2021 Best Undergraduate Professors: Sara Ryoo, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York

Sara Ryoo

Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York

“Sara was the best professor. Her lessons were applicable to the real world and real companies. She was passionate about the curriculum and very thorough about the curriculum and her expectations. She was also just the sweetest and kindest professor I have ever had. Very fair as well. Also I loved her Halloween costume with her and her baby.” – Jenny Lynch, student

Sara Ryoo, 38 is a Lecturer in Management at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, City University of New York. She joined the school in 2021 and currently teaches business policy. She previously worked at Binghamton University, and was nominated for her time there. 

She has a PhD in Strategy from the University of Michigan, an MS in Economics from the University of Illinois, and a BA in Economics from Ewha Womans University.

Her research focuses on theoretical development of knowledge management and organizational learning in the banking and pharmaceutical industries. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Economics & Business Policy and the Academy of Accounting and Financial Studies Journal.

She is the winner of the SRF Dissertation Research Grant in 2016 and the South Korean Maekyung Young Scholar Award in 2021. She received five straight faculty teaching honors at Binghamton School of Management.


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I met two influential people in my life. First and foremost, my father who is a professor himself and whom I had looked up to my entire life. His intellectual curiosity, passion, and integrity always inspired me and made me think that I would also want to work in academia one day. The second encounter would be Professor Joseph Mahoney at the University of Illinois. I took Professor Mahoney’s Strategy Ph.D. seminar when I was a master’s student in Economics. Back then, I was struggling to figure out whether economic research was truly the area of study that I wished to pursue. That’s when a good friend of mine suggested that I bring my training in economics to the business school. I began to explore different disciplines in business, and I stumbled across Professor Mahoney’s Strategy course, which was intriguing in so many different ways. I fell in love with the diverse perspectives, interpretations, and theory in studying a construct, mechanism, and the impact on firm performance as well as the dynamic research contexts that were all introduced and taught brilliantly in that class. Professor Mahoney brought me into this field, and he still works with me to this day. I am grateful for his influence on my career.  

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research focuses on the refinement and upgrades of a firm’s resources and capabilities. A current study of mine investigates the resources that are created within a firm’s alliance network but not fully utilized within the promised duration of a focal alliance and thus become network resource slack. Personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about interpersonal relationships and how their properties can be applied to inter-firm relationships, which are yet to be fully examined. My coauthor and I built a theory of how different types of network resource slack affect the perceived value of an alliance. Our study provides insights on how network resource slack can facilitate a firm’s other inter-firm relationships by highlighting important strategic trade-offs made for a firm to maintain its current relationships, build new ones, and appropriate private value from them. 

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… an interior designer. I was always fascinated by how spaces and atmosphere can affect the mood and energy in people. In high school, I consulted with my parents that I’d be interested in pursuing a career in this area. But I was discouraged by my mother who had worked in the design business for some time and suggested that I should just do it as a hobby instead (due to lack of talent). Today, I agree she was right.  

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? Caring for my students’ learning and understanding what it’s like to be a college student. I always try to turn the table around. Rather than teaching in a way that is easy for me to teach, I constantly seek methods that make it easy for my students to understand. Before stepping into the classroom, I think of these three questions: What were the difficult-to-understand concepts when I was a student? Why were they hard? What did the professor do (or not do) to help? I try to make it as easy as possible to understand complex concepts and theory by using familiar or hypothetical examples from our daily lives. I also try to remember what it was like to be in college: full of uncertainties. I think I can create a more interactive learning environment and offer an enjoyable learning experience by showing more empathy towards the challenges that students confront in today’s dynamic world. To foster a culture where my students can learn to be responsible for their own learning, I co-create classroom rules and expectations. I believe that the classroom is a place where everybody learns. I, too, benefit from these experiences in terms of better preparing myself as a co-learner than a teacher.   

One word that describes my first time teaching: Catastrophe

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That you need to be physically fit and strong in order to take on all those different roles inside and outside work – as a researcher, a teacher, a colleague, a friend, a daughter, a wife, and a mother. Had I known, I would’ve eaten healthy, drunk less, and worked out more. 

Professor I most admire and why: There are many mentors that I feel indebted to throughout this journey. But without a doubt, I have my utmost respect for my academic advisor, Professor Gautam Ahuja. He is the one who brought me here – from catastrophe to top 50 undergrad professor. Needless to say, he is an outstanding scholar and an inspiring mentor, but I admire him most as a person. He taught me what it is like to be confident but modest, charismatic but empathetic, smart but funny (let’s face it, these two are not necessarily highly correlated), and to be kind and respectful. Each day, I am trying to become a bit closer to the person he is.  


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? They are vibrant with so much energy. 

What is most challenging? Yes, they have so much energy (and I am an introvert!). I love my students, but they make me collapse at the end of the day. Which again, is what I love about them.  

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…a person who really wants to give everybody an “A.” At the end of the day it all boils down to rubrics and fairness, but I try my best to help my students reach there.  


What are your hobbies? tennis, Pilates, baking, spending time on Architectural Digest learning about different spaces

How will you spend your summer? Research and potty training my baby 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Vail and Maui in winter. Paris and Jeju Island in summer. I would love to travel more in spring and fall, but this will have to wait until I retire. 

Favorite book(s): The Midnight Library, Stories of Your Life and Others, Between Calmness and Passion, …and surprisingly I am starting to enjoy reading children books – they are so pure and magical – as I spend a lot of time these days reading to my little boy at night. 

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Julie & Julia, a film I watched over the pandemic when I was stuck at home and cooking became a new hobby. The film is about two empowering women who lived in different times but are both passionate about food and life. Many parts of this film made me adore it. Throughout the two hours, the film shows how a couple stands by each other and each gives the space and support the other needs. It talks about following one’s passion and proactively escaping from external stressors. Two very different but inspiring women are portrayed in the most unexpected ways. I love the humor, their way of facing life and the challenges it brings, the innocence that connects with inner peace, how unbothered one can be by others’ prejudice, and their quiet fight against injustice with confidence and optimism. With two heroines, the film doubled the catharsis one can get from watching dreams come true. And, of course, Meryl Streep could not have done a better job acting as Julia Child and making her the attractive individual that she is (I became a fan of Streep after watching this movie). Finally, my retirement plan is to attend Le Cordon Bleu (the well-recognized institute where Julia learns how to cook), learn French culinary and pastry arts, and open a small bakery back at home where the smell of sugar and butter never ends.. So, what’s not to love about this movie?

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? A couple different types of music that I listen to:

  • Pop: Anything Ed Sheeran (a genius at writing lyrics), Adele (I mean, her voice!), or Maroon 5/Adam Levine (“Lost Stars” and “Sunday Morning” are my all-time favorites).
  • K-pop: Songs that I listened to when I was in my twenties. Your twenties are imperfect and beautiful. Songs that I listened to back then remind me of how colorful life was and how it can still be. 
  • Beegie Adair: I like to play her music in the background when I tidy the house. 
  • Classical Piano Music: More of my dogs’ favorite than mine. It is amazing to watch how they are at peace when I put this on.  
  • Tchaikovsky: I don’t know if Tchaikovsky made me love ballet or ballet made me love Tchaikovsky, but I love them both. 


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… A curriculum that caters more towards cultivating creative minds and a diversity and inclusion initiative that places its emphasis on profound transformation. 

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Creating value, not just capturing value.

I’m grateful for… My family – my parents, my husband, my baby, and our two dogs. My life could not have been better without any one of them. I praise and thank God every single day.


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