2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Annette Poulsen, University of Georgia (Terry)

Annette Poulsen

Sterne Chair of Banking and Finance and Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor

University of Georgia, Terry College of Business

Annette Poulsen’s list of accolades is long and it is impressive. Poulsen is one of only two professors in three decades to have won Terry College’s Outstanding Faculty Awards for all three academic missions – teaching, research, and service. She developed a class that allows students to gain experience in capital markets by managing a $1.6 million stock portfolio, she has developed courses for study abroad programs at Oxford University and in China, and she chairs the Student Life Committee of University Council and represents the faculty council on the UGA Athletic Board. Still, Poulsen’s most thrilling recognition happened last year as she was recognized as the 2017 Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor — the University of Georgia’s highest teaching award — in front of 92,000 UGA football fans.

Age: 62

Education: PhD, Economics, Ohio State University

At current institution since: 1987

List of courses you currently teach: Financial Management, Honors Financial Management, Student Managed Investment Fund, Mergers and Acquisitions

Twitter handle: @abporama

What professional achievement are you most proud of? The professional achievement that meant the most to me was being chosen for the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship. It is UGA’s top honor for instruction and is given to very few professors at UGA. The recognition requires that the individual not only be excellent in the classroom but also have a strong research record to back up their teaching. When I looked at the caliber of professors who had previously won the award, I was blown away that I could be included in that group.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” My first job out of graduate school was as a research economist at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The regulatory and enforcement work of the SEC involves interactions with businesses on a daily basis. Seeing how business decisions are made and the complex world in which firms operate led me to return to academia to do research and teaching in the field of finance.  

“One word that describes my first-time teaching…” Fun (but scary).

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Most of my research is in the area of corporate governance, corporate contracting behavior and mergers and acquisitions. Perhaps the most significant discovery I’ve made is that decisions made by managers, whether it’s how to react to a merger or how to structure the covenants in a bond offering, matter a lot to shareholders and other market participants. It’s important to consider all of the motives for managerial actions, whether it’s maximizing share price or the manager is acting in ways to achieve an alternative goal.  

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? I love going to the area where our new graduates gather before they enter the coliseum for the graduation ceremony. The joy of the students as they head off to their new careers, mixed with the sadness of leaving so many friends, is heartwarming. Hugging students and having my picture taken with them (to be posted on Facebook, of course!) is so fun.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? Technology has dramatically changed how we incorporate up-to-date material into our courses. We can post articles and perspective pieces for our students so easily and reinforce the importance of staying current in their field. Students benefit from a much broader and more complete education. But what has really changed the most is the intensity of the students. They arrive on campus knowing what they want to do, and are determined to work hard to achieve it.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” A travel agent. I love to travel, and I’m good at organizing. It sounds like a great career!

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: There is a lot of uncertainty in a career as a professor. Promotion and tenure depend on quality research and the publication process can be difficult to navigate. There are very few immediate rewards or “pats on the back” and the length of time between starting a project and having it published can be discouraging. Of course, the eventual recognition of your work is an amazing feeling. But I also wish that someone had told me how fun it is to get to know your students and to visit with them while at UGA, or one year or five or even 20 years after graduation.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: The president of UGA, Jere Morehead, started as an assistant professor in the Terry College of Business about the same time I did. His career has combined excellent research, outstanding teaching, leadership in his research field, and increasingly significant contributions as an administrative leader at UGA – from head of the Office of Legal Affairs, to leading the Honors Program, to vice president for instruction, to provost and now president. His vision continues to move the university forward in all dimensions.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? Business students tend to start their major with a focus on achieving a certain career and think they just need to know what they need to know to get that job. However, as you get students interested in understanding current economic and political news stories, as you get them to talk about difficult choices that are made in firms, as they come to recognize the many complexities of the business world, you see the breadth of their understanding develop and know that they are ready for their challenging careers.

What’s the biggest challenge? Students who want to know “what’s on the test” or “what do I need to do to get a great job on Wall Street.”

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? I have been very impressed by how our students help each other out. They tutor each other, they help with practice interviews, they share their internship experiences. I love the camaraderie they show in sharing their experiences with the next generation (OK, just one year younger).  

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Trying to take shortcuts or even cheating is a terrible reflection on students.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? Students are much better prepared and are much more focused on achieving success. Gone are the days of sleeping ‘til noon and just getting by until the weekend.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Work hard, be interested in the material, be able to transfer that knowledge to paper.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …”  Fair. If you put in the work, you will do well.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? Rather than a theme song, maybe I can borrow a line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage.” When I walk into the classroom, I feel like I’m walking onto the stage. Today’s class is my performance. I need to open with enthusiasm, keep the interest of the audience, provide a little humor, a little drama, and then send the audience off wanting to come back!

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Energetic

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Lethargic

“If my students can relate the material from my class to real decisions they make in their careers, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: Running in my 10th marathon this year in New York City.

What are your hobbies? I started running road races with my graduate school buddies back at Ohio State. While running is not necessarily fun, I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment from completing another race, finishing another long run. I also love to travel and find that running the sidewalks and back roads of new locales is the best way to get to know the surroundings. The ultimate combination of running and travel was completing the Paris marathon a few years ago!

How did you spend your summer? Quiet summer at home with visits to family in Michigan and Pasadena. The previous summer I had taught in UGA’s study abroad program in Verona, Italy, so it was good to be close to home.

Favorite place to vacation: I love Paris.

Favorite book: Six Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne. (Did I mention I love Paris?)

Favorite movie and/or television show: Pretty hooked on Midsomer Murders and other British mysteries right now.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: My Jackson Browne records were always on the stereo while I was an undergraduate. On any long drive, he still tops my playlist. The lyrics are thoughtful and the music itself is complex, interweaving instrumentals and vocals in an engaging way.

Bucket list item #1: From a travel perspective, my #1 bucket list item would be to visit the Egyptian pyramids. I imagine them to be huge, impressive, and yet, eerie. I expect this bucket item comes from all the National Geographics I thumbed through as a child with pictures of mysterious places. From a life perspective, any bucket would include good health and happiness for my family.  

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? Business education is moving toward more and more digital delivery of material and online coursework. In the online environment, it is challenging to maintain interactions between students with faculty and with other students. Some of our best insights come from face-to-face discussions. The emphasis on online courses and degrees is limiting our opportunities to learn from each other.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Broader understanding of underlying concepts, philosophy, and the history of business. Business decisions would benefit from a better knowledge of the past.

“And much less of this…” Creating more spreadsheets. While business education requires teaching the tools of the trade like spreadsheets, we need to ensure that students can think about the complexity of the decisions they make and the world in which their firms operate.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: In 10 years, I expect that I will have retired from the University of Georgia. Success for me will reflect that I made a difference at UGA – I helped develop curriculum, I advanced research in my field, I guided many students as they prepared for their careers, I contributed to professional organizations. Success for me would necessarily also include that my husband and I helped our two sons be happy and healthy. A bonus would be if my husband learned to love travel!

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