2021 Best Undergraduate Professors: Aimee Barbeau, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Gies College of Business

Aimee Barbeau

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Gies College of Business

“I have worked with Aimee ever since I was a freshman. As her section leader, I get the opportunity to teach freshmen as an undergraduate. Since then, I have risen to a course manager in her class. Aimee puts in 10X more work than any other professor. She always has the brightest smile. She is the only professor I know that makes me feel excited to work with her and attend her class.” – Yuqi (Rich) Peng, student

Aimee Barbeau, 38, is a teaching assistant Professor of Business Administration at the Gies College of Business at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,where she has taught since 2016. She currently teaches Professional Responsibility and Business, Ethical Dilemmas of Business, and Principles of Professional Responsibility.

Barbeau earned a PhD in Political Science from Georgetown University, MA in History from the University of Tulsa, and Bachelor degrees in Mathematics and English Literature from Oral Roberts University.

A full 118 students and colleagues enthusiastically nominated Barbeau, more than almost any other professor in this year’s list. She led a significant transformation of Business 101, a class taken by all 850 or so first-year Gies students. She redesigned the capstone project to examine how business can address relevant social issues such as carbon footprints and racial inequality. 

“As Aimee’s lead TA during her first three years at Gies, I cannot emphasize enough the positive impact she has had on my professional development,” writes student Jack Lindquist in his nomination. “Aimee coached each of us individually and as a group to empower us to be the best instructors possible. In one of many examples, she debriefed with me an activity I ran that went poorly and helped me identify specific instructional strategies that would improve my delivery in the future …The incredible opportunities she gave me and the mentorship she provided rapidly accelerated my development as a student, instructor, and young professional.”

Kaci Abolt, a Gies Business colleague, believes that students want to be involved with BUS 101 just for the chance to learn from Barbeau outside of the required course.

“Prof. Barbeau is such an incredible asset to our students and college,” Abolt writes in her nomination. “She empowers undergraduate students to be leaders in our college with opportunities to work alongside her in developing and teaching the course.”


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I came to teaching business along a roundabout path through other disciplines, including mathematics, history, philosophy, and political science. I knew business school was the perfect fit for me when I realized it would allow me to teach and learn about ALL the things that interest me at the same time! Business draws on so many areas of knowledge, but doesn’t just stop there. Business constantly challenges you to apply and test that diverse knowledge in the real world.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I’m currently researching how the classroom context can shape students’ learning in business school. I’ve learned that decisions by both instructors and peers have a powerful effect on students’ learning.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… naming color swatches for a paint company. I love color and have always wanted to be the one to name new colors!

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My enthusiasm for business! I want my business students to take pride in their profession and recognize the incredibly valuable role that business plays in creating a flourishing society.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Thrilling! I’ve wanted to teach since I was 5, so this was a dream come true! 

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Drill down to the specifics! A business concept or idea can easily fall flat with students and be confusing. But that perfect example from the news or the illustration from a popular TV show—now, that is what they will remember. And the concrete example will help bring the concept to mind for students. 

Professor I most admire and why: My colleagues at Gies! I never tire of learning from other faculty in the college about how to be a better instructor. We have some of the best student-centered teachers you’re going to find anywhere, and I feel lucky to work alongside them.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Business students often bring their own interests and experiences into the classroom to help us all better understand the topic at hand. For example, I typically teach classes that explore ethics in business or the relationship between business and society; so, I often ask students to bring in news stories to discuss class themes. Guided by their own interests and experiences, they come in with a variety of examples from every part of the business world, from sports to art to religion—something I could never have duplicated on my own.

What is most challenging? Students come to business with an extraordinary variety of goals, pursuits, and values. They constantly challenge me to learn and grow more in my knowledge of business to help them achieve those aspirations! 

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

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Absent—if I can get the student to class, I know we’re going to have a great time!

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…over-talkative! I like to give lots of feedback because everything should be directed towards learning and growth!


What are your hobbies? Spending time with family and going on walks with my husband

How will you spend your summer? Enjoying the outdoors—one of my favorite places to work is outside on my back patio, which I can do all summer long!

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Colorado (where I grew up!) and England

Favorite book(s): It’s hard for me to come up with a favorite book because I love so many, but I’ll pick a series that I’ve been currently reading and really enjoying for its political and economic analysis—Frank Herbert’s Dune and the following series! And yes, the book is even better than the new film!

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Ozark! I haven’t watched the new season yet, but I’ve loved the earlier seasons for their exploration of the psychology of decision making and the economics of the black market.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?  I listen to different types of music depending on what I’m doing. When I’m working or prepping for class I like to listen to Explosions in the Sky or other similar post-rock, instrumental music. It sets a good tone for work without having the lyrics to distract.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… reflection on and integration of the arts and media (music, literature, film, etc.). Often, the arts can help distill and crystalize notions from business and help students understand how abstract concepts can play out in real life. Also, once you start seeing business concepts in film, shows, books, and other media, you can never stop seeing them. That in turn leads to more creative and critical analysis of real-world situations.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… being more intentional about the use of technology in the workplace. Research is showing that technologies, which appear to make life better for employees, may in fact be reducing productivity and general satisfaction. Companies should prioritize things like mental health, work-life balance, and the possibility of deep work when considering the role of technology at work.

I’m grateful for… the incredible support of my husband and for having such an amazing workplace in Gies. 

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