In some corners, “college teaching” spurs cynical laughs. Some graduates can remember staring off into space as bumbling graduate assistants rattled off their notes. Others can picture office hours when clock-watching faculty would treat them as unwelcome distractions from their research. In publish-or-perish academia, students are sometimes taken for granted. That’s why, above all else, they evaluate professors by how much they care.
At Georgia Tech, Michael Lowe shows his caring in many ways. An assistant professor of marketing – who studied music as an undergrad – Lowe made a deep impression on Meredith Wolpert, a 2019 graduate who joined Linkedin this summer. She describes him as someone who “makes learning fun” and “motivates his students with contagious enthusiasm.” At the same time, Lowe notes, he treats students as respected peers by using their feedback to improve his courses. More than that, he always finds time to “go the extra mile” for students, even with the demands of his family of four.
“When I received news that I made it to the final round for an internship at Red Bull, I was ecstatic, but quite nervous as I never worked on a marketing case interview before,” Wolpert shares. “So I reached out to [Lowe] for some advice. It was a Friday afternoon and Professor Lowe sat down with me for hours helping me map out different solutions and practice my case presentation…He has created such a positive impact on the Scheller community, and I am forever grateful for all of the lessons — both inside the classroom and out — that he has taught me!”
Lowe wasn’t the only faculty member to go over-and-above for this year’s Best & Brightest Business Majors. At Villanova University, Stephen Liedtka has a reputation for doing everything possible to help his students succeed. That made all the difference for Jessica Roberts, a marketer who struggled with the intricacies of financial accounting.
“Professor Liedtka never gave up on me. He continuously pushed and worked with me throughout the semester. He helped identify my strengths and coached my weaknesses. Above anything else, he was a great professor with incredible energy and passion for his students. We mutually agreed that I would never be an accountant, but he believed that I would be a star in the marketing world. I hope to prove him right.”
‘SHE TRULY CHANGES LIVES EACH SEMESTER’
At Washington University’s Olin School, Andrew Bower received a behind-the-scenes look at what makes a great teacher. After being a student in two of Dr. Konstantina Kiousis’ strategy classes, Bower was selected to be one of her TAs. It was here where Bower learned what it took to become a great professor.
“I was always impressed with her passion for business strategy and care for her students. Through my role as one of her teaching assistants, I have witnessed Dr. K spend countless hours updating each lecture every semester, which motivates students to keep up with current events and to think critically about the world around them. Dr. K promotes a strong familial culture among the TA team, which creates mentorship opportunities for junior and senior TAs. While it may sound cliché, Dr. K truly changes lives each semester!”
Teaching excellence is occasionally overlooked in academia. Among this year’s Best & Brightest graduates, great professors were often transformative forces whose lessons resonate for a lifetime. They are far more than subject matter experts steeped in best practices with a penchant for preparation, however. They are custodians who set high expectations and reinforce them with a reassuring belief in their students that builds their confidence. As devil’s advocates, they challenge their students’ beliefs to heighten their thinking and broaden their perspectives. Master communicators, they find ways to hold attention by making their lessons clear and compelling. As accessible as they are enthusiastic, these professors possess a love of learning that rubs off, creating communities whose passion only enrich classroom discussions and discoveries. In short, these professors carry that “it” factor – comfortable in their own skin and able to seamlessly adapt to whatever their students need.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SUCCESS
According to Boston University’s Meghana Dwaraka, “The best professors not only teach, but also empower.” David Stolow, who teaches non-profit and social enterprise management at the school, is one professor who fits this description by equipping his students with the resources they need to excel.
“He has created a powerful alumni network of students wherein everyone wants to help each other succeed,” Dwaraka writes. “His former students come back to his classes every year to provide guidance to his current students. He not only helped launch my networking efforts to improve career prospects but also took the time to help me navigate various challenges related to my startup. Most importantly, he is humble, approachable, and always goes above-and-beyond.”
Such efforts stem from respect – a respect for students and the knowledge they bring and the hurdles they face. According to the University of Notre Dame’s Niko Stjepan Martinovic, no professor respects his students more than Carl Ackermann – who never forgets a name according to students. Martinovic considers Ackermann’s Introduction to Corporate Finance course to be a life-altering experience, with a message that goes far beyond portfolios and pricing.
CLASSROOM OR DANCE CLUB?
“His main takeaway from these lectures is not that you are going to amass a fortune of wealth by the time you retire, but rather that ‘When you do, DO GOOD THINGS with it,’” Martinovic explains. “Giving to charities is just the tip of the iceberg. He encourages all of his students to consider working on that community project and seeing it through to the end or devoting your time to better a community and others. Finance has a stigma of being filled with greedy and heartless individuals. Carl breaks that stereotype and strengthens the hearts and wills of every Notre Dame student in his classes to go forward into life with this fire in their hearts to do good.”
How do the best professors reinforce such messaging? At Indiana University’s Kelley School, Steven Kreft sets expectations – and follows through on them with more of a playful nudge than an iron fist. Namely, he enforces a no phones rule. If one goes off, the offending student must get up in front of the lecture hall…and dance to a song of their choice. That’s not the only way Kreft keeps students’ energy levels up, adds Jada Haynes.
“He also engages students with interactive anecdotes, personal examples, case studies and more. I find it amazing how he can incorporate everyday excitement into traditional business topics as he focuses on one of the most important, but often overlooked parts of business – Sustainability and Ethics.”