2023 Best Undergraduate Professors: Sarah Wolfolds, Cornell University Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

Sarah Wolfolds
Cornell University
Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

“Professor Wolfolds is an award-winning professor who has a remarkable impact on students. In her undergraduate Strategy course, she brilliantly and masterfully engages students using the case method, discussions of real-world events, interactive live polling, comment cards, and business simulations. Students rave about her engaging, inclusive, creative, and effective teaching style and methods; about how well executed and practical her classes are; about how much they love the case studies; and about how smart, enthusiastic, empathetic, and understanding Professor Wolfolds is. In 2018, she was named the most influential professor and invited to attend the 400 Club Breakfast by a varsity student-athlete being inducted to the 400 Club for achieving a perfect 4.0 grade point average.”  – Cornell University Charles H. Dyson School Awards Committee

Sarah Wolfolds, 36, is Assistant Professor of Strategy in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University. She was awarded the Dyson Outstanding Early Career Achievement award in 2019 and was the first non-dean to win the Dyson Distinguished Leadership and Service Award in 2023.

Wolfolds conducts research in nonmarket strategy and research methods; serves in professional leadership roles; and publishes research on applying econometric methods to answer key strategy questions. She has published in top journals including Strategic Management Journal, Strategy Science, and the American Economic Association: Papers & Proceedings.  

She was an at-large member of the research methods group of the Strategic Management Society, organizing professional development workshops and speaking on panels. She is currently serving in the same role in the research methods division of the Academy of Management. She also serves in board roles for nonprofit organizations.

Wolfolds is also the faculty director of the Dyson Grand Challenges program, an undergraduate curricular program in which students collaborate with nonprofit organizations and other clients to address the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.


At current institution since what year? 2016

Education: DBA, Harvard Business School, 2016, strategy; BA, Swarthmore College, 2009, High Honors in economics and mathematics

List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Strategy, Working Together – Grand Challenges Pre-Project Immersion, and Grand Challenges Project Course


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when … I met my adviser, Dennis Yao. Even though I was already a doctoral student at HBS, it was not until I witnessed how Dennis could be so supportive of his Ph.D. students that I realized that I wanted to remain in business school. He is an accomplished professor in the classroom and a kind and devoted member of the community, taking on service and leadership roles at various levels. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Right now, the bulk of my research is focused on how to make research methods more approachable and useful for a wide range of audiences. One of my recent papers with my Dyson colleague Professor Daniela Scur came out this year in Strategy Science. We focus on the challenge of replication in strategic management and describe how a publicly available dataset — the World Management Survey — can both answer key strategy questions and improve the ease of replication. One of the exciting results we find is that we can replicate a result from a study that uses large-scale data of public firms, but we show we can also extend the analysis to private firms, opening new research questions and replication-extension exercises.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be … a wedding planner! I love planning events and hosting theme parties and generally celebrating people. I love making lists, brainstorming with various stakeholders about how to make something great and working with other people.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My genuine enthusiasm for learning and my empathy for my students as whole people. I love viewing my classroom as a chance for me to learn from my students and to encourage my students to engage with new materials and concepts and think about how they could incorporate them into their lives and careers. I spend a lot of time as an adviser to student groups and attending their events, as I think the most impactful professors have built a culture of trust and engagement both in the classroom and across campus.

One word that describes my first time teaching: exciting

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Many of the undergraduate students already have multiple business experiences — from internships to their own startups. Many of the tips used in the MBA classroom — to leverage prior career experience — are just as applicable in the undergraduate classroom, as the students are most engaged about opportunities to take lessons into their applied career settings.

Professor I most admire and why: I am fortunate to have so many to choose from! I admire Professor Amanda Bayer from Swarthmore. She was a tough but fair professor who challenged us so well in advanced microeconomic theory that my first year of grad school was a breeze! She has been a successful researcher while taking a leadership role in the pedagogy of economics across the profession to increase diversity. Her approach to her career and balancing career with family life has inspired me since my undergraduate days.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I enjoy using strategy as a way to introduce a liberal arts approach in business. Strategy is all about making decisions under conditions of uncertainty and using evidence to make a persuasive case, and this type of logical thinking and communication is an essential skill that students can take forward in their business careers.

What is most challenging? Grading! Fairness and equity in grading is very important to me, and to take this seriously takes many hours of work.  

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as … transparent and fair. I spend a lot of time coming up with rubrics and providing detailed guidance on assessments so that students have clear expectations. Sometimes students don’t get the grade they’d hoped for, but I strive to make sure they understand the reasoning behind it so they can work toward improving it next time.


What are your hobbies? My biggest hobby is taking my kids to sports. Between basketball, soccer, gymnastics, dance and Cub Scouts — we’re pretty busy! As a former college athlete, my mom spent years coaching me and driving me around to various athletic events, so I’m happy to carry it down to the next generation. I recently became the Cornell field hockey faculty adviser, and I’ve been attending a lot of games with my 6-year-old daughter this fall.  I picked up ballet this year, so once a week I attend an adult ballet class, and it’s been so fun and challenging to be a beginner again. 

How will you spend your summer? I plan to work on research and new programming for the Dyson Grand Challenges program. I like to attend the Academy of Management every summer but otherwise will spend evenings at the pool with my kids and their friends. 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Cape Cod and Cape May. I’m lucky to get a week with my family in Cape Cod and a week with my in-laws in Cape May. I love the beach and spending time with family, so I look forward to these vacations every year. Both sides of the family have been going to their respective capes for generations, so there’s a lot of history and memories we share.

Favorite book(s): I love reading all of Emily Oster’s parenting books. I read Expecting Better when I was first having kids, and it was so refreshing to see a data-based interpretation of the guidance I was hearing from so many sources.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? My family and I just went to see the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie and had a blast! I love how we could dance in the theatre, and I admire how business-savvy Taylor Swift is, so I’m always happy to talk about how she vertically integrates to capture more value.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I generally love all pop music — especially from the 2000s. Right now, I’m also loving Imagine Dragons because my 8-year-old son knows all the lyrics and the “Just Dance” routine, so it becomes great live entertainment!


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this … community engaged learning! That’s why I’m thrilled to be in a new role as faculty director of Dyson Grand Challenges program, where students engage in a four-year curriculum that culminates in a capstone project that addresses one of the U.N. sustainable development goals. This type of applied and engaged learning focusing on complex societal issues will become increasingly important in business schools in the future.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at … recruiting later in students’ undergraduate careers! This would promote more diversity in their new hires as it gives students more than a year to explore careers before recruiting.

I’m grateful for … my family! I’m so grateful for my parents for supporting me through all my years of education and encouraging me to continue with graduate school. They offer practical, realistic (not surprising for parents who are economists) advice and always support me in whatever my goals are. It’s challenging as an academic to live far from extended family, but my husband and I have been fortunate to find friends who are like family in both Ithaca and Cambridge.


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