sparks of excitement.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say: (Please gather quotes or endorsements from the groups listed above, otherwise we’ll take them from the nomination forms.)
“Professor Seong was not only the best teacher I had in the Foster School of Business; she was also the best teacher I had while at the University of Washington. She knew how to cultivate a learning environment in which students felt comfortable to share ideas and explore topics that were foreign to us. In this way, she knew how to make learning fun and enjoyable. Her style of teaching empowered us to think more deeply about the problems we were trying to solve in a way that allowed us to use class concepts but also connect to our own creative ideas that helped us come to the best conclusion. She also understood that in the world of entrepreneurship, there are not always right or wrong answers, and she loved to hear us explore different ideas in different ways she had never heard before. Through this, I saw a professor who not only wanted to teach but was also eager to learn. That is such a special quality that I find not many teachers have. She is someone who will be there for a student who needs help, whether it is for her class or not, anytime that she can. I can tell that what’s most important to her is to help her students grow to be the best people they can be.”
“I had the honor of taking Dr. Seong’s entrepreneurship course when I still did not know much about the world of entrepreneurship. My perspective changed entirely after I took her course. I have never met a teacher that cared more about her students than Dr. Seong. Her teaching style included group projects, guest speakers who are entrepreneurs, and even surprise challenges! Dr. Seong taught me the importance of entrepreneurial ideation, research, business development, and, most importantly, how to turn simple ideas into incredible opportunities. After her course, I fell in love with entrepreneurship. I am so grateful to have her as a mentor, friend, and role model. Thank you, Dr. Seong, for pushing me to my full potential!”
“Sorah’s business and entrepreneurial acumen enabled our early-stage project to competitively take part in startup competitions at the University of Washington. By drawing inspiration from her diverse personal and professional experiences, Sorah helped our team explore critical and creative ideas that we hadn’t previously thought of. Without any obligation, Sorah selflessly dedicated hours to help our team navigate through the nuanced waters of entrepreneurship. Through our numerous meetings with her, we saw how great of a mentor and teacher she was, but most importantly how kind and inspiring of a person she is.”
“Taking the entrepreneurship class with Sorah was one of my favorite college memories. Hers was the first entrepreneurship class that I took, and the way of her teaching got me interested in the field and later actually complete a minor in entrepreneurship. Her class was engaging with discussions, case studies, and activities. She also brought a lot of real-life examples that helped us understand how to apply the concepts and frameworks she taught in class. Moreover, Sorah genuinely cares about her students in and out of the classroom. When I was in the Creating a Company class with another professor, she was always willing to offer guidance, feedback, and support. Beyond class, she also shared a lot of her life experiences with students. I am grateful to have her as my professor, mentor, and a friend.”
“It was a pleasure taking Professor Seong’s entrepreneurship class at the Foster School of Business. I went to her class with many years of real-life experience in entrepreneurship, and I realized that everything she was teaching in her class was something I had learned the hard way in practice. I wish I had taken her class before I started my own business. That made me realize how incredible of a job she was doing by not only teaching the most important aspects of a start-up but also teaching students confidence, how to tackle a difficult situation with so much enthusiasm, and how to work better in a team. She was passionate, and it motivated everyone to be present and excited to learn. She is always reachable and always willing to help and advise.”