B-School Professor For Life

Delaware prof Mark Bambach keeps in touch with his students until they're settled in a good job. And he gives out candy at exam time

BusinessWeek asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors. Here's another installment in the series.

Taking tests with Mark Bambach is pretty sweet. Before he passes out exams, sets a time limit, or rattles off his "good luck" speech, the 49-year-old professor treats his 150-plus students to a Tootsie Pop—and offers them a bit of advice. "Don't believe your parents, kids," says Bambach, who teaches marketing at the University of Delaware's Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. "Sugar is good. It'll keep you awake for the next 60 minutes."

Unlike other, more traditional professors, Bambach knows the value of in-class antics—not to mention in-class candy. Whether he's chiding overdressed students ("What are you doing—getting married?") or poking fun at current events ("McDonald's (MCD) says they're coming out with 'healthier oil'—yet they're still serving French fries.") he makes sure his lectures entertain and educate.

"You can be a friend, teacher, and cheerleader at the same time," Bambach says. "They're not mutually exclusive."

With more than 30 years of real-world experience and seven consecutive Teacher of the Year award nominations—"I'm still trying to close the deal," he quips—Bambach is one of Delaware's prized possessions. And his pupils talk him up: Of the undergrads polled in BusinessWeek's annual survey, roughly 10% gave Bambach top marks, making him the school's most popular business professor. "He's got so much energy," says Jane Sterl, who took his Consumer Behavior class in 2006. "He really knows how to keep us entertained."

Keep it Jumping

But Bambach isn't all fun and games. To make sure students take class time seriously—and, ahem, avoid dozing off—he starts each session with an agenda, giving them "hot topics" to anticipate. Then, to hold their attention, he uses engaging visual aids, such as video clips, overheads, and amusing advertisements. Earlier this year, he poked fun at advertisements for the new Diet Coke Plus, which espouse the soda's vitamin and mineral content.

It's all part of Bambach's proactive teaching philosophy: Because his pupils are young and energetic, he tries to keep his lectures "jumping." There's ample opportunity for in-class discussion, presentation, and debate, and Bambach takes each into account before assigning a final grade. Even better? To accommodate sick or traveling students, he only counts the three highest of four exam scores. "I run my classroom like I run a business," he explains. "I want my students to be satisfied customers."

And they are. Each week, Bambach spends 6 to 10 out-of-class hours critiquing résumés and writing letters of recommendation. He helps current students land first-rate internships and former ones find steady jobs. Why? Because several years later, when he gets a "thank you" e-mail from a successful employee, he knows he's made a difference. "It's the best feeling," he says.

Learning From Their Mistakes

During his college years, Bambach says he was treated "like a number." His professors were crass and intimidating, they rarely offered career advice, and they didn't seem to care about their students. "It was awful," he says.

Today, Bambach, who comes from Delaware County, Pa., says he hopes that he is everything his professors weren't. When he notices an undergrad who's "just going through the motions"—as opposed to actively learning—he puts in extra effort to inspire. "Even if there's one [apathetic student] out of 150," he says, "it kills me."

But Bambach's most redeeming quality, according to many of those surveyed, is his ability to sustain student relationships. Sterl, for example, says Bambach still says "hi" when they pass in the hallway, and sometimes stops to chat, more than a year after she aced his final exam. From time to time, he even sends out random e-mails to make sure former pupils find success. "That kind of dedication is pretty rare among professors," Sterl says.

Then again, Bambach has always been able to "keep it real." At the end of each semester, he invites his students out for drinks at a local tavern. "Of course," he warns, "they have to be of age." Spoken like a true teacher.

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