2021 Best Undergraduate Professors: Cara Putman, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University

Cara Putman

Krannert School of Management, Purdue University

“Students commented how connected they felt in their core business law course at Purdue, even when COVID forced them to take the class online in spring 2020. A big reason was the communication skills of Cara Putman, a practicing attorney specializing in adoption and estate planning and lecturer at the Krannert School.” – Tim Newton, Krannert School

Cara Putman, 47, is Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Brock-Wilson Center for Women in Management at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. She has been at Purdue since 2006. At the undergraduate level, she teaches Business Law, Development of Employment Law, Navigating Gender and Workplace Leadership, and Visiting Leaders Seminar within the Honors College.

She has a JD from the Anton Scalia School of Law at George Mason University, an MBA from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, and a BA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In 2021, she received the Krannert Alumni Teaching Excellence Award in course delivery, and was named the Senior Faculty Fellow for Hawkins Residence Hall in 2017. She has also served as the School of Management Honors Director and led five study abroad programs. She is also a best-selling author, writing more than 30 novels and one non-fiction book. 

“In her course, ‘Legal Foundations of Business,’ she links learning objectives to activities that allow her students to apply their knowledge to real-world situations, saying, ‘I want them to leave with concrete pictures and ideas about how the law intersects with the jobs they will do,’” Tim Newton of the Krannert School writes in his nomination. 


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I taught a writing class at George Mason University School of Law and fell in love with teaching. Then when I had the opportunity to teach graduate classes at Purdue, I loved the ability to mix practical lessons and experiences with students. As an attorney, I can impact one client at a time. When teaching I can impact our future managers and business leaders and help them learn how to avoid trouble on the legal or ethics front. Even more important, I can guide conversations about how to make choices from a perspective that treats people well. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I’m one of the lead faculty on a study we’re running at the School of Management on how to more effectively teach ethics at the undergraduate level. We’ve been running different iterations of the study since Spring 2019 and are deep into the analysis of our collected data. One of the most significant findings to date is that simply teaching ethics concepts isn’t enough. It actually moves people backwards in a sense because it raises their awareness to the importance of ethics, but without giving them guiding principles. The result is that students become less ethical in seeing any ethics as good. We’ve also found that a reflection element (something as simple as creating a personal ethics statement or writing a short essay about a company that is in the news for a scandal with an eye to how business stakeholder analysis could have changed the result) makes a difference in moving students up the Kohlberg stages.  

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… a trial attorney who also writes novels on the side. I just signed a contract for my 37th book. I love creating worlds and am a storyteller in the classroom and through my writing.   

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I care deeply about connecting theory with real-world application. I firmly believe if I emphasize vocabulary and theory, the students will forget it as soon as the assessment is behind them. But if I teach the theory and follow it up with stories and applications,  the concepts and how to apply them has longer staying power. I love taking a course students don’t want to take and turning it into their favorite class at Purdue. 

One word that describes my first time teaching: Nervous

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: It will be your passion because you love students, but grading is drudgery. It’s necessary and important, so learn how to balance keeping course content fresh and assessments impactful with the realities of what you can effectively grade. Multiple choice isn’t wrong when moderated with other types of written assessments. 

Professor I most admire and why: I try to model my teaching on my undergraduate advisor at Nebraska. Dr. Philip Dyer had an open-door policy, and while a professor I learned much from in class, he coached me through life decisions such as when to go to grad school, what type of degree to pursue, and how to move from college into the next stage of life. I want to provide that same space for my students. Victoria Huber, currently an associate dean at George Mason Law School, had a similar impact on me during law school. She was a safe space whether I was flying successfully or had hit turbulence. She remains a trusted friend when I have career questions or want to celebrate success.  


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I love how curious they are and how much they want to know how theory works in the real world. They challenge me as much as I challenge them. 

What is most challenging? Keeping up with headlines to maintain highly relevant content. The real-world applications are key, but I’ve learned it’s okay to admit I’m not an expert and turn the class into an exploration. During the Olympics, in Accounting Ethics, we took fifteen minutes to pivot from theory to the ice-skating scandal for an on-the-spot refresher on stakeholder analysis. The students went from hanging on to highly engaged.

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

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Lazy

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…tough but fair. My policy is if it is worth having students write it, I will give detailed feedback. 


What are your hobbies? I am a multi-published, award-winning author of 36 novels. That and travel absorb what free time I have. I love being able to use my right brain in another way through writing and new experiences when I travel. 

How will you spend your summer? Strategizing course design and the expanded role of the Women in Management center. I also plan to write a couple articles based on our ethics research. It will be full and fun. 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: After teaching study abroad in Italy for four years, I love visiting Italy and any points in Europe and surrounding countries. Really, I love exploring new places here in the United States and abroad. I love seeing what’s around the next bend in the road, and am forever urging my husband to go just a bit further.

Favorite book(s): I read 130+ books a year. A business book I consistently recommend to students and others is Radical Candor by Kim Scott. On the fiction side, there are so many it’s hard to narrow down to one!

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I love the Marvel movies. I’ve been watching Black Widow on repeat because of the storytelling and character development. My family and I watched all of them in order during COVID – me taking notes on story and character development and my kids laughing at me for not just relaxing.  

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? When I’m writing, I listen to movie soundtracks. When I’m walking, I listen to audiobooks. For background or to reset, I love listening to Elevation. 


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… A sense of belonging. COVID has been hard on students. I’d love to see an environment where students are challenged in their course work and receive the opportunity to have a transformative experience in the workplace or with research. 

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at…Recognizing that the future workforce is changing. Women are getting more undergraduate and graduate degrees in many areas. That means employment policies are going to have to adjust and flex. COVID has required flexibility, but women are stepping out at record rates. We can’t wait to see whether they return, but we need to be proactive in creating opportunities for women to grow and thrive in the workplace today and into the future.  

I’m grateful for… the opportunity to teach at a Big Ten, world-class university. There are many days as I walk across campus to another class that I pinch myself that I have the opportunity to teach our undergraduate and graduate students. They are some of the brightest minds.

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