2017 Top 40 Undergraduate Professors: Naomi Rothman, Lehigh University

Naomi Rothman

Associate Professor of Management

Lehigh University College of Business and Economics

Naomi Rothman has made a name for herself through her popular research that focuses on the social consequences of emotions, power, and justice in the workplace. Her work and expertise have been called upon by many mainstream press outlets from Fast Company and New York Magazine to Forbes and ABC News. In the academic arena, she’s published by the top academic journals in her field, Harvard Business Review, and she’s presented her research at multiple dozens of elite academic conferences and symposiums.

Rothman’s honors include several research awards and grants, most recently Lehigh’s 2017 Beidleman Research Award which highlights quality research and refereed scholarship in business and applied economic disciplines. The same enthusiasm Professor Rothman dedicates to her research is the same thrill she gets when teaching Lehigh’s undergraduate business students. Students have described her with words such as: “Best professor I’ve had at Lehigh! By Far!;” “Really quality professor. Really invested in creating a valuable course experience for students;” and “Phenomenal!”

Age: 38

At current institution since: 2011

Education: PhD in Organizational Behavior, New York University Stern School of Business, 2008

List of courses currently teaching: Leading and Managing People in Organizations (Undergraduate); Leadership (MBA Elective)

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I knew as an undergraduate in Sociology that I wanted to be a professor. However, I didn’t consider being a business school professor until after I graduated and I found that I was fascinated by the complex and messy relationships I was observing at my job. My brother — who was a PhD student in Strategy at UC Berkeley – mentioned that I could study these types of relationships in the context of businesses…and the rest is history!

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I would be a clinical psychologist

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Exhilarating

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? See below

What is the biggest challenge that comes with teaching undergraduate business students? In my experience, undergraduate business students are widely intelligent, ambitious, and confident. But beyond this similarity, there is always a wide range of perspectives represented in each class; students come to my class with diverse work experiences, life experiences, and values and attitudes about the world.

Differences between students can engender discomfort, distrust, and some students may be reluctant to speak up, particularly if their experiences or opinions differ from more vocal students. But, when you can get those different perspectives voiced, it can be an incredible basis of learning for everyone.

My biggest (and best) challenge is to create and maintain a classroom environment where each of those different perspectives is voiced, discussed, respected, and nobody feels marginalized. It is really, really hard but that’s what I aim for and enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? In addition to successfully completing written homework assignments, case analyses, and exams, my course is based on a model of active learning, with class discussions and exercises playing a central role. Everyone is expected to be able to engage in discussion, but those who can get an A regularly contribute to class discussions and demonstrate relevance and insight, help to move the discussion forward, make connections with other things they are learning at Lehigh, and build upon the comments of others.

In addition, since one of the goals of the course is for students to be able to take the frameworks and theories we discuss to understand the people, groups, and organizations that compose our world, students who get an A are able to complete a final group project in which they demonstrate their ability to do just that.  

Specifically, they pose an interesting/provocative question about an issue/topic in the world (e.g., a situation, phenomena, group, individual, leader, culture, process, organization, country, or any other entity) and analyze “it” using course concepts. Students have a great deal of discretion over the topic or phenomena they choose for your project. There is no need for students to restrict themselves to work contexts; they can analyze anything so long as it is relevant to course material. Good sources for ideas may be newspapers, magazines, current events, etc.

The idea is for them to pick something that they find interesting and use course concepts to understand the why and how of that topic or phenomena.  Ideal projects identify interesting topics and present insights that would not likely be available to people who have not taken this course. Creativity and novelty are important to carrying this out successfully and so is outside research.

Students are welcome to frame their analysis objectively or to develop a thesis and defend it. One useful strategy is to adopt the posture of management consultants and then analyze an issue or problem and recommend appropriate courses of action. Ideal projects also explain the “so what?” of their topic & discuss the broader implications for the real world & management practices.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Fair

“But I would describe myself as …” Fair

What are your hobbies? Beyond work and raising a young family, I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies, but one thing I do love is yoga.

How did you spend your summer?

(1) Research: Thinking, writing, editing, designing studies, analyzing data

(2) Moving from the country to the city and helping my 2.5 year old adjust to city living

(3) Trying to sell our house

Favorite place to vacation: Vacation? I just got tenure, and am about to have my second child, so vacation is something I am desperately looking forward to in the future  

Favorite book: 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Favorite movie and/or television show: The Buddha, a documentary for PBS by David Grubin

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

Indie Rock

Bucket list item #1: Until last May it was to get Tenure. Now it’s to travel the world more.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? That I was able to publish a theoretical paper in the Academy of Management Review on the benefits for leaders of experiencing and expressing emotional ambivalence (i.e., holding two contradictory emotions at the same time); ideas that I have been pondering my whole life.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? Realizing a few sessions into the semester that I had a Dean taking my (MBA) class on Leadership (Note: This was not the College of Business Dean)

Professor you most admire and why: My Advisor, Batia M. Wiesenfeld, Andre J.L. Koo Chaired Professor of Management at NYU. She is one of those rare examples of a Professor who is simultaneously a brilliant intellectual, and a mensch.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? In a few different projects, I am currently researching whether emotional ambivalence (the simultaneous experience of both positive and negative emotions) can be beneficial for a variety of important managerial decisions, including: (1) ethical decisions (e.g., lying), (2) defensiveness to implicit racial bias feedback, and (3) perspective taking in relationships.

In one paper, we are beginning to unpack the conditions under which emotional ambivalence can increase lying but also the conditions under which it can reduce it. In a second paper, we demonstrate that emotional ambivalence creates a mindset in which individuals are more receptive to potentially threatening information about their own unconscious racial bias (from the IAT), thus reducing their defensiveness and increasing their awareness of bias. In a third paper, we demonstrate that having ambivalent feelings about a colleague can actually increase perspective taking and certain forms of work performance that require an ability to focus on others.

These results have important implications for research on emotions, but also for how we teach about ethics and morality, stereotyping and prejudice, as well as relationships at work.

Twitter handle: Try to avoid it

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” An emphasis on helping students become fuller human beings; by understanding themselves and others better.

“And much less of this…” See above

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you: Success would be that I am able to help my students understand the value of their emotions as a key for their success as leaders, managers, and hman beings. Specifically, that learning how to acknowledge, identify, and manage emotions (versus ignore, suppress and not manage), in themselves and in others, can benefit not only their careers but also their lives, and the lives of those around them.

Students say…

“Really really super professor. She really [spurred] my interest in this subject so much that I am now considering grad school in organizational behavior, something I never thought of before.”

“A really quality professor. Really invested in creating a valuable course experience for students. By far one of the best, if not THE best professor I’ve had at Lehigh (and I’m a senior)”

“Professor loves subject and teaching. One of my favorite classes at Lehigh. Learned a lot about self and people.”

“I loved everything about this class and Professor Rothman’s teaching style. I used things that I learned in this class in interviews and always intrigued my interviewer. I would recommend Professor Rothman to others.”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.