2022 Best Undergraduate Professors: Jessica Siegel Christian, University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Jessica Siegel Christian
University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Jessica is a star in the classroom. Students say she is knowledgeable, passionate about her class, engages with activities that help them learn and remember the information, and gives useful examples to give context to the material. She is caring and accessible outside class and is both respected and beloved by her students.” – Allison Adams

Jessica Siegel Christian, 37, is Clinical Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School.

She is a recent recipient of the Teaching All-Star award for her teaching in the Full-Time MBA Program.

Her research interests include team cognition and adaptation, team leadership dynamics and resilience in teams, and mindsets in the workplace. She is working on a model of the team adaptation process and advising doctoral students in the PhD program on their research topics, which include issues of team dynamics, the role of narratives in the workplace, issues of leadership change, and racial dynamics in the workplace. She and her colleagues are recipients of Personnel Psychology’s Best Article award in 2018 for their work on workplace friendships.


At current institution since what year? 2012
Education: Ph.D. in Management and Organizations, Eller College of Management, University of Arizona; B.A. in Psychology and Sociology, School of Science and Engineering, Tulane University
List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Leading and Managing (An Introduction to Organizational Behavior); Negotiations


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I knew I wanted to be a professor in the social sciences in college, when I fell in love with the research process while working as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Bryan Edwards’ laboratory at Tulane University. I was in awe of the fascinating questions that students and faculty were working on, and saw that these types of questions could have real impact on people’s working lives. Once I read some of the research that was happening in the management department at Tulane’s business school, I was hooked. I immediately started working on my applications for graduate school!

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Working with doctoral students has made me love some new topic areas. Ben Rogers, my Ph.D. student, and I recently published a paper on the growth mindset in the workplace (along with our fantastic co-authors Remy Jennings and Klodiana Lanaj), where we find that adopting a personal work-growth mindset—the idea that one can learn, grow and improve at work—can actually impact workplace behaviors directed towards others. We found that adopting a work-growth mindset led employees to actively help their colleagues more, but importantly, this effect really only emerged when the helping opportunity provided a chance for both the helper and the help recipient to grow. This was an incredible project to work on and a fascinating research journey as we worked to uncover when and why a personal growth mindset impacted helping behavior. I am also working on a new project on the team adaptation process with Matt Pearsall, my long-time collaborator and friend at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… Truthfully, probably a defense attorney. But maybe a white water rafting guide.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I love to connect with my students. It’s incredibly important for me to get to know all of my undergraduate students and learn about their interests. I think I can be the most effective teacher possible if I understand my students’ goals, and how the content can apply to their lives. So, I try to learn as much as I can about my students and I believe that I can learn a ton from them. Finally, I think it’s important to have empathy; everyone has a bad day and I try to react with support and flexibility for each student’s individual situation and what they might be going through.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Resilient. During the first summer class I taught when I was a Ph.D. student, a few classes in, I literally ate a bug while lecturing. I’m pretty sure it was stuck in my teeth for at least 10 minutes until I could run out to the bathroom to check while the students were working on an exercise. I figured things could only improve from that point on.
Also, determined. I was determined to give students a valuable learning experience in my classroom as they had elected to give up a portion of their summer to study the topics I was passionate about.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That it was an option earlier. Until I became heavily involved in psychology research, I had no idea that I could pursue a career path as an academic researcher and teacher in a business school. I wish more students knew that you could study organizational behavior topics—and teach about them—in a business school. We have been trying to get the word out around campus about our area and this potential career path for students.

Professor I most admire and why: Without a doubt, my colleague Shimul Melwani. Shimul is a passionate and creative teacher, and a top-notch researcher. I have always admired her work. She has recently taken on a new role as Assistant Dean of the Undergraduate Business Program (UBP), where she leads with strength, grace and empathy. She connects with everyone around her and uplifts everyone in our organizational behavior group, and with her spirit for innovation, she can see the future of business education. She also mentors Ph.D. students and junior faculty, supports all of her UBP students, works through curriculum issues, plans events for our students and builds a supportive community through mechanisms like her Melwani Belonging Fund that helps students pay for essentials for work and school that they otherwise couldn’t afford. She manages to do all of this while also raising two great kids. She inspires me every day.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? The students are so motivated to learn, and they bring their experiences and their full selves to class every day. In my classes we talk a lot about work experience and negotiation experiences, and the students are always willing to share their personal experiences (whether they are positive, or negative). I find that they are very supportive of each other in the classroom; we can easily build an atmosphere of psychological safety and trust and I believe they feel respected by their classmates.

What is most challenging? Frankly, time. In a typical semester I have 90 students in my core “Leading and Managing” classes and 60 across two sections of my “Negotiations” elective. I dream of a semester when I have enough time to sit down with each student who wants support or guidance and give them as much time as they need.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Learning-mindset.

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…I have high expectations, but I am fair.


What are your hobbies? I love to spend time outdoors with my family. My husband and I have a 7-year old son, and we love going for family walks, hikes, bike rides and camping trips. I also love to play street hockey; on nice days, I’m often out playing in the driveway with my family and the neighborhood kids. When I have free time, I love to read and to bake. I have always enjoyed making desserts and I make challah a few times a year, but my more recent challenge has been bagels—it is one of my goals to learn to make the perfect bagel.

How will you spend your summer? We take a relaxing lake vacation with my husband’s family in northern Minnesota each summer. Aside from the mosquitos, it’s always a perfect week away. We are planning to take a trip to Iceland this summer and enjoy the beautiful scenery and some hikes. Aside from those trips (and spending time with my son and husband), you’ll find me working on my research projects with my Ph.D. students, and prepping and updating my courses.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Europe and New Orleans. We took a family trip to Norway and Denmark last summer, and it was just magical. We hope to explore more European destinations like Croatia and Portugal on future trips. I also love New Orleans; I went to college there and it has felt like home ever since. I make sure to get back at least once a year for our annual family (and friends) Mardi Gras trip.

Favorite book(s): I absolutely love Deborah Tannen’s books, for example “Talking from 9 to 5.” Communication skills are so crucial, yet often overlooked. I also love “Difficult Conversations” by Stone, Patton and Heen. After reading this book, I felt much more equipped for these types of conversations. When I have free time for novels, I love to read historical fiction.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Right now, my husband and I are re-watching “Game of Thrones” and it’s definitely an escape from regular life. My all-time favorite movie is probably “Forrest Gump” — I feel like I could watch it again and again and always pick up something new. What I love most about it is that it’s a story of human connections. Along those lines, I watched “Coco” recently with my family, and we were all in tears at the end—it is such a beautiful story.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? While living in New Orleans, I developed a love for funk. Some of my best memories from college are seeing live music—especially Big Sam’s Funky Nation—at The Funky Butt (a club that is unfortunately no longer open). It’s pretty much impossible to be in a bad mood while listening to Soul Rebels, Rebirth Brass or the Brand New Heavies. The music is so complex and often uplifting, and transports me right back to college. The Soul Rebels recently came to the UNC campus for a show with Big Freedia, and it was just amazing. I challenge you not to get up and dance at a funk show.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… the feeling that all students no matter their background and identity feel welcomed and included.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… taking on a leadership role in addressing issues around sustainability and their climate impact.

I’m grateful for… my loving family and friends, my supportive colleagues and my students—to my students, I am in awe of all that you do.


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