A Current Events-Pop Culture Connection

"Anything is at your disposal with communications," says Carnegie Mellon professor Chad Hermann

For a special series, BusinessWeek asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors. Here is an installment:

After nine years of teaching business communication and oral communication at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, Chad Hermann still delivers to students the same two messages: "Know your audience," and "Love what you do." He does both himself, which is why the majority of Tepper students who participated in BusinessWeek's 2006 undergraduate survey named Hermann as their favorite professor.


Chad R. Hermann

Lecturer in Business Management Communication

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business



Hermann keeps his lecture room full because he uses lots of current events and pop culture—everything from a clip of Steve Jobs presenting Apple's (AAPL) iPod nano to a video of a Green Day concert. "Anything is at your disposal with communications, anything you see, hear, and do," Hermann says. "Communication is a metadiscipline—it includes everything, and everything includes communication."


  Show-and-tell is Hermann's preferred method of teaching. To demonstrate how to break bad news, Hermann pulls two volunteers to the front of the room to fake a breakup while classmates watch. The class critiques and discusses the mock couple's communication, then the class wraps up by watching a scene from The Simpsons where Bart has to break up with Mrs. Krabappel, a perfect example of how not to break bad news.

Just telling students how to make a sales pitch doesn't cut it for Hermann. He'll get up in front of the class and demonstrate by pitching to them, finding their needs and wants, and then matching those to what he's pretending to sell. He won't tell students how to put emotion in a speech, either. Instead, he'll write a sentence with five words and act out the sentence five different ways, changing the emotion by putting emphasis on a different word each time.

Hermann doesn't just teach good communication, he tries to live it. He expects students to do the same. That philosophy influences his grading policy, too. To determine grades, he evaluates students' products and performances, individual and group writing assignments and presentations, in-class writing and workshops, impromptu speaking in class, and the quantity and especially quality of class participation, he says.

A man of the people, Hermann puts his students at ease. "Don't call him Professor Hermann, call him Chad," says 21-year-old Tepper senior Kim Berman. Plenty of students consider Hermann a friend and stop by his office. He remembers students as well as their work, which students say makes them want to meet his expectations and constantly work to improve. But he's blunt with criticism and doesn't ignore weak performance. Berman has kept all her notes and advice from Hermann, and reviews them frequently.


  Both of Hermann's parents were teachers, and he always wanted to be a great writer and teacher. For as long as he can remember, he has shared books, music, and movies with others. He sees teaching communications as an extension of that. Hermann attended the University of Maryland, earned his M.A. in English literature, and worked on his Ph.D. in English literature and rhetoric. There, he began teaching fellow grad students and teaching assistants how to be engaging teachers. He helped the novice lecturers pick apart every trait they ever loved in a teacher, then taught them how to do those things in front of a class of sleepy 18-year-olds.

Spreading his own personal philosophies helps him motivate students. "I get up every morning and can't wait to get to campus," he says. "I know it's cliché, but I want my students to be passionate about everything in life."

Kathy Saye liked Hermann's enthusiasm and courses so much she decided to be his teaching assistant for three semesters. Hermann still does the lecturing, but Saye acts as an additional tutor and observes class. After two and a half years in the Hermann classroom, Saye is still entertained and still learning: "I've had him for five semesters, and the class is different and new every time."

"I always saw myself growing old as an English professor, lecturing to rooms full of talented literature people," Hermann admits. When he took the job of teaching business students at Carnegie Mellon, some former colleagues said he was selling out. Hermann argues that he never sold out and that business students create the ideal environment for teaching because they realize the importance of communication: "The business students are willing to do whatever, and when I got a taste of that, I didn't want to teach anything else. It's still staggering to teach such talented people." And that's poetry to any business student's ears.

-- Kristin Dew, with additional reporting by Francesca Di Meglio

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