Q&A with award winning business professor
Kristi Lewis Tyran, associate professor of management at Western, received the Allette and Cayden Franklin Excellence in Teaching Award for the second time on Friday, Nov.13. It recognizes College of Business and Economics faculty who have designed and enforced successful teaching-related projects or activities that benefit student’s learning in that field.
Tyran graduated from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business and has taught at Western since 2001. Her development of the Leadership Practicum, a hands-on management class, resulted in her receiving this year’s award.
Q: How do you feel about winning the Allette and Cayden Franklin Excellence in Teaching Award?
A: I feel really good about the recognition. I think that the pedagogical innovation that I submitted the work for really makes a difference for students and I measured that and I think that’s part of the reason why I received the award.
This pedagogical innovation is the Leadership Practicum, a course that connects management students to local organizations.
Q: Could you explain what the Leadership Practicum is?
A: I consider the Leadership Practicum to be a course to help students transition from being a full-time student to being a full-time, post-graduate. I love for students to have a lot of life satisfaction in their career. I want them to have a good life, and I think part of them having a good life is having work that is meaningful and fulfilling to them. In the Leadership Practicum, students choose a practicum project and they have a lot of freedom to choose the kind of project they want to do. For example, this quarter I have a student working with the Non-GMO Project and I have another student working with Chuckanut Brewery.
Q: What kind of feedback have you gotten from students who have taken part in the practicum?
A: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive because many of them don’t get those experiences otherwise. Also, it’s tailored to meet the student where they’re at. When they presented the award to me they had a former student of mine actually present it. He was in the military before he came back to school, so he was older when he took the class. He was able to find a practicum that really fit where he was at as opposed to a project designed for someone who was a lot younger. One reason he presented it and thought so highly of it was [his practicum] eventually ended up with a job offer.
Q: How did you develop the practicum, was it an inspired idea from working with a business or was it something that you came up with after a couple years of teaching?
A: I taught for a few years and realized that trying to help students understand how to be an effective manager without giving them the opportunity to actually practice just didn’t work. It’s like teaching someone how to snowboard in a classroom and then giving them a multiple choice test and then taking them up to Mount Baker and saying, “Okay, go ahead!” You’re not going to be a very good snowboarder until you practice, and that means you fall down and you try different things, you experiment. That’s what I learned from teaching for the first few years, that [students] weren’t going to be able to be the good managers I knew they could be. They had the potential to be good managers, but they needed that opportunity to practice in a structured way where they could get some good feedback not just from instructors, but from real people in organizations who are actually working with them.
Q: How long did it take you to develop the practicum and what did it require from you?
A: I developed it after working with some of my colleagues on revising the management curriculum, this was 12 years ago. One of our priorities was that students would have practical experiences and opportunities to actually practice being a manager. I talked with my colleagues about what we wanted our students to know, and then I came up with the idea and I outlined the idea in the syllabus and how it would work. Then, as with any curriculum idea or new class, it has to be approved by the other people in my department and other people in the college. Ultimately, the Academic Coordinating Commission has to approve it in the faculty senate.
Q: You mentioned the practicum can be tailored to students’ interests and where they’re at. What are some ways it can be flexible and tailored?
A: The requirements are [students] have to report to the supervisor and it has to be somewhat management related. So it can’t be answering phones and filing for example. The best projects are more project-oriented. Each student has their own skills and abilities and passions and interests, and so one project that would fit for one student wouldn’t fit for another. So the goal is really to fit the individual student where they’re at — what their interests are, etcetera.
Q: Are there any other similar projects or teaching methods that you have developed or are working on developing?
A: In the Leadership Practicum, I also use a virtual mentor program and I initiated that about 14 years ago and I use it in this class as well. I actually won the Franklin Award for that in 2005 and I still use that program. But it’s also been applied in a number of other courses.