2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Allison Gabriel, University of Arizona (Eller)

Allison Gabriel

Associate Professor of Management and Organizations

University of Arizona, Eller College of Management

Whether we care to admit it, experiences and interactions in the workplace affect work performance and how we think and feel about work. Everything from interacting with rude co-workers to the juggle between work demands and caring for children is where Allison Gabriel of the Eller School of Management centers her academic expertise. More specifically, her research interests cover emotions at work, employee recovery and well-being, interpersonal stressors and relationships at work, and motivation. This industrial-organizational psychologist has published a plethora of academic articles, book chapters, and other publications as well as accumulated thousands of dollars in funding to support her work. Inside the classroom where she teaches multiple sections of Organizational Behavior & Management to Eller’s undergraduate students — a course with a class size of 200 each — Gabriel admits she strives to ensure no two days are alike for her students. While the traditional case studies and other simulations are a part of the classroom experience, so are scavenger hunts and pitch-off competitions. In 2017, Professor Gabriel was honored by Eller’s student body with a student’s choice award for outstanding faculty.

Age: 32

Education: PhD, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, University of Akron; MA, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, University of Akron, 2010; BA with Honors, Highest Distinction, Psychology, Penn State University

At current institution since: 2015

List of courses you currently teach: Organizational Behavior at the undergraduate level (in lecture format and online); also, executive education seminars on motivation and leading effective teams.

Twitter handle: @ProfASGabriel

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Winning the best dissertation award from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) in 2014. My dissertation focused on how people regulate their emotions during difficult customer interactions, and my Ph.D. advisor (Jim Diefendorff, Professor of Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the University of Akron) and I used a fairly novel experimental method—continuous rating assessments—to test my ideas. It meant so much to have my dissertation work recognized in that manner from SIOP, and Jim and I went on to publishing parts of that work in two of the top journals in our field. It still is one of the best collaborative efforts I have been a part of.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I knew for a long time that I wanted to be a professor. My dad’s dad, John Gabriel, was a professor of Sociology at Fordham University for a number of years. He passed away when I was very young, and I grew up hearing stories about my Opi, the professor. The fact that I get to be the next Dr. Gabriel and follow in his footsteps is so special.

In terms of when this translated to wanting to be a business school professor, it was my advisor, Jim Diefendorff, who told me that with a degree in I-O Psychology I could teach at a business school. He supported me fully through the job market process (twice), and early on he even told me how he thought I would be a great fit with the Department of Management and Organizations at the University of Arizona. He was 100% correct!

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Overwhelming. I began teaching undergraduate courses in Psychology when I was 22 and starting my PhD program at Akron as part of my assistantship. It was overwhelming walking into the room and realizing that I was only 3-4 years older than most of my students (and, there were some students older than me).

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Broadly, my research examines emotions, motivation, interpersonal stressors, and employee well-being at work. Of late, I have shifted toward a focus on issues pertaining to women at work and, more specifically, women who are new mothers and wanting to breastfeed their child upon returning to work. Within this work, my co-authors (Sabrina Volpone at University of Colorado-Boulder, Eller College of Management PhD student Rebecca MacGowan, Christina Moran at Marsh, Berry, & Co, Inc., and Marcus Butts at Southern Methodist University) and I administered three surveys a day for ten workdays to women who were currently working full-time and breastfeeding/pumping at work. Our results suggest that pressure to “rush” through breastfeeding negatively impacts women’s mood, which in turn inhibits their goal progress at work and their ability to produce enough breastmilk daily. I am excited about this work and eager to discuss it to better understand the intersection of work and health, and what we can do to make sure that women transitioning back to work can fulfill their work and family goals.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? Really, it’s the little moments—the emails and cards from students, or the quick chats after class when a student connects to a topic, that make being a professor so memorable. Some days can be really tiring, but those little moments make it all worth it.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? It has certainly become more experiential, regardless of the class size. This is more demanding as a professor, but it is very important for students to better them for the job market and career success. Even in our large lectures at Eller (my own included), we are making things as “hands on” as possible, getting our students into the community or working with Fortune 500 companies to solve problems and identify what challenges or opportunities current employees/managers are facing.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” A lawyer. Had I not gone down the path of getting my Ph.D. in I-O Psychology, I would have applied to law school instead.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: You are going on the same emotional rollercoaster each semester that your students are going on. At Eller, I teach my organizational behavior course during their first semester in the business school. We have an intense, rigorous course load that they work through that culminates in several competitive presentations and a large integrated group project. When I first started teaching at Eller, I tried to hide the fact that I was just as depleted as they were getting! Now, I view it as my job to be honest and go for the same ride they are. It’s really helped me connect more with the students.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: Alicia Grandey at Penn State. She was my first-year seminar professor at Penn State and picked me out of her class to join her research lab. Over my four years of undergrad, she significantly changed the course of my life (see my answer above about going to law school—she was a big driver in me applying to Ph.D. programs first!). But, beyond helping me, I admire how Alicia connects to all of her students, both undergraduate and graduate. Also, as a female student, I remember looking up to her so much—it meant a lot to see a powerful woman in a tenure-track job so early in my undergraduate career.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? Seeing students have those “ah ha” moments. Recently, I had a student come up to me after a lecture on job satisfaction. He told me that he finally realized what was so bothersome in his last job, and that he now knows what he is looking for in a job values-wise moving forward. Those moments are the absolute best, and always reinvigorate me as I prepare the next class.

What’s the biggest challenge? Dealing with so many students in class! With more than 200 students in each of my sections, it feels a bit more like theatre versus lecturing some days. I have to make the conscious choice sometimes to stop, pause, and check to make sure everyone is “all in.”

