A great college professor can change lives. Just ask Michael McLaughlin, a lecturer of accounting at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. His life was changed forever when former Illinois State University marketing professor Jim Cox encouraged him to pursue a Ph.D. “Without Jim’s mentorship and support, I probably wouldn’t even have a bachelor’s degree,” McLaughlin says.
Child protective authorities removed McLaughlin, a victim of abuse, from his home at age 16. By 17, he was living by himself in campgrounds. But after attending three different community colleges, by the time he was 23 McLaughlin was able to earn an associate’s degree. He then enrolled at Illinois State.
“On the first day of classes that fall semester of 2004, I saw the massive amount of students on campus and I panicked,” McLaughlin recalls. He felt like he didn’t belong. And he wanted to leave school. He called Cox, whom he’d met while in community college. “I told Jim that I felt like I didn’t belong, and he listened patiently,” McLaughlin says. “When I was done talking, Jim told me that what I was feeling was completely normal and that lots of students felt like this.”
Cox asked McLaughlin to promise he’d go to every single class, no matter how badly he felt. McLaughlin promised, and followed through.
“I have wondered many times how life would be different for me if Jim didn’t pick up the phone that day, or if he had been too busy to talk to me,” he says. “Jim changed my life, and I am doing my very best to pay it forward to my students.”
RECORD NUMBER OF WOMEN AND AGE GAP ON THIS YEAR’S LIST
Now McLaughlin is doing just that, which landed him on this year’s Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professors list. It’s the third time we’ve published this list after a hiatus in 2019. The first list, in 2017, included 40 professors. On the last list in 2018, we added 10, making 50 total.
The recognition has grown increasingly competitive since we started. In 2017 we received 190 nominations. Two years ago, we received 400, more than doubling the previous year’s total. This year’s nominations doubled again, jumping to nearly 900. In all, we evaluated 107 professors. The list represents diversity in disciplines, backgrounds, and ages — the age range of professors is 41 years, between 29 to 70.
Our editorial staff evaluated professors in two categories: research and teaching. Each nominated professor was given a 1-to-10 score for research and teaching. Then research was given a 30% weight and teaching a 70% weight, and the two scores were averaged to give the professors a final score. The highest score achieved was 9.05.
For research, we considered the volume of Google Scholar citations a nominated professor had. We also looked at how much major media attention the professors’ research has received and research and writing awards. For teaching, we considered all nominations, teaching awards, and internet reviews like Rate My Professors.
This year’s list features professors from 33 of the world’s best undergraduate business programs. Of the 33, three have campuses based outside of the U.S. The list also includes a record 23 women. Obviously, multiple schools received more than one professor on the list. New York University’s Stern School of Business had the highest representation of professors, landing five professors on this year’s list. Babson College was represented by four faculty members.
Other schools to have more than one professor on this year’s list include Elon University’s Love School of Business (two), Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (two), Lehigh University (two), University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management (two), University of Illinois Gies College of Business (three), University of Michigan Ross School of Business (three), University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management (two), and the University of Pittsburgh College of Business (two).
AT LEAST TWO PROFS ARE FIRST-GENERATION COLLEGE STUDENTS
Of course, the context around the lives of the professors and their paths to becoming faculty members at business schools were also considered. Some professors on this year’s list, like Abbey Stemler, who is an assistant professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, had no idea what being a business professor would be like. “As a first-generation college student being a professor was never in the realm of possibility,” Stemler says. But like McLaughlin, an influential professor put the idea in Stemler’s mind. After a “last-minute decision” to attend graduate school and practice at a law firm, Stemler realized she didn’t like getting large corporations out of paying taxes.
“Fortunately for me, my mentor since the age of 21, Jamie Prenkert, was and is a business law professor,” Stemler says. “He and the Department of Business Law and Ethics at Kelley gave me a shot teaching, and it’s been a remarkable journey ever since. I’m truly grateful for the unexpected opportunities the Kelley School has given me.”
Similar to Stemler, Mary Benner of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management is also a first-generation college student to end up teaching at the exact university where she earned her family’s undergraduate degree. A research monster, Benner has nearly 9,000 Google Scholar citations — more than any other on this year’s list.
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