2017 Top 40 Undergraduate Professors: Robert Novack, Penn State (Smeal)

Robert Novack

Penn State University, Smeal College of Business

Associate Professor of Business Logistics

Within a university and a business school that already have well-established and widely known brands, Penn State Smeal’s Bob Novack has created a brand of his own. The professor of Supply Chain and Information Systems and co-author of two books (Transportation and Creating Logistics Value: Themes for the Future) is a leading expert on all things logistics value and supply chain performance. In his nomination as a top undergraduate business professor, Novack is credited for the integral role he’s had in positioning Smeal’s supply chain education as among the best in the world and for being a go-to for news media on a broad range of supply chain topics.

Professor Novack’s personal brand is also heavily built upon high levels of student engagement, his teaching excellence, and giving back. He’s been the recipient of multiple awards for his high impact teaching and student advising and is even the namesake of the Robert A. Novack Scholarship for Supply Chain which is awarded to undergraduates who are majoring in or are planning to major in supply chain and information systems. Student ratings about Professor Novack have ranged from “one of the best professors in Smeal” to “Dr. Novack is literally the best person ever.”

Age: 62

At current institution since: 1986

Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Logistics, Penn State, 1977; MBA, Business Logistics, Penn State, 1979; Ph.D. in Business Logistics, The University of Tennessee, 1987.

List of courses currently teaching: Fulfillment Operations Management; Honors section of the introductory supply chain course

Fun fact about yourself: When I was younger I played the accordion in a polka band.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I taught my first course in the evening school at the University of Cincinnati

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I would still be in industry making more money but having a lot less fun

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

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? They are intelligent, goal-driven, hard-working, and honest and they keep me young at heart

What is the biggest challenge that comes with teaching undergraduate business students? Making sure they are ready to take on professional roles in the business world

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? This is a tough one. I have had thousands and many have gone on to do great things.  I have former students who are presidents of companies.  I have former students who gave up a professional career to give their time and talents to the less fortunate.  So, I don’t have a single example.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? None of them have ever let me down

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Come to class and work hard

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …”  Tough, but fair.

“But I would describe myself as …” Tough, but fair.

What are your hobbies? Woodworking

How did you spend your summer? Updating a transportation text that I am a co-author on and preparing for my daughter’s wedding

Favorite place to vacation: Any city where there is a major baseball team

Favorite book: I really don’t have one since I don’t have much time for leisure reading

Favorite movie and/or television show: Animal House and anything on ESPN

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Classic rock; Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen

Bucket list item #1: Road trip of five cities to watch professional baseball games

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Being named the Faculty Director of the Sapphire Leadership Academic Program in the Smeal College of Business at Penn State

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? When a student, many years after graduating, told me the positive impact I had on his career and life

Professor you most admire and why: Dr. John Coyle, Professor Emeritus of Business Logistics at Penn State. He inspired me to switch my major to Business Logistics when I was an undergraduate and he has been my professional mentor ever since.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? After receiving tenure, I focused my efforts on supervising the research of others. I have supervised Ph.D. dissertations, masters’ theses, and honors theses. The most significant discovery is how much students complain about the process but are proud of the results.

Twitter handle: I do not have one

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Practical applications and more interactions with business executives in small section sizes

“And much less of this…” Courses with enrollments over 60 students.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would look like for you: I will be retired by then. Success to me would be my students keeping in touch about their careers and personal life, sending me pictures and calling once in a while.


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