2020 Best Undergraduate Professors: Abbey Stemler, Indiana University (Kelley)

Abbey Stemler of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business is a 2020 Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professor

Abbey Stemler

Assistant Professor

Indiana University Kelley School of Business

Abbey Stemler knows Indiana University. She has four degrees from the university and has been a professor at the Kelley School of Business since 2013. Stemler’s path to being a business school professor at a top undergraduate business program is unique, to be sure. A first-generation college student, Stemler created her own major as an undergraduate student — Anthropology of Mental Illness. She then received an MBA from the Kelley School and a JD from the Maurer School of Law.

At 34, Stemler is also one of the youngest professors on this year’s list. Not surprisingly, Stemler teaches at the intersection of business and law, currently teaching Law for Entrepreneurs and The Legal Environment of Business. “Fortunately for me, my mentor since the age of 21, Jamie Prenkert, was and is a business law professor,” Stemler says. “He and the Department of Business Law and Ethics at Kelley gave me a shot teaching, and it’s been a remarkable journey ever since. I’m truly grateful for the unexpected opportunities the Kelley School has given me.”

Current age: 34

At current institution since what year? 2013

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Indiana University (Anthropology of Mental Illness (self-created major) & Psychology); MBA, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business (Management); Juris Doctorate, Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

List of courses you currently teach: “Law for Entrepreneurs” and “The Legal Environment of Business”

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when … Oof, as a first-generation college student being a professor was never in the realm of possibility. However, after the last-minute decision to go to grad school and practicing law at a big firm, I knew I loved the law but that I was not happy getting large corporations out of paying taxes. Fortunately for me, my mentor since the age of 21, Jamie Prenkert, was and is a business law professor.  He and the Department of Business Law and Ethics at Kelley gave me a shot teaching, and it’s been a remarkable journey ever since.  I’m truly grateful for the unexpected opportunities the Kelley School has given me.

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

My research focuses on the spaces where law has yet to catch up with technology. It is a fascinating field because it involves not only the study of regulation but history, science and economics. My biggest discovery is likely the prominent role rhetoric and behavioral science plays in helping big tech platforms, particularly Google, Uber, and Airbnb, influence their users to push for regulations that are economically advantageous for platforms.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be … a full-time entrepreneur. I delight in creating companies and attempting to perfect operations within relatively vanilla ventures. I sold my first business, a boutique hotel, at age of 29 and subsequently started and currently co-own a local bakery/café, a real estate company and a consulting firm.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My businesses always seem to spawn crazy legal issues that I bring to the classroom — from a dog pulling one of our tables across the street and hitting a car to issues related to COVID. Since I’m dealing with these tribulations in real-time, students can often help me problem-solve while learning about related legal concepts.

One word that describes my first time teaching:  Sleepless

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Incorporate what you’re passionate about into the classroom — when you’re bored with the material, everyone is bored.

Professor I most admire and why: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Rutgers and Columbia 1963-1972). Cliché as it might be, Justice Ginsburg was brilliant at creating leaders out of her students and always taking the time to both listen and teach. 

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?  Their relative inexperience with the subject.  I feel so fortunate to be the first to pull back the curtain on how politics and our government operates.  For many it is life changing because once you see the invisible forces that govern our behavior, it’s hard to forget.

What is most challenging? Business students are so multifaceted — many with two or three majors, leadership activities, and hobbies. For that reason, it’s sometimes hard to get them to slow down and delight in and think deeply about the implications of the law for both their future business endeavors and their roles as citizens.

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

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Checked-out

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as … consistent, fair, and impartial (hopefully!)

What are your hobbies?  Frequent flyer points and podcasts.

How will you spend your summer?  Writing, improving the offerings of my Department’s co-major (Law, Ethics and Decision-making (LEAD), building a shed by hand in my backyard and organizing my basement.

Favorite place(s) to vacation:  Malta 

Favorite book(s):  I’m a millennial, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t say the entire Harry Potter series, particularly Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But past my teenage years, I also really enjoy and appreciate excellent journalism, which includes just about anything by Franklin Foer, Lulu Miller and Scott Galloway. 

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?  Though it’s ended, I so enjoyed watching “Silicon Valley,” a delightful comedy that brought some mindless sunshine to an otherwise bleak 2020. 

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?  Barbra Streisand — because at heart I’m an 85-year-old woman.

If I had my way, the business school of the future would more … accurately reflect the diversity of our country — more women, people of color, individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities, etc.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at … getting to know our students — GPA is not the only predictor of who will be a great intern or employee.

I’m grateful for… having a vocation that provides me with meaning and security.

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

Kevin Werbach, Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania: “(Abbey) Stemler is one of the new generation of scholars who are bringing a more skeptical and nuanced perspective to our understanding of the internet’s impact on law and business. Where conventional wisdom was that digital platforms such as Facebook and Google should be freed from regulation to promote innovation, Stemler and others have shown how regulation is needed to promote important public policy values such as privacy, fair competition, and consumer protection. Her work has focused in particular on the so- called “sharing economy” (firms such as Uber and Airbnb which provide platforms to connect individuals), where Stemler has illustrated serious problems with the dominant laissez-faire approach. With the massive growth of digital platforms and the constant drumbeat of scandals in recent years, these are extremely important topics both economically and politically. Of the scholars in her cohort, Stemler is one of the few in a business school, making her work even more distinctive. She has received a trove of awards from the Academy of Legal Studies in Business, and I would consider her among the first rank of junior scholars in business law programs in the country.”

Josh Perry, Chair of the Business Law and Ethics Department at Kelley: “Professor Stemler’s cutting-edge research focuses on the ‘Wild West’ dynamics of a technologically- and digitally-driven 21stCentury marketplace where legislators and regulators are unable to keep pace. Her award-winning work is not only consistently high-quality as a matter of scholarship, but its practical importance as guidance to policy makers around the world and as an influence on emerging legal doctrines could not be more timely. Moreover, as an instructor, she leads, teaches, mentors, encourages, co-authors and inspires her students to delve into these cutting-edge topics. Her students not only learn about the subject matter, but also learn how to conduct research, write papers and compete in case competitions. Even her service contributors are extraordinary. Flowing from her days as a student member of the IU Board of Trustees, Professor Stemler continues to serve Indiana University and our students in profound and impactful ways. She is a founding member of the IU Queer Philanthropy Circle and director of the IU LGBTQ+ Alumni Board. In these advocacy and philanthropy roles, Professor Stemler works to raise money to support students who have been financially disowned by their families for revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity. With her international reputation as a scholar of the sharing economy, her work ethic, her commitment to students, and her collegiality, Abbey Stemler represents the very best of Indiana University and the Kelley School of Business.”

Angie Raymond, associate professor of business law and Weimer Faculty Fellow at Kelley: Professor Stemler is a scholar recognized both domestically and internationally as an expert in the area of regulatory theory in the shared economy. This emerging area of scholarly interest is timely, significant, and of increasing importance in today’s global landscape. Professor Stemler has emerged as one of the leaders in crafting this new area of digital, platform-based regulation … In my view, junior faculty members should be assessed by a commitment to developing into teaching scholars. Rare is the researcher and scholar who has not gotten insight and inspiration through their teaching. Professor Stemler has a robust, passionate commitment to helping students understand the law in context. Her students clearly appreciate her commitment to developing a strong, pedagogically supported, context-specific teaching style that allows students to grow with guidance and firm support.”

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