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? I have a student right now who decided to teach with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program. She’s been sending me little updates throughout the application process and now through her arrival in Japan, and it is a blast seeing a former student thrive in a new environment.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Oh—this would take a drink to answer! Come find me at a conference, and I’ll gladly share.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? I started teaching at the undergraduate level when I was 22, so over 10 years, the biggest change has been the social comparisons and the competition. With social media and the constant connectivity, it is easy for students to feel overwhelmed or like they aren’t doing enough to be at the top of their game. I have spoken with so many students about their anxieties surrounding their ability to succeed, and have realized that the best thing I can do is simply listen and share my own struggles with feeling insecure or constantly comparing. It becomes cathartic for the students—and for me.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Think beyond the definitions and make it all about application. In a large lecture (my organizational behavior class has more than 200 students when I teach it), it can be really easy to just focus on memorizing definitions. I truly think that diminishes the majority of the content we are discussing. So, whether it is for my exams, the team project where they collect data and diagnose real problems in an organization, or class activities focusing on current issues in organizations, I want them thinking of application. The students who do that often get an A, but, more importantly, get way more out of the course that they can take and directly apply in their internships and their jobs down the road.

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

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? “I Lived” by OneRepublic. As a well-being researcher, I talk a lot about the value of hard work, but also the value of self-care and carving out time for oneself. I hope that my students carry that with them and balance all of their work and non-work goals as best they can. This song sums that up.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student Resilient

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student Concrete-thinker; anyone who wants black and white answers to topics will probably not enjoy my class.  

“If my students can implement course content to improve their well-being and the well-being of their coworkers, then I’ve done my job as their professor, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: When my husband (Mike, who is also an academic) and I moved cross-country from Virginia to Arizona, we rented an RV and had a three-day road trip with our blind Pomeranian and three cats in tow. We even had a hashtag to document our travels for our close family and friends.

What are your hobbies? I’m very focused on my health and wellness outside of work. You’ll find me running, hiking, or cycling on most weekends (the perks of living in Tucson—it is great weather year-round). I’m quite a fan of Orangetheory Fitness and Pure Barre, so my students periodically bump into me in those classes. I also am a huge musical theatre nerd—for a period of time in high school, I was focusing on majoring in musical theatre, so I love seeing the national tours of Broadway shows in Tucson or in Phoenix when they come through.

How did you spend your summer? I received tenure and promotion in April 2018, so we (Mike and I) took advantage of the “break.” I accepted a spot teaching in our business minor program which took us to Barcelona and Florence for the month of June (with additional visits to Girona, Siena, Pisa, and Cinque Terre). We then came home, recuperated, and left again to spend 10 days in July hiking through Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton National Park in Alberta, Canada. We covered over 110 miles hiking, and loved every single minute of it.

Favorite place to vacation: Long Beach Island, NJ. It reminds me of my childhood vacationing there (but Glacier National Park is now a close second!).

Favorite book: Recently, it’s We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter.

Favorite movie and/or television show: I’m not a big TV addict! We get made fun of all of the time for not having Netflix, Hulu, etc., so I’m not hooked on any shows or movies. Maybe that needs to change post-tenure. The one thing you can find me watching every Saturday, though, is college football. I now have two teams to root for—#WeAre and #BearDown

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Sara Bareilles will always be my best sing-along jam in the car. I am also still obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack after seeing the show twice. I’m convinced I could challenge someone to a cabinet battle…

Bucket list item #1: Going on an African safari and spending one night at Giraffe Manor. If you haven’t heard of that place, look it up immediately.

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? In my personal experience, it’s finding ways to make online education fulfilling. I teach an online version of my organizational behavior class, and the student connections are so very different. You have to work really hard to make sure students feel your presence virtually, and it’s something that I think many business school faculty are going to have to think about (myself included).

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” More compassion—we need to be better equipped to have healthy dialogues and support each other. This means learning to embrace ourselves and those around us fully and authentically.

“And much less of this…” Technology. Sounds backwards, right? But, I think we are missing out today by having computers always out in the classroom. I actually stopped having students use computers in class when I started at Eller, and it has made a huge difference in terms of the quality of the conversation, and the level of engagement with the material outside of class. I think this has been particularly helpful in me building connections with students (see the point above about needing more compassion), even when they are one of 220 or 230.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you. Finding ways to help bring other women up in the field—be they my undergraduate or graduate students. I have become increasingly aware of the importance of representation in tenure-track faculty in business schools. I take my role of being a female tenured faculty member in the opening set of classes our students take at Eller very seriously, and hope I am paving the way for other women who dare to think that they could go on to work at a large public business school.

Students say…

“Dr. Gabriel always came to class with a really high energy level. She made it easy to listen and follow along in lecture- she made it interesting. There was a good balance of lecture, video, guest speakers, and discussions. She is easily one of the best professors I’ve had in Eller. This college would be much better off if they evaluated Dr. Gabriel and hired new professors based off of her performance. She actually cares and can teach students effectively. That makes all the difference.”

“Dr. G has been one of the best teachers I have ever had, she really cares about us and wants us to succeed. I have always been able to go to her for help. She is passionate about the subject and allows us to find the value in what we are learning.”

“This course challenged me to think about management from a perspective that I would have never imagined. I have had friends take this course at other universities and they’ve described it as horrifying and downright boring. However, Dr. G was the furthest thing from that. She made the course more application based rather than just putting a definition on every management term in the textbook. Overall, I enjoyed the time in class because I never knew what to expect. She got us thinking.”

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