2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Mary Steffel, Northeastern University (D’Amore-McKim)

Mary Steffel

Assistant Professor of Marketing

Northeastern University, D’Amore-McKim School of Business

Frequently, Mary Steffel is called upon by the United States government with regard to her academic research and expertise in consumer behavior, social psychology, and judgment and decision making. More specifically, this D’AMORE-MCKIM SCHOOL OF BUSINESS professor uses experimental research tactics to examine when consumers call on others to help them make decisions, to identify the barriers to accurately gauging others’ preferences and correctly choosing on their behalf, and to understand how these barriers can be overcome. From October 2016-January 2017, she served as a fellow on the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team. Today, she’s a fellow inside the United States Office of Evaluation Sciences. Not only does her work appear in top-tier journals like the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Marketing Research, but the same can be said for her work showing up in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, TIME, Harvard Business Review, and more. With an average course rating of 4.8 out of 5 inside her Consumer Behavior course, Professor Steffel’s class is said to incorporate hands-on components to illustrate theoretical concepts and real-world relevance  to ignite passion within students.

Age: 37

Education: BA, Psychology, Columbia University; PhD and MA, Psychology, Princeton University; PhD, Marketing, University of Florida

At current institution since: 2015

List of courses you currently teach: Consumer Behavior, Marketing and Society, Business and Social Impact

Twitter handle: @steffel_mary

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I served on the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team and currently serve on the Office of Evaluation Sciences at the General Services Administration.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when I finally realized that business isn’t about stuff, it’s about people.”

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

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I study consumer judgment and decision-making: when people call upon others to help them make decisions, why they struggle when making decisions for other people, and how to help people make better decisions for themselves and others. I find that people delegate decisions more often than we might think, that people often make different choices for other than they make for themselves, and that good choice architecture can help improve people’s choices.   

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? My most memorable teaching moments are when students present their final projects. I never cease to be impressed with the way the studnents translate consumer insights into concrete recommendations for solving real-world challenges related to sustainability, volunteerism and charitable giving, healthy eating, and financial wellbeing.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? Business education has become more experiential—students want to learn by doing.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would like to…” Serve on a behavioral insights team in business or government and use evidence-based insights to promote societal wellbeing.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: Being a professor puts you in a unique position to make a difference in the world, not only through teaching, but also through research and service.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: I most admire my mother, Nancy Steffel, who is a professor of education at the University of Indianapolis. Her enthusiasm is contagious—she inspires everyone around her to be the best versions of themselves!  

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? Undergraduate business students are eager to learn and can’t wait to get out and have an impact.

What’s the biggest challenge? One of the biggest challenges is teaching students how to overcome their intuitive biases and engage in evidence-based decision making.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done?  I’ve had several students start their own businesses—I’m so impressed by that!

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Plagiarize

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? Students are becoming more entrepreneureal in solving real-world problems that matter to them.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Demonstrate creativity and insight

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…” Generous with constructive feedback

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? More than words

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

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

“If my students can apply evidence-based insights to solve real-world problems, then I’ve done my job as their professor.” 

Fun fact about yourself: I used to be a hurdler

What are your hobbies? Singing, running, and nerding out about consumer psychology

How did you spend your summer? Traveling

Favorite place to vacation: New York City

Favorite book: Nudge

Favorite movie and/or television show: Up!

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Indie rock

Bucket list item #1: Write a book

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? Helping students to realize that doing good can be good business.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Experiential learning

“And much less of this…” Time spent inside a classroom rather than out in the world

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: I would like to be a thought leader and apply my expertise to making a difference in the world.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.