On Friday, May 8, Phil Anderson, Ph.D., a professor in the Opus College of Business Department of Management, was awarded the Julie Hays Teaching Award. The award, given each year in honor of Dr. Hays, recognizes a faculty member who exemplifies her commitment to teaching and learning.
Professor Anderson teaches strategic planning and organizational behavior in both the undergraduate business and UST MBA programs. From 1996 to 2009 he served as chair of the Management Department. In addition, he served as the first director of St. Thomas' Business Semester in London Program in 1995, and was the director again in 2011. Since 1997, he has led a month-long summer study abroad program to England and Ireland focusing on strategic planning that features site visits to companies overseas.
We asked Professor Anderson to share some of his thoughts on his career, what makes for an outstanding educational experience and what continues to drive him to excel as a teacher.
Before joining the University of St. Thomas, you worked for the Univac Corporation. Why and when did you decide to teach? What drew you to it?
I went back to school to pursue an MBA. I was working as a grad assistant for a professor (Dick Gaumnitz) and he suggested that I go on for a PhD and teach at the college level. I had never considered that as a career option, so I “fell into it” and have been forever grateful to him for leading me down that path.
Why did you choose strategic planning and organizational behavior as your field of expertise?
Strategic planning focuses on what’s needed to make an organization successful over the long term. Organizational behavior focuses on the importance of people in making a strategy work; how you should work with others to maximize their success, so that the organization is consequently successful. I see the two disciplines as a good marriage. You can design a good strategy, but if you treat people poorly, you’ll fail to successfully implement it.
The Julie Hays Teaching Award is given each year to a faculty member with an outstanding commitment to teaching and learning. How do you personally define success as an educator? What do you think makes for an interesting and stimulating educational experience for students today?
I want my students to leave the course enriched in their appreciation for the concepts of the course. I don’t expect them to remember the details, but (hopefully) to internalize the overarching goals for the course and then use them in their careers.
My classroom time is spent using a variety of experiential activities such as role plays, case and short video clip discussions and simulation exercises. Each is designed to focus on the application of a course concept. We then have a class discussion on how that experience gives them insight into what they read in the text.
I close the class by discussing how what we did that day relates to their careers after graduation. So my goal for each class is to get the students engaged, both intellectually and emotionally, in a topic such as managing change and why we are resistant to change – even “good” change. My belief is that the students will retain my learning goals for the day much better through an experiential exercise than if I lecture them on the topic.
Since 1989, you’ve made more than 50 trips to England and Ireland. You also served as the first director of St. Thomas' Business Semester in London Program in 1995 and served again in 2011. You taught at University College in Cork, Ireland, for four years… This part of the world seems to be a draw for you, you seem to have a special attraction or fondness for it… Why do you think that is? What do you find captivating about these countries and their culture?
The Irish culture is very embracing. There is an Irish saying, “There are no strangers in Ireland, just friends you have yet to meet.” Personal friendships are important, but so are the “casual relationships” that occur on a daily basis. For some Americans, efficiency is key. So having a chat with a publican when ordering a pint is a distraction. For the Irish, that personal connection is what brings richness to our daily lives. The British are initially reserved, but once they understand that you are sincerely interested in understanding their culture and its rich history, they have great stories to share and enjoy comparing perspectives on world events.
There’s much we can learn from both of those cultures, if we stop long enough to connect with the people versus chase the next photo op. The “things” in a country can tell us a lot about the people; they reflect what people value. But we have to make the effort to immerse with the people, to truly understand a culture. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to “sink and soak” in both England and Ireland. They are both second homes for me.
You’ve traveled extensively all over the world. What do you think is particularly important, when it comes to business management, about traveling or studying abroad?
There is a lot that we do right in America, but we don’t hold a monopoly on “rightness”. My primary goal for my study abroad students is for them to see a country’s social and business cultures through many different lens, to accept the differences they see, and to value how those differences can enrich our personal lives and improve how we work with others, both in our careers and outside of our work environment.
What continues to drive and motive you in your work?
I enjoy watching the students find the value in learning about a topic – both personally and professionally. For my study abroad students, watching their high-speed personal growth as they navigate a new culture is addicting. I see my role as a catalyst to this process; to create an environment that provides students the opportunity to maximize their learning and personal growth. To accomplish this, I need to give my students 100% of my effort for every class. I may not achieve it, but I have to try.