Stepping Back Into the Classroom: Perspectives from Dean Beaulier on Teaching Our MBA Students

Why did you decide to teach one of the courses for the MBA program this spring?

Since my arrival in 2016, we’ve been innovating our MBA program to make it more responsive to industry needs and to make it more flexible to students. It’s one of the most important programs in our College, and in my opinion, in the University, and I felt like it only made sense to step up, get in the classroom, and give back a little to our students.

What do you hope your students will walk away with at the end of this eight weeks?

As I told the students the first night, my goal is to get them all to appreciate the economic way of thinking. I doubt any of them will be economists or have aspirations to do a lot with economics, so we are going light on technique and instead focusing our precious time—just 25 hours over 8 weeks (!)—on economic intuition and how economics can help improve decisions we confront in business and in the real world.

What do you hope to learn from your students?

I’m spending a lot of time asking them about our program—what’s working and what’s not. I want them to be honest, and I want to be an ambassador who can then help us further improve our MBA program. Being around them for a class is, in part, an opportunity to do some focus grouping, and it feels like we have a level of comfort with each other to speak candidly about areas where our MBA program still could be better. One major takeaway I have had so far is that our students are incredibly responsible and committed. Some of them are working full time AND taking two or even three courses per semester, juggling families, long hours, and classes. They don’t complain and are really on task and motivated. Their commitment is what gives me a little energy each night when I step in the classroom after long daytime hours of being a dean.

What additional value do you bring to the classroom as the dean?

I’ve taught versions of Managerial Economics several times throughout my career, but it’s been many years. I’ve grown in responsibility and in age over that period of time, so students are getting a wiser version of me—a few more stories about tough decisions as a leader; war stories about policy battles economists have had, and simply a greater level of comfort and ease. I step into the classroom each Wednesday night and remember why I was drawn to academia in the first place. It’s a chance to not think about day-to-day problems and just do my best at communicating the economic way of thinking.

How does your experience in the classroom impact your role as dean?

One of the toughest aspects of the dean’s role is the natural distance between me, the people I lead, and our students. My days are filled with meetings and discussions of how to move the organization forward in general. I do my best to meet often with faculty and with students, but time is scarce and there are many demands on it. Being in the classroom gives me a lot of local knowledge about our MBA students; it helps me keep in touch with what they are worrying about; what pop culture references still resonate; and the question of “why” that we, as administrators, spend so much time discussing: “Why are they attending NDSU?” Rather than guess or survey them, I figured it would make sense just to teach them, build trust, and ask them candidly.

What are you hearing from your students about their experience in your class and in the program overall?

The feedback I get on our program in general is that they are pleased with the added flexibility and the certificates we recently have added. They want more, though, in terms of outside guests, connections to alumni and new job opportunities, and want less lecturing and out of date content. We’re at work addressing this great feedback!

How would you classify the students you’re teaching?

It’s a diverse group, with many of them in management-level positions in local firms. We also have some really great student athletes who juggle the demands of Division-1 athletic expectations and meet all of the expectations I have set for them in the classroom.

Why was it important for you to step back into the classroom?

I felt it was important symbolically to show that MBA program is so important that the Dean wants to get in the game by teaching too. It’s also important to me intrinsically—to teach and give back some of the knowledge I’ve acquired. It’s also a ridiculously valuable way to get direct feedback on part of our portfolio that’s really, really important to us here in the College of Business.

Do you anticipate suggesting or implementing any changes to the program based on the shared experience of you and your students in this course?

Absolutely. We are continually working to advance our MBA program, and I feel even more determined than ever to foster that momentum and constant improvement, thanks to this classroom experience.

What do you think are the greatest benefits of the MBA courses for students in the program?

NDSU’s College of Business offers a real MBA—an MBA that is staffed with strong researchers who have also worked with international firms as employees and consultants. Our team brings a high level of experience and relies primarily on a face-to-face case study approach to make it an affordable, but a high-quality experience for our students. For such an affordable price, our MBA is one of the best educational investments available in higher education—not only within our state but anywhere in the country.

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