Roping Them In
For a special series, BusinessWeek asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors. Here is an installment:
Dave Collins is a cowboy—both he and his students think so. A marketing lecturer at the University of Iowa's Henry B. Tippie College of Business, Collins sometimes gets caught wearing full cowboy gear, including the hat, and he loves spending time out West. But it's his gritty determination to lasso students—even the least motivated of the bunch—that earns him his reputation as the last of the real cowboys.
Students don't seem to mind his style or attitude. In a 2006 BusinessWeek survey of undergraduate business students, Tippie undergrads most frequently named Collins as their favorite professor. He also admits that he recently won "some teaching award," but adds that "[those things] don't make any difference."
Indeed, this professor means business. Collins might be able to wear boots and a 10-gallon hat to class occasionally, but you better be careful about what you wear. Don't just roll out of bed, throw on a baseball cap and flip-flops, and be on your way. Collins' students say there's an unofficial dress code because he expects students to treat class like their job. And if you walk out of the room during the lecture, he's going to call you out for it. He tells students that classes are like a meeting at work—you can't just leave if you're bored.
Recently, on the first day of Intro to Marketing, a required course with between 160 and 370 students at a time, Collins spotted two football players in the crowd. "There are only 12 days until the first football game," said Collins. "When are you going to start practicing?" The players responded that they had been working out and training since the last season ended in January. "The rest of you are a year and a half or less away from the biggest, most challenging, most exciting game in the world—business," said Collins. "Why aren't you training? Why are you spending more time on Facebook than textbook?"
The man is relentless, say students. His objective is to turn kids into men and women—and he won't quit. "He transformed me from a typical college kid looking to have fun into a professional," says Abdul Zubaid, a 2004 graduate who now works for Medtronic (MDT), a medical-device manufacturer in Rochester, Minn. He adds that Collins helped him home in on achievable goals, put him in touch with the person who eventually hired him, and recommended him for his job at Medtronic.
Despite his rough edges, Collins seems to also have a softer side. He tempers his strictness with self-deprecating humor in class. "My motto is if you can get their mouth wide open laughing, occasionally you can drop a pearl of wisdom down their gullet," says Collins. He also brings in guest speakers to whom the students can relate. Examples include alumni Zach Voss, distributor of Red Bull energy drink, and Tuma Basa, manager of programming at MTV.
Grading is simple for Collins. He just adds up the scores Intro to Marketing students earn on their tests—and that's their grade. For his smaller classes, including Direct Marketing Strategies, students take one exam and do a group project for an actual client. And the client's evaluation of the project weighs heavily on the final grade.
Having spent more than 20 years working in marketing before becoming a professor, Collins knows exactly what students need to do before he turns them loose on the range. "He worked in the industry, did direct marketing, and has the knowledge," says Christina Lexa, a senior who's slated to graduate in May, 2007. "He has real-world experience as opposed to being an academic all of his life." Offering examples from the marketplace is another way he grabs attention from students—and helps prepare them for what lies ahead.
Sometimes, he has to get tough with students but they don't mind, says Adam Gross, a 2004 graduate and renewal manager at Meredith Corporation (MDP) in Des Moines, Iowa. "Professor Collins isn't afraid to tell students how he really feels," says Gross. "The information and feedback students get from him may not always be positive, but it is undoubtedly genuine." Students might not understand Collins at the start of the semester, but by the end, they know how to "cowboy up" and take charge of their education—and future. And students say that's all that matters.