2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Chad Harms, University of Notre Dame (Mendoza)

Chad Harms

Associate Teaching Professor

University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business

What do you get when you merge a PhD in communication with expertise in business — specifically social impacts of communication technology, virtual and augmented reality systems, and computer mediated communication? A Chad Harms classroom experience. As one of the primary instructors of Foresight in Business & Society, a signature course in the undergraduate program at the Mendoza College of Business, Harms is said to masterfully combine theoretical insights and practical wisdom with a relentless focus on effective student communication. With three communication degrees and a wealth of prior teaching experience as a communications professor, Harms’ teaching is informed by his eclectic background. Still, his service to Mendoza undergrads goes well beyond the lecture hall. When he’s not helping junior-level students explore the future of various social, technological, and environmental topics, you can find this professor in the boxing ring or on the Notre Dame football field sidelines. Professor Harms dedicates his time as a coach for both the men’s and women’s boxing teams as well as on the football field serving as a faculty usher during the university’s home games.

Age: 45

Education: PhD, Communication, Michigan State University; Masters, Communication, Michigan State University, 2000; Speech Communication, Iowa State University, Minor in Sociology

At current institution since: 2010

List of courses you currently teach: Foresight in Business and Society, (undergraduate), Strategic Foresight, (graduate)

What professional achievement are you most proud of? This honor is right there at the top. I’d probably say having my dissertation work selected for the “First Young Investigators in Virtual Reality” forum by the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and then being flown to Seoul, South Korea to present.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I didn’t “know” I wanted to be a business professor. It was a case of emergence…that a combination of forces/experiences/opportunities brought me into the college of business. I had a professor named Kay Mueller (Iowa State Univ.) that helped me realize I wanted to teach. She showcased the best of what it meant to learn through the discussion of ideas, working as a team, and student encouragement.

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

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? The future. I still can’t predict it, but spending time thinking about it is tremendously valuable.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? At the end of the semester when my students come to my office to turn in their final projects. The pride on their faces, as they hand me the tangible hardcopy after having put so much time and effort, is invaluable. Earlier in the semester I will have had them read about Collins and Porras’ BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). There is a connection to the idea that this project “goes beyond the {team’s} current capabilities”. Early on, the team sees this large research project and struggles to grasp how they’re going to get to the finish. Then, we build it piece by piece and work to improve the components along the way. It comes and goes quickly, but most memorable moment is the expression on their faces that morning they turn in their final report…the realization at the end that that their thought and effort have come to fruition in the form of this intriguing, thorough report.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? Two words, “Data Analytics”. My class has always pushed the students to gather and use evidence to support their forecasts. The emphasis on, amount available, and resources constructed to access and analyze data have seen exorbitant growth over the past decade.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” An artist. I have and will always be “artsy/craftsy”…whether it involves classic media (paint/sculpture/etc.) or upcycling old materials to create something new. However, I was always a bit concerned with the adjective that often accompanied “artist”…that being “starving” (especially with a family to help provide for).

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: “You teach for free…you get paid to grade.” The time in class is energetic and fun. The time you have to spend by yourself going through students’ work, preparing to give them feedback, goes well beyond the “contact hours” expected per course. This is not a 9-5 type of job. There are deadlines and commitments that keep you up past midnight or up before the dawn. The flip side is that you are afforded quite a bit of autonomy.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: My wife, Jill Harms (Iowa State University, Dept. of Psychology, Communication Studies Program). I admire her the most because I have been able to observe her first-hand. There are plenty of great instructors around me at Notre Dame, but I watch in awe as she successfully balances everything (career, family, church, etc.); knowing the care and commitment she puts into every student and class. She currently teaches online, which poses challenges as she is very much a people person…so sharing and interacting with students has always provided here with a lot of satisfaction. She is fair, organized, caring, and in control. As a result, her students respect her and stay engaged, which in turn, helps them to be successful.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? Their energy and optimism! Too often Business students get a bad rap. It’s assumed that they’re in business simply to make money. Rather, I have found them to be the young people that are willing to push harder to find solutions. They are the ones that will be able to motivate and organize the scientists, engineers, communication specialists, laborers, etc. to accomplish something larger than any of them. It is through their vision and effort that the world will be a better place.

