Originally published in the inaugural edition of Carroll Capital, the print publication of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. Read the full issue here.
On a brisk Wednesday in February, students begin shuffling into Livia Yi’s Fundamentals of Finance class. With to-go coffee cups in hand, they make their way to the front of the room to grab printed name cards before filing into the lecture room’s 50 seats. The dull murmur of chatter quiets as Yi, an assistant professor of finance at the Carroll School, calls class into session at noon on the dot. The topic of the day? Bond valuation.
The concepts in this core course are complex, but Yi explains them plainly, anchoring the lesson in the present day. She shows the class—mostly sophomores and juniors—recent headlines and a video on yield curves, and pauses to share opportunities for further learning. While reading The Wall Street Journal is recommended, students can also get their daily fix from podcasts—What’s News, Your Money Matters, and Tech News Briefing are a few examples she scribbles on the chalkboard. Students furiously copy down notes as she lectures, graphing calculators in one hand and pencils in another. Continued learning in the field of finance is important, she explains. “When you go to an interview for a job, you’ll be informed about what’s going on.”
While there is no one-size-fits-all definition of what it means to be a great teacher, the placement of the Carroll School within the ecosystem of a liberal arts university—and a Jesuit one at that—demands that faculty strive for excellence. Leading the charge is Judy Gordon, professor and chairperson of the Management and Organization Department, and associate dean for teaching and learning.
The latter position is new, an investment in cultivating better teachers, born out of the pandemic. Gordon was in the eye of the storm, planning virtual workshops on using new technology and engaging classes remotely. But she says it was Powers Family Dean Andy Boynton who saw the value in continuing to have “someone who was really paying attention to teaching,” and in December 2021, she was officially appointed to this role.
While certain changes were spurred on by the pandemic, the Carroll School’s emphasis on teaching isn’t new. Shortly after Boynton took on his role nearly 20 years ago, he formed a teaching committee. The committee was responsible for establishing many of the systems Carroll School faculty may now take for granted—such as the installation of undergraduate teaching assistants and the creation of the Coughlin Distinguished Teaching Award, which recognizes outstanding faculty members.
The committee even started bringing in speakers to discuss issues of significance, now called the Wilson Faculty Teaching Seminar, after the late accounting professor and first committee head, Pete Wilson. One recent session focused on student integrity in the age of artificial intelligence tools, and provided educators with a forum to discuss preventing students from using technology to cheat.
“We’re always trying to get better and better. The question we’re always asking is, ‘How can we make this better for students?'”
The group was also responsible for implementing a classroom observation protocol. The system matches up new faculty with more seasoned professors to provide mentorship during those first few years of teaching. The relationship should be more active than “just sitting in on class,” Gordon says, and that’s why they ramped up the program in the aftermath of the pandemic. Great teachers “aren’t cloned,” and Gordon, who served as committee head before taking on her role as associate dean, emphasizes the value of having several faculty members on a mentorship team.
Yi—whose first semester teaching at Carroll was spring 2022—avoided the turmoil of remote learning, but she still sees the benefits of initiatives started during that period. She currently works with a three-person mentorship team of senior finance professors. “They are great teachers,” she comments. “If I get stuck, they want to help me.” Each semester, one of them will sit in on a class and provide feedback on course content and delivery. At the end of the semester, the group will get together to go over her student-submitted teaching evaluations, deciphering which points were a consensus, and help develop strategies for improvement.
If a teacher’s evaluations are problematic, Gordon or Boynton may get involved. In the past, they’ve paired faculty members with new mentors, brought in outside consultants, or sent faculty to the University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. “We pay attention to it,” Gordon says—she keeps track of these interventions, enabling her to follow up and provide support. “That’s probably the most important thing.”
In Gordon’s Tuesday morning Leadership class, she embodies all of the qualities she believes make a strong teacher: subject knowledge, passion, and a well-organized course. At the start of class, students are hesitant to raise their hands and participate in the conversation, so Gordon suggests they “change gears.” She instructs them to talk in small groups to warm up, and during the impromptu breakout session, she speeds around the room. Observing the groups discussing the day’s case study and throwing around phrases like “dependency diagrams,” her eyes light up. After a few minutes, she brings the class back together and finds her students eager to share key takeaways.
It’s those students, and the constant drive toward improvement for their sake, that keep the faculty going. “We’re always trying to get better and better,” says Gordon. “The question we’re always asking is, ‘How can we make this better for students?’” Reflecting on her first two years as a teacher, Yi echoes that sentiment. “As a junior faculty member, I don’t just want to be a good researcher. I want to be a good teacher. I think it’s a really meaningful part of the job.”