Favorite Professors: Carnegie Mellon's Milton Cofield

Photograph by R. Alan Adams for Businessweek.com

Milton Cofield

Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University

Undergraduate Courses Taught: Global Business, International Management

One of Milton Cofield’s goals in the classroom is to help his students relate the material he’s teaching to the real world. Cofield, the executive director of the undergraduate program at Tepper, says a typical lecture could include the “PowerPoints and lecturing that people hate,” but he mixes up his lessons with the occasional dramatic reading from a Shakespeare play. He uses current events and real-life examples of corporate decision-making in his business classes so that students are “really prepared for the world they want to be a part of,” he says.

Cofield took an unconventional path to the teaching ranks. True, his educational experience pointed to a career in academia, but he calls his work trajectory “nontraditional.” After spending more than a decade as a physical scientist in a research lab, he entered higher education in 1991. “The transition was supposed to be about becoming an academic administrator,” he says, “but then I discovered the best job in university is teaching.” Cofield has taught a variety of subjects, including chemistry, physics, mathematics, and business administration. He joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 2001. “I had a very broad range of professional experiences, a very diverse educational background, and I think I understand the issues of management, strategic management, global enterprise, from all of those perspectives,” he says.

Cofield holds a B.S. in chemistry and a Ph.D. in philosophy. He received his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 1989.

Students say:

• “He brings a real-life feel to the classroom and acts more like your friend than a professor. However, he is able to teach the material as well as keep the class as a more informal setting.”

• “It’s very rare that the director of a program takes the time to teach students, but it is exactly what happens at Carnegie Mellon University. It’s obvious that he knew the material he was teaching and had the experience to back it up. All in all, it was an enjoyable class that made you more interested in the material, even if there was a lot of work.”

Cofield on using Shakespeare in the classroom:

I quote from Macbeth, because there’s more drama and the consequences of being are significant and real. There’s more of the sense that not everything is determined by the individual. Business students are people, too. People go to college to learn how to interpret their experiences using new resources, and [Shakespeare] is only one of them.

Editor’s Note: This profile is part of Bloomberg Businessweek’s series on favorite undergraduate business professors. Subjects were chosen based on feedback collected in Bloomberg Businessweek’s annual survey of senior business students. The featured professors were the ones most often mentioned by students as being their favorite. Student quotes come directly from the student survey.