2017 Top 40 Undergraduate Professors: Thomas Smith, Emory University (Goizueta)

Thomas More Smith

Associate Professor in the Practice of Finance

Emory University, Goizueta Business School

It’s been said that economist, Tom Smith, has essentially made a career out of knowing everything there is to know about everything. This jack of all trades, master of them all is an established expert in various facets of economics including: urban and real estate economics, sports economics, labor economics, and others. As such, he’s frequently sought after by mainstream press on everything from the economic impact of recent hurricane “Harvey” to the economics of a new Toyota plant coming to Georgia. As it turns out, one of Goizueta Business School’s most sought after experts is also one of the most beloved professors by undergraduate students. “An absolutely amazing lecturer”, “An incredibly interesting teacher,” and “The coolest professor at Emory” reflect some of what students think of him.

Age: 48

At current institution since: 2008

Education: Ph.D. Economics, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 1998; MA, Economics, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 1994; BA , Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL 1992

List of courses currently teaching: Sports Finance, business economics, film finance, international trade, and finance for non-business students

Fun fact about yourself: I’m named after Thomas More, former chancellor of England. I was also a professional musician on the bass (electric and upright). I was asked to play the bass in the movie Groundhog Day but I had to pass because I was finishing my econometrics take-home final. I know, it’s the same old story of economics getting in the way of a budding movie career.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” My dad was an English professor and I knew I wanted to be a professor. But I really I liked math so business school seemed like a good way to go.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I would be doing data analytics for the Chicago Cubs. I don’t know if they would hire me but, in a perfect world, that’s my fallback job.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…”Echo-y”. I taught in one of those large, lecture halls that had concrete floors and an industrial vibe.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? Their questions. Undergrads are curious. I love that part of the experience.

What is the biggest challenge that comes with teaching undergraduate business students? Time. I never have enough time in an hour and half class. It’s a limitation of teaching any subject but, for me, it’s not having enough time to interact with the students in a way I’d like to and – frankly – the way they deserve. I have a ton of students come to my office hours, but still, never enough time.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? My first semester one of my undergraduates (Adam Hamberg) started a local chapter of  a non-profit that decorates bedrooms for kids with chronic illnesses. Kids that would be in the hospital for 6, 8, 10 weeks at a time receiving treatment would get their rooms decorated in a theme like a baseball room – So the kid could come home and recuperate in a fun space. That’s only one example of tons of awesome stuff my students are doing – I’m always amazed by what my students do outside the classroom.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? One year I had a really impressive student I asked to be one of my teaching assistants. She said she would love to except for the fact she had all these responsibilities as Miss America (Kirsten Haglund). I’m like “What? You would choose your Miss America duties over being a TA?” Of course I’m joking. She was very smart and would have been an amazing TA!

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Definitely read all the lecture notes and label your graphs, label your graphs, label your graphs.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” A little crazy because I can be pretty strict. I’m looking for specific things. I give partial credit, so I’m lenient, but students can get frustrated because I look for more granular stuff.

“But I would describe myself as …” Energetic, enthusiastic, generous dude.  

What are your hobbies? Playing music, fly fishing, or whatever my kids are doing at that time.

How did you spend your summer? I have a pool in my backyard so my kids and I do a ton of swimming.

Favorite place to vacation: Cancun and Cayman Islands… Really any place with water where I can do some snorkeling.

Favorite book: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Favorite movie and/or television show: Being There, with Peter Sellers; Million Dollar Listing, New York

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Twenty One Pilots, Panic at the Disco, Bruno Mars, Britney Spears, the Police, Yes. I know, it’s a weird mix. My kids listen to a lot of music and I try to stay interested in what they are listening to…and you just have to love Sting and Chris Squire if you’re into bass.

Bucket list item #1: Fly fish out in Utah, Montana, or anywhere with some serious trout.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Last year my undergraduates voted me as the distinguished professor of the year. Emory is filled with amazing professors, so being a choice of students was pretty shocking and definitely a great honor.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? Last year Collin McHugh from the Houston Astros came in to talk to my sports finance class and the students were charged with building a model to estimate his value as part of his contract agreement. He came back and listened to my students present their models and my students totally knocked it out of the park. To see Collin McHugh, a professional athlete, taking notes during your student’s presentations was awesome… It’s pretty frickin’ cool.

Professor you most admire and why: JB Kurish and I have an interesting connection through the universe. He was my mentor in terms of becoming a teacher when I was going through grad school. Then, when I took a position with UIC, he again become a mentor. He left for Emory and  called me up and said he wanted me to apply for an opening. He’s a master teacher and has been a huge influence.  I admire his ability to connect with students in a genuine and caring way.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I write some popular press pieces about micro and macro-economics. I wrote a piece about wage inequalities and female soccer players published in Time. I got a lot of feedback and had a great time interacting with people in the industry. Clearly I didn’t discover anything that wasn’t already known, but perhaps the article generated some more discussion about an important topic. Earnings differentials across genders and races is an important area of research.

Twitter handle: @thomasmoresmith

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” I would love to see more females and underrepresented minorities in the classroom.

“And much less of this…” Much less of a narrowed focus. I would love my students to have a more holistic view of things in general.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you: If I have students come back and tell me that things they learned in the classroom helped them at their job or in life. But, outside of that, success would be the Cubs winning a few more championships. I’ve also always wanted to own a Porsche 911…no craziness here, these are obtainable dreams.

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