2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Dessislava Pachamanova, Babson College

Dessislava Pachamanova


Babson College

Business analytics is hot in undergraduate business programs right now. What’s more, “Graduates who have not been exposed to analytics concepts are already at a disadvantage in the marketplace,” Babson Professor Dessi Pachamanova, told Poets&Quants for Undergrads earlier this year. To this end, it’s one thing to be ahead of the BA curve, another to make the topic accessible and exciting for students. In both instances, Pachamanova has it mastered. Not only does she teach analytics and computational finance at the undergraduate and graduate levels, she has co-designed the business analytics concentration curricula for both. She is also the designer and instructor for several business analytics focused courses at the school. Colleagues praise Professor Pachamanova for being unusually successful at using scholarship to inform her teaching and being in front of the technology curve with her pioneering use of Python and R in elective courses. Likewise, she is celebrated for maintaining strong ties to a network of practitioners who shape Babson’s curriculum and provide career opportunities for students.

Age: 43

Education: (title of degree, area of study, institution and year obtained): PhD, Sloan School of Management (MIT); BA, Mathematics with a Certificate in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (Princeton University)

At current institution since: 2002

List of courses you currently teach: Data Science and Business Analytics; Financial Modeling; Data, Models and Decisions

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I am grateful for professional recognition for my teaching and research but I am particularly proud of an achievement that has benefitted my students: advancing the analytics curriculum at Babson. Since 2012, I have co-led several major initiatives related to the business analytics curriculum at both the undergraduate and the graduate level. In 2012, we were just at the beginning of the “analytics wave” – today analytics programs are much more prevalent in business schools. Our group, consisting of several faculty members from different disciplines as well as the directors of the Undergraduate and Graduate Centers for Career Development, consulted a board of industry advisors and reached out to alumni to develop our positioning and identify gaps. We launched business analytics concentrations, created and piloted new courses, and infused analytics topics throughout the core curriculum. These topics are continuously updated in consultation with industry partners. Over the following years, multiple colleagues from all of Babson’s divisions have contributed to the effort to offer Babson’s students innovative analytics course content that spans disciplines.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” during my PhD studies at the MIT Sloan Business School, my husband made the observation that he never sees me as happy as when I teach…

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

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I have always been interested in a broad range of subjects, worked with colleagues across disciplines, and published both theoretical research on analytical methods (decision-making under uncertainty, financial risk management, supply chain management) and applied research on analytics in practice (with applications in finance, accounting, strategy, marketing, engineering). In my most recent stream of research, I am collaborating with academics and practitioners and using the knowledge I have accumulated in risk management, predictive analytics, statistics, data mining, and optimization to address questions in healthcare, such as understanding policy implications for hospital outcomes, determining the effectiveness of treatments, and supporting innovation. I am excited about this new stream of research because it directly impacts human lives.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? There are many but here is an example. One day, an overwhelmed freshman walked into my office – everything seemed so difficult, home was far away, and she had such a strong feeling of failure and despair. Four years later, I happened to be the faculty member who presented this student with a prestigious campus award in a large ceremony. That moment felt special, and I felt proud of my involvement, even if small, in encouraging the student to have confidence, overcome her fears, and become a leader on campus.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? The easy access to information about market trends has made business school students better informed and more demanding when it comes to acquiring concrete skills. As a result, fields like analytics, which are in high demand from employers, now have a prominent role in business school curricula.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” If I were not teaching analytics at a business school, I would be applying it in a field like finance or consulting.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: That being a professor allows one to have multiple jobs over the course of a single career. A good professor is a lifetime learner. The freedom to do research and expand one’s expertise through consulting means that a professor can make a difference in areas that are very far from where he or she started during his or her PhD.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: There are many who have influenced my professional growth and left a deep impression on how I think of my mission as a professor. Professor Yakov Sinai at Princeton, my undergraduate thesis advisor, won every research award in his field, but that never prevented him from spending time explaining basic concepts to his undergraduate students. Faculty with whom I worked or from whom I learned during my graduate studies at MIT – Professors Dimitris Bertsimas, Georgia Perakis, Rob Freund – all inspired me in different ways. I admired their interest in solving difficult problems, but also their approachability and willingness to mentor students.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? I enjoy teaching both graduate and undergraduate students. What I like most about teaching undergraduates is that what I do in my courses affects also how they develop as people, to a greater extent than in the case of graduate students (who have had more time to shape their identities). For me, this is both a joy and a great responsibility.

What’s the biggest challenge? Working with undergraduate students often involves more than just teaching the material, because college is also about maturing and self-discovery. This can be very rewarding but also very challenging for a professor.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? It is tempting to list the impressive accomplishments of some of my students who started businesses, were admitted to top graduate programs, pursued socially impactful projects, or received Fulbright scholarships and other recognitions for their excellence. But I am also impressed by the accomplishments of some students who did not necessarily end up at the top of my classes. Many had to deal with family issues, health problems, fear of quantitative methods, or disabilities, but overcame them and did well. Resilience is impressive.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Free riding on team projects.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? I have been teaching for more than 15 years and over this time, advances in technology have changed students’ expectations about responsiveness and communications. Students’ technological skills are much stronger, but formal writing and professional communication skills have deteriorated in some ways.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Although I teach analytical methods, the students in my classes are evaluated according to a variety of metrics, such as performance on case study write-ups, exams, a final project, presentations, and participation in class discussions. To do well, students not only have to prove that they have learned the material taught in lectures, but also to be effective communicators, active contributors to the learning process, and motivated researchers.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Fair

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? “Speedway at Nazareth” by Mark Knopfler

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

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

“If my students can identify opportunities and make decisions informed by analytics, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: I speak five languages and have lived in five different countries (not necessarily the same as the languages I speak)

What are your hobbies? Swimming, riding my Hobie pedalboard, reading, exploring the world with my family

How did you spend your summer? Working on research projects and relaxing with my family on the beach

Favorite place to vacation: Italy

Favorite book: The Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. I like Rex Stout’s smart, witty writing style, and find his personal background and accomplishments impressive.

Favorite movie and/or television show: The Shawshank Redemption

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Mark Knopfler

Bucket list item #1: Writing mystery books with my husband

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? Our lives appear to be lived in smaller, fast-paced chunks, and business education might need to reimagine itself to respond to this trend, for example, as deliverable on-demand or in shorter chunks over the course of one’s career.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Balance of foundation and application; experiential learning.

“And much less of this…” Institutional politics.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: Balance of meaningful, socially inspired research, innovative teaching, and a happy family.

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