Five Top Professors, Five Cool Summer Vacations

University of Connecticut marketing professor Cinthia Satornino conquered her fear of heights this summer

Autumn and the new academic school year both are well underway. Seems like it was just yesterday we were pondering summer reading lists and anticipating the Fourth of July — while focusing on internships, summer classes, and other B-school-centric activities, of course. Which is fine for students — but it turns out not all professors want to spend their summers like they spend the other three seasons. 

While curating our inaugural list of Top 40 Undergraduate Professors, we asked profs to share with us how they spent their summers outside the classroom — and we found that when they’re not teaching future business leaders about balance sheets and global business practices, top profs travel far and wide, chasing adventures, conquering fears, and making lasting memories.

You might expect lesson plans and research, only to find out that they’re doing things like scuba diving, hang gliding, and taking ninja courses. Yes, ninja courses.


For years, University of Connecticut marketing professor Cinthia Satornino was able to circumvent the attempts of her research co-author, CSU San Marcos marketing professor Rebeca Perren, to make her face her fear of heights. This summer, Satornino found herself fresh out of excuses. With nowhere to hide and something to prove to her two young sons who have been poking fun at her since she chickened out on paragliding two years ago, Satornino resolved to finally conquer her fear.

The research duo was in Coronado Island, California, attending an Academy of Marketing Science conference and presenting a paper with another co-author. As with most conferences, downtime between sessions means there’s fun to be had. So, the decision was made for Satornino that this would be the trip where she’d finally face her fear. She would go paragliding.

“I’d held her off for seven years, through several joint family vacations, and many conferences,” Satornino says. “But all that was about to change. It was my 42nd birthday — you know, the meaning of life according to Douglas Adams — and I’d lost serious cool points with my kids, so I was a little more susceptible to tackling my fears.”

Professor Satornino with JC Perren, a paragliding instructor

Before she knew it, Satornino says, “I found myself walking to — and off — the edge of a cliff! Well, to be honest, I’m pretty sure I froze and JC (Perren) just ran off the cliff while he and the wing held me up.” JC is her co-author’s husband, a famous skydiver and tandem pilot.

“Once up there, I managed to open my eyes,” Satornino says. “And, wow! I’ve always loved the ocean, the beach, the cliffs. But I’ve never seen them this way before. It’s hard to really communicate what it feels like to be up there. It was breathtaking.”

Though she’ll always remember the summer of 2017 as the year she faced her life-long fear, Satornino offers this disclaimer. “I’m still afraid of heights, though.”


While Professor Satornino was soaring hundreds of feet in the air, University of Michigan’s Dana Muir was 60 feet underwater in the Celebes Sea. Between teaching a summer session in the Ross School’s executive MBA program and preparing for the new fall semester, Muir managed to carve out 10 days for a scuba diving excursion in the northern tip of Indonesia. She’s been a certified diver since 2009 and, besides her accolades as top business professor and fiduciary expert, has accumulated close to 900 dives. She even says if she weren’t a business school professor, she’d own a scuba diving resort.

During this summer’s trip, Muir says she was the epitome of the old diver’s saying: “Eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, sleep.” She and her partner spent the 10-day trip doing various types of underwater dives, as many as four a day.

Dana Muir of the Ross School of Business scuba diving in Indonesia

In addition to the serenity that scuba diving offers and having the opportunity to see beautiful reefs, turtles, and fish of various kinds, Muir says, “It lets me leave my normal world behind a bit and explore something where I’m not in control and where I’m not the center of things. The way it is in class, I’m in control. But in diving I lose this.”

Muir didn’t know it when she booked the trip, but the summer would also afford her the opportunity to scratch off a long-standing item on her bucket list. While diving in the Lembeh Strait, she encountered her very first whale shark. Judging by the size of it — 18 feet long, she estimates — she says the shark was likely a juvenile. Still, as the fish swam around her and the other divers, allowing itself to be seen up close, its magnificence was breathtaking.

Muir reflects on the experience with gratitude. “This was definitely a diving highlight for me.”


From Satornino’s and Muir’s adventures in paragliding and scuba diving, we turn to Syracuse professor Ravi Dharwadkar, whose summer involved taking a stroll on the Great Wall of China and a camel ride at the edge of the Gobi Desert, as well as developing a much greater appreciation for his childhood and Indian culture.

As part of a CU-Denver trip sponsored by the Centers for International Business Education and Research, Dharwadkar visited Beijing, Xian, Dunhuang, and Shanghai, of which he says the most memorable moments were the camel ride at the Dunhuang and Mogao Caves and seeing a story that his father once read to him as a child painted on the wall inside one of the caves.

Inside a Mogao cave in China visited by Syracuse management professor, Ravi Dharwadkar

“I was raised in India, and my dad was quite a bibliophile. He was well-versed in English/British literature, from Dickens and Thackeray to Wilde and Shaw, but he was also a huge fan of Indian literature. I was not only exposed to all these books, but also stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and Jataka Tales associated with the life of Buddha, etc.

“One of the Jatakas Tales is about a prince/monk who sacrifices himself to feed a hungry tigress (about to devour its cubs). My dad had told me this tale, and many others, when I was a child.” While visiting one of the Mogao Caves, Professor Dharwadkar says he was stunned to see this very story painted on the wall.

“It just popped out at me. I was fascinated trying to imagine how this tale from India ended up in China, quite possibly about 1,600 to 1,800 years ago. I have newfound appreciation of the impact of Indian culture on both China and Japan that I was not aware of before.”


CJ Skender visited former students, and The Fonz, in Milwaukee. Courtesy photo

The theme of fond memories is also seen in CJ Skender’s summer travels. The UNC professor’s trip down memory lane blanketed eight states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Rhode Island, Georgia, California, Utah, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Highlights included multiple trips to his hometown to visit his 91-year-old mother and cruising by old ballfields where he spent his youth as he and his wife drove to see old high school friends, teachers, coaches, and relatives.

He also spent time absorbing the sun’s rays on beaches in three of the eight states he visited and taking in some retail therapy at his favorite shop for the past thirty years, Hound, in San Francisco. If you know Skender, then you know that his style of dress is part of what makes him one of the most beloved professors.

The most memorable stop during his summer tour, Skender says, was Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he and his wife had been invited for the past 10 years. “We finally went this past summer to visit a special family. I had taught the mom and dad in the 1980s and each of their three children more recently. When they picked us up at the airport, they had a recording of me from my disc jockey days playing on their car radio! I was stunned. That was pretty surreal.”

During the visit, the families took pictures with a statue of the Fonz from “Happy Days,” toured a brewery, and attended a Brewers’ game. “I saw the mound where Warren Spahn pitched and the home plate that was on the first Sports Illustrated cover in 1954. The Milwaukee Braves and Green Bay Packers were my favorite teams when I was in grade school. I had never been there before this summer.

“One of the neat things about being a professor is that former students and colleagues are located just about everywhere.”


Penn State Smeal professor Ron Gebhardtsbauer referred us to his list of hobbies when we asked him how he spent the summer of ‘17. And what a list it is. The 65-year-old actuarial science professor cites skiing, biking, hiking, swimming, body surfing, rollerblading, singing, acting, theological discussions, and physical challenges as his favorite pastimes.

He may have outdone himself the summer, though. The highlight was conquering Woodward WreckTangle, a ninja obstacle challenge course in Copper Mountain, Colorado and rock climbing. We’re very impressed.


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