2020 Best Undergraduate Business Professors: Fatma Sonmez-Leopold, Syracuse University

Fatma Sonmez Leopold of Syracuse University’s Whitman School is a 2020 Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professor

Fatma Sonmez-Leopold

Assistant Professor of Finance

Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University

Fatma Sonmez-Leopold is an award-winning professor from the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Most recently, Sonmez-Leopold won the Whitman Teaching Fellowship Award (2019). From a young age, some people are hard-wired to teach. That’s Sonmez-Leopold, who says teaching others was the best way for her to learn subjects when she was a student. Like many B-school professors, Sonmez-Leopold has a background in mathematics and engineering. Eventually, she found business. “I fell in love with finance because I love the application of mathematical financial theories to data as I am a huge fan of empirical work,” she says.

A native of Turkey, Sonmez-Leopold came to North America to earn her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Current age: 45

At current institution since what year? 2017

Education: Ph.D. in Finance

List of courses you currently teach: Fixed Income Securities, Investments, Managerial Finance


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I discovered early in my life that I can teach anything. Teaching others was my way of learning the subjects when I was a student. Throughout the years, I have moved from mathematics to engineering and then business degrees. I fell in love with finance because I love the application of mathematical financial theories to data as I am a huge fan of empirical work.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

I have been working on the impact of leverage on the firms’ equity beta. Previous research shows that high equity beta earns low return and vice versa. It is an anomaly as we know from the financial theory that high risk should be accompanied with high return. My coauthors and I claim that high leverage could be the reason behind the low return of high beta stocks. Leverage is important as it magnifies the risk of the firm especially during the turmoil times.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d be a pediatric doctor (and I would have been a good one!).

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

My passion to my subject matter, my excitement towards teaching and most importantly my ability to connect complex mathematical ideas to real life applications.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Powerful or intense as teaching influences the way we think.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Being a business school professor requires a holistic approach as all subject matters are integrated. As a finance professor, I often use tools/knowledge from supply chain, marketing, psychology, accounting, statistics, mathematics, economics.

Professor I most admire and why: I don’t have a specific person but I have always like professors who manages to get me excited about the subject matter, and who connects with students.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Business students have the opportunity to apply the theories we teach in classroom to real life through their internship, which makes teaching business fun. As a professor, I generally follow the real life applications of the material I teach and it helps me to grow professionally. It also helps me in my research.

What is most challenging?

Cell-phones in classroom, which in my opinion total distraction for learning.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Closed-minded

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


What are your hobbies?

Play tennis, fashion, politics

How will you spend your summer?

I will divide my summer between fun and work. Fun includes a visit my parents in Turkey but looks impossible this year due to Covid 19, playing more tennis, swimming in our backyard pool, hiking in the woods with my family.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Ayvalik, Turkey (my parents have a summer place there), Marin, San Franscisco (my husband’s family live in the Bay area).

Favorite book(s): I enjoy history books in general.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

RBG is my favorite movie as it is impressive to learn more about the woman who has shaped history in USA. I also like the civil war documentaries from Ken Burns. I love to learn history as it reflects who we are today. I also enjoy watching Shark Tank on TV and trying to guess which project would get the funding.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?

My family is very musical, my daughter plays piano, my husband is a professional classical musician.

I love opera and musicals because I like complexity of expressing the feelings and  stories with beautiful voices and music.  It is very engaging at every level from visual to audio, from following the story to listening to the voices. I also like Turkish folk music as I grew up with it and my mom loves it. Asik Veysel is my favorite Turkish folk musician.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… In addition to academic skills, in my opinion business schools should focus on soft skill development as well as adaptability to changing world.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… focusing on connectivity to their stakeholders as a whole, i.e. collective thinking. Given what we have been going through with Covid19, adaptability is required by companies and organizations. Adaptability means understanding what makes our collective future better.

I’m grateful for… opportunities that have been given by my parents, constant support from my husband, my peers, most importantly I am grateful to be born with the ability to connect with people which allows me to influence thousands of students.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:

“Professor Sonmez-Leopold has an undeniably strong knowledge of Finance, and everything that can possibly connect to it. Her knowledge-base and command of the material, somehow leads to creative ways of explaining material that make the most convoluted subjects digestible; if one way does not work, she will exhaust every resource in her ever-expanding arsenal to find a way to give an answer that will enable the student to succeed. That answer will invariably connect a narrow issue with the bigger picture, because she wants to be sure that the student understands the topic not just for an upcoming test or quiz, but for how it will apply in a business setting.”

“Professor Sonmez-Leopold has a way of explaining some very difficult concepts in ways that makes them accessible, even enjoyable, to the students. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she has set an example for other faculty members to follow.” – Prof. Ravi  K Shukla

“Excellent professor and educator! Came to class every day with a bright smile, a positive attitude, and an enthusiasm for the material. Please never stop teaching.”

“Professor Sonmez-Leopold is incredibly smart and for arguments sake may even be overqualified to teach for this course. She clearly explains topics, gives clear explanations, goes into details when necessary, and has a clear enthusiasm for the course. In all honestly, this course has reaffirmed my decision to major in finance and frankly quality professors like Sonmez-Leopold are the reason I am willing to pay big money to go to a university such as this. One of the best professors thus far.”

“The Teaching Recognition Award is sponsored by the Meredith Professors at Syracuse University to benefit non-tenured faculty members. It recognizes excellence in teaching and fosters a culture of collegial mentoring among faculty members at Syracuse University. One of this year’s recipients is Professor Sonmez-Leopold, who has been an outstanding teacher since joining the Whitman School three years ago from Queens University in Canada. Her teaching interests include corporation finance and fixed income securities. In addition to doing an outstanding job in the classroom, Sonmez-Leopold has been serving as the finance co-coordinator for the Undergraduate Program’s Integrated Core. As one student put on their teaching evaluation: “I wish I had her in every class. I cannot put into words how impactful that course was for me and how much I wish I had her for every class. She deserves awards for her teaching.”

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