Teaching in the Time of COVID-19

Pre-COVID-19: Dr. James Prather with SITC students

COVID-19 has brought changes and challenges all across the country, including the ACU campus. From the middle of the spring semester to the current fall semester, our faculty have continuously adjusted how they deliver their class material and how to interact with their students. We interviewed Dr. Laura Phillips (’88), associate professor of management, Clint Buck, assistant dean and instructor of accounting, and Dr. Don Pope, associate professor of management to hear about their experiences teaching during the pandemic and how they are working to overcome the challenges that it has presented. 

What challenges has COVID-19 brought to the classroom? 

Phillips: “My challenges were in the spring and Maymester terms. In the spring I was teaching two semesters of stats that were supposed to start the week after spring break. When we took that extra week off to regroup, I lost 14% of my semester. Also, since we’d never met in person, I didn’t know any of the students and we had not been able to create a class culture before shifting to online. My other class was supposed to be a one-week Maymester in Dallas with about 20 guest speakers and several field trips. That class went virtual as well, which was a huge shift.”

Buck: “FACE MASKS! While I understand the need for face masks, they pose a great challenge in the classroom. It’s hard to ‘read’ the classroom and see if concepts are making sense, if jokes are landing, etc., and it is also hard to teach while wearing a mask. Seeing people’s faces, sending and receiving smiles, and shaking hands are all actions relied upon in the past to establish and nurture connection and community – hallmarks of the COBA and ACU experience. The current realities are forcing us to rethink how we establish and nurture our community, which is very challenging.”

Pope: “The inability to talk with and help students face to face, along with reduced interaction with faculty and staff colleagues.”

Dr. Laura Philips

What did you do to overcome those challenges?

Phillips: “Lots of trial and error! We’d try some things for a week in stats, and if it wasn’t working, we’d make adjustments for the next week. My coworkers were all very supportive but since we were working remotely and everyone was scrambling, there wasn’t a lot of time to sit around and think philosophically about how we should approach our classes. My schedule didn’t always allow me to attend but the weekly COBA Zoom prayer times have been great! And throughout the summer, the staff in the Adams Center and the crew they assembled to provide resources and training for the faculty have been outstanding.”

Buck: “My teaching colleagues have been invaluable in navigating these issues, and they have also been helpful in the tactical aspects of the job (great suggestions for teaching online and in a distanced classroom, things to look for, things to avoid, etc.). My administrative colleagues have been very good to normalize the challenges we face. It is not easy to be a good employee, a good spouse, and a good parent while navigating a global pandemic, and I am grateful for their faithful demonstration of grace throughout this season.”

Pope: “Through the use of technology tools – online teaching in Canvas and Zoom, we carry on and push through. I would like to compliment the IT people in the background here who work tirelessly ‘below the radar’ and receive little thanks. I would also like to thank the educational technology support staff in the Adams Center and the Library. They are amazing.”

Clint Buck

What’s different about the current fall semester?

Phillips: “I can’t really address this question because I’m teaching online this semester. I am taking German, so I’ve experienced the classroom as a student, but not as a professor.”

Buck: “Can’t shake hands or see smiles; can’t see if a concept or idea is resonating or not. Things I took for granted – like handing out printed material in class! – are very noticeable in their absence. Also, I used to enjoy having a very special teaching assistant in class at least once each semester, but my eight-year-old daughter (Lillian) is unable to do so this semester.  :(  EVERYONE is very sad about this.”

Pope: “My classes ended up all being online this semester, so obviously that is really different. But when I/we return to in-person classes again, I plan to utilize many of the recorded lectures and clarified teaching materials that have been developed during the pandemic. In the past, I relied too much on being able to verbally explain something, and now I see that some of my notes are not very clearly written. So, the current situation is an opportunity to see things differently and learn and grow.”

COBA’s vision is to inspire, equip, and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. How are you integrating the vision with your students when you can’t always be with them? 

Phillips: “I don’t start teaching until October this semester so most of my interaction with students is coming through a community group I’m leading for some COBA freshmen and meeting with students about study abroad next fall. I’m trying to stay connected to students even though I’m not in the classroom. I guess right now I’m spending a lot of time trying to inspire them to spend a semester abroad. It is such a transformational experience but sometimes it’s hard for students to visualize themselves doing something so vastly different from their normal life. I’m also trying to help some of our freshmen connect in our small group. They have such a great attitude but I think it’s harder to get to know people with the masks and social distancing in the classrooms. I’m hoping that our community group helps them get to know a handful of their COBA peers and that they will have a few classmates with whom they have connected at a deeper level.”

Buck: “I’m working hard to use Canvas better so information is accessible and organized for students.”

Pope: “In terms of connection, I am trying to encourage more emailed thoughts about prayer needs, scripture, and other personal concerns. My wife has, for 20 years, invited students into our home for meals and we typically have had large groups. This fall, she is going to considerable effort to plan, prepare, and host multiple smaller groups in a safe manner.”

Dr. Don Pope

What are you excited about for this semester?

Phillips: “Getting to know some of our new freshmen, seeing students get excited about spending a semester abroad, ‘meeting’ my students – even though we will not be gathering in person.”

Buck: “Seeing how we expand our vision of community. We’ve relied on very traditional definