BusinessWeek asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors. Here is another installment in the series.
Erich Studer-Ellis, a professor of management science and statistics at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of Maryland, is thankful for his students. "They're fantastic. Working with students, I believe, is the greatest job I could have." The teaching fellow's track at the Smith School allows him to do just that, with no specific expectations for research. "My responsibility is working with over 1,100 students per year," he says. Period.
With that many people on his radar screen each semester, students are surprised when Studer-Ellis recognizes them in lectures or greets them personally in the hall. He also describes himself as a moving target in class, walking the room to engage students more closely. "I was unbelievably impressed," says recent grad Erin Olshever, who signed on as an undergraduate teaching assistant for Studer-Ellis after taking his course. "In a class of 250 students, he could call on anyone by name."
Delivering that kind of personal attention has made Studer-Ellis pretty well known himself. The majority of Smith students surveyed by BusinessWeek in 2006 named him their favorite professor. In 2003, he received the Allen Krowe Award for Teaching Excellence, a Smith School honor. And through rave reviews on student evaluations, Studer-Ellis was recognized several semesters running as a "top 15%" faculty member. In 2001 he was among about five finalists for a university-wide award for teaching excellence given by the Parent's Assn.
HANDS-ON TEACHING. As just about any undergraduate will tell you, few things can be more dehumanizing than 8 a.m. statistics lectures—but not if Studer-Ellis is your teacher. He has always been drawn to quantitative courses and radiates a contagious level of enthusiasm, even in the early morning sessions. "I like to let students know that I want to be there and that I enjoy what I'm doing," he says. "If I don't want to be there, why should students want to be there?"
Students also respond well to his examples, such as the Duke vs. Maryland basketball rivalry. Conscious that PowerPoint slides before noon can put students in a catatonic state, Studer-Ellis insists on solving problems by hand on the whiteboard. He also appreciates the importance of letting students see his mistakes, so they can watch him work through them.
This personal relationship doesn't end with the 75-minute class period, either. "He goes out of his way, offering extra help sessions," Olshever said. "He made it so it was really easy to get in touch with him if you needed anything." Recently, word has spread about Studer-Ellis's accessibility, and as his office hours have become more popular, they have also gotten more plentiful. He occasionally adds help sessions in the evening and on weekends. "Frankly, if students ask, I try to do it," he says.
WRITING THE BOOK. Making the grade still requires work. Student grades are based on exams, out-of-class assignments, and in-class discussion or recitations. When students struggle with statistics, the difficulty comes from an inability to connect the figures with pragmatic, palpable issues—and Studer-Ellis is proactive about helping them connect the dots.
He's even working on replacing the class's textbook with his hand-crafted course pack, which next year will include a table of contents—a student request. Studer-Ellis' job might be to teach students the laws of averages, but he's far from your average business professor.
--John DeBruicker, with additional reporting by Francesca Di Meglio