SMU prof Jeff Hart leavens his classes with humor and news of the day—and he's a master networker
BusinessWeek asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors. Here is another installment in the series.
On a Tuesday afternoon last fall, Professor Jeff Hart noticed that the students in his Security Valuation & Selection class were beginning to lose interest in the topic at hand. He knew what to do. "Did you hear that Katie Holmes is pregnant…with Tom Cruise's baby?" he asked the class of 60.
After a lively five-minute discussion about who was dating who in Hollywood, the class was revitalized, and Hart continued on with finance. It was a trick Hart learned while a freshman at the University of Iowa. A religion professor named Jay Holstein would make a point during each of his lectures to stop and tell a humorous anecdote or joke.
"You wanted to come to class for that part alone," Hart says. Now he regularly uses the technique, and it has the same effect.
It's these small things that make Hart the most popular professor at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business, according to BusinessWeek's student survey. He is the rare breed who can relate to his students as well as help them to understand even the most complex of topics. He's young enough to remember what it's like to be a student, but old enough to have real-world experiences that he can draw on to make the subject matter fresh. "He's the best there is," says Andreza Kurgan, a recent Cox graduate.
Kurgan's classmates agree. In fact, of the 200 Cox students who answered the BusinessWeek undergraduate survey, one-third said that Hart was their favorite prof. Since joining the Cox faculty in 1999, he has been honored with 25 awards and distinctions. He was given the Distinguished BBA Teaching Award three times and was named in the top 5% of American Teachers by Who's Who Among American Teachers twice.
"He makes his courses extremely enjoyable and the material easy to swallow," one student wrote in the survey. "It was hard to believe that a class that seemed so easy taught me so much, which speaks highly of his ability to teach."
The textbook makes rare appearances in his classes. Instead, Hart, a general partner of a hedge fund based in Dallas, relies on his own business as the basis for his lectures. Before class each day, Hart studies the market to prepare the lesson plan, and his game plan.
"Sometimes students think academics can't make it in the real world," Hart says. "The cool thing about finance is that a lot of the same models we use are used in business." Grades are doled out in the usual fashion, based on exams, projects and class work. Exams are based on class discussion.
Nearly every day, students are greeted by CNBC as they walk into the classroom, so they can get a feel for the live market. And, more times than not, the day's lecture revolves around one of the topics being broadcast. "Not many professors do that kind of thing," Kurgan says. "No one else would think we could learn from CNBC, but he puts that up there, so we can be interested in what he's teaching."
Outside of his teaching duties, Hart has found success in another area at Cox: finding his students jobs. In his time at SMU, he has remained in touch with many of his former students long after graduation. So when their companies have internships or job openings, they come calling on Hart for students who might be a good fit for the positions.
Hart says he hears from former students about once a week with an offer of either a job or internship. "I feel that helping students achieve their goals is almost part of my job," he says. "As long as we keep giving them good people, they'll keep coming back." With Hart's help, that shouldn't be a problem.