As undergraduates, many of us were anxious around our professors. We believed their grades controlled our fates. And their red marks were devastating reminders that we weren’t quite as smart as we assumed. Fast forward to business school and suddenly our teachers are no longer these distant authority figures. After spending years mingling with senior leaders, the awe fades and we realize that our professors are just like us. They adore Adele, spoil their children, and watch Friends re-runs like everyone else.
And it’s here when we truly appreciate great teaching. More than ever, we look to professors to simplify the complex and push our comfort levels. Through cases, cold calls, and coaching, we learn to ask the right questions and identify the right details. Their storytelling turns dry events into Shakespearian tales of corruption and redemption. And their support gives us the strength to bounce back from failure to tackle what scares us.
Teaching is often the most underrated part of the business school experience. In the long term, it can rank as the one of the most important. This year, Poets&Quants was fortunate enough to hear about those memorable professors who truly made business school into a transformational experience. Here are a few of their stories.
(Editor’s Note: These professors are not ranked in any order.)
Daniel Oppenheimer / UCLA (Anderson): Few people want to be labeled as the class clown…unless they’re up front teaching the course. And Daniel Oppenheimer is UCLA’s answer to Patch Adams. Here, Oppenheimer, who teaches both marketing and psychology, takes “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” ethos up a notch. In his classes, you’ll find Oppenheimer pranking students with nonsensical buzzwords. And his students return the favor, wearing costumes when giving presentations. “I don’t know where it became common belief in America that learning was work,” Oppenheimer admits. “The world is fascinating, so learning doesn’t have to be boring. It can be incredibly exciting.”
But Oppenheimer’s classes aren’t adult day care centers where students can take a break from the rigor of high finance and statistics. There is a method behind his madness. “I try to set up a situation in my classes where students feel safe taking risks,” he tells Poets&Quants. It’s a safe environment. And as long as we’re successfully articulating what needs to be said and gaining the skills that need to be acquired, let’s have fun.”
And his students certainly benefit from his unique approach. “As a psychologist, Danny shines a unique light on marketing,” writes one anonymous student interviewer, “underscoring just how interwoven the two fields are, and giving Anderson marketers a competitive advantage over those who are introduced to marketing in a more traditional way. Danny also goes above and beyond to make class exciting, interactive, and rigorous – and he goes out of his way to get to know his students inside and outside the classroom.”
Deepak Hegde, New York University (Stern): How is this for a memorable first class? Upon entering the classroom, Deepak Hegde was actually asked if he was a student. His response? “Yes, but not in the way you might think.” And that quote also summarizes Hegde’s teaching philosophy, which relies heavily on asking questions and developing a dialogue over lecture. “Students are both more likely to enjoy learning and to enjoy lessons by discovering it themselves.”
But Hegde, who is an assistant professor of strategy at Stern, does more than just teach models and modalities. He also prepares students for a life where they must sell themselves and defend their ideas. “This is the first class that I’ve taken…[where] I have felt comfortable sharing ideas and speaking up in class,” opines one anonymous student. “For this reason, I’m really grateful to Professor Hegde for indirectly instilling confidence in me by creating an intellectually safe environment for students in his class.”
As you’d expect, Hegde is down-to-earth outside of the classroom too, where he listens to Bob Dylan and watches the Big Bang Theory. You might even venture to ask him how he suffered injuries milking cows and juggling golf balls. But if you take a class from Hegde, be prepared to leave your ego at the door. “The single most important thing [to being a great student] is intellectual curiosity: the willingness to have an open mind, to listen to both what the professor says as well as what their classmates have to say, and being willing to change their opinion based on what they hear from the professor and the other students.”
Victoria Brescoll, Yale School of Management: You know that you’ve made it in academia when your research is used in a comedy routine. That happened to Victoria Brescoll, whose work on gender bias laid the groundwork for John Oliver’s punch lines on one episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. However, Brescoll’s research isn’t about fun-and-games. Instead, it peels apart the layers of gender bias that leads to lower pay and fewer opportunities for women.
Beyond her research prowess, Brescoll is also a master teacher – who once had a class sing an original song in a capella to thank her. A former aide to Hillary Clinton who holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from Yale, Brescoll claims she loves “almost everything about teaching” and finds the rewarding part of her job when she has “really connected with [her students].”
And she often does this just by being herself. “Professor Brescoll always filled our classroom with great humor and positive energy,” writes Laurie Cameron Craighead (’16). “Through her fun yet stressful team-building exercises, she taught us that great advances could not be made without each member of a team using patience, calm, humility and the (lost) art of listening in order to work together. Her warm and engaging demeanor not only caused everyone to seek her advice outside of class; but made her the perfect mentor for women seeking a youthful and creative leader.”