What’s the biggest challenge? A 20-year old is a 20-year old. That means that they are extremely busy juggling school, work, volunteer and leadership responsibilities, athletic and other extracurricular activities…and a social life. The result is typically an inefficient amount of sleep which can impact their attentiveness and availability.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? Over Thanksgiving break in the Fall of 2012, one of my students took it upon himself to learn how to use the program “i-book author”. It was not something he wasn’t expected to do, but rather something he thought would bring additional value to his team’s final project. By him going beyond expectations, he helped his team produce one of the top projects for the semester and changed how all future students would consider and construct their own projects. Digital versions of projects have expanded to include questionnaires, videos, interactive system modeling, and more. He eventually became a teaching assistant for me.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? One time a student lied to his team about why he would not be available to help them complete an assignment. He was caught in his lie when some of his friends posted pictures via social media of him partying at a couple clubs with them during the time he supposedly attending to a “family emergency”. Such behavior is disrespectful and unprofessional…and his team let him know that in his peer evaluation.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? Their connectedness and the urgency and necessity they feel with every beep, buzz, or blip of their smart phones.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Be present. Turn things in on time. Be thorough with their answers. Be an engaged, respectful, contributing member of your team.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Fair, but expectant of rigor.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? Easy… “Welcome Back”…theme song for the television show Welcome Back Kotter, by John Sebastian, released in 1976. This song is also the first ’45 selection in my 1958 Seeburg jukebox. It sets the right tone and attitude…hopefully all feel welcome to share their thoughts and experiences.

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

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

“If my students can have the courage to raise their hand in a room full of superiors and point to a trend or change that they feel will impact their company or community, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: I was the 1994 National College Boxing Association – National Champion (190 lbs.) representing Iowa State University.

What are your hobbies? Upcycling, Garage Sale(ing), Camping, Art, Sailing, Civic Theater

How did you spend your summer? Camping with family and friends

Favorite place to vacation: Whitewater State Park in SE Minnesota. I have been there 44 consecutive years with my family.

Favorite book: Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood, 1976

Favorite movie and/or television show: Joe versus the Volcano, WKRP in Cincinnati

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Oldies…specifically I like asking my students their favorite oldies song. It’s interesting to see what they consider an “oldie”, how certain songs resonate across generations, and to every once in a while get exposed to something new.

Bucket list item #1: Backpack around Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior (bonus bucket list item…sailing my own boat over)

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? The challenge facing business education is providing students with an interdisciplinary curriculum and experiences. Students’ schedules are often loaded with foundational, pre-rec courses within their major. The ability of business students to work on team-based projects with other students from Engineering, Design, Psychology, etc. is extremely limited, if not non-existent. I believe more cross-disciplinary projects and practice would help them (1) develop their communication skills, allowing them to more effectively communication throughout/between the organization(s); (2) draw value from alternative perspectives; and (3) provide them a realistic preview of how various levels/departments within an organization interconnect.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Interdisciplinary curriculum, experiences, team projects (see answer above)

“And much less of this…” Students with figurative “blinders” only able to focus on their grade…not the value of the information/experience.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: I would still be teaching and I’d get a phone call from a former student. The conversation would start with them assuming I’d forgotten…but I’d be able to connect them back to their project, hometown, or favorite oldie. They’d be happy and healthy. They’d then go on to tell me how they’d worked their way up through corporate America, and ultimately launched their own business. They’d at some point convey the idea that some of the material/process we’d been through 15-20 years earlier in class helped them lead their organization to success. They’d have found a creative solution to a social or global issue, and in so, purpose for their life.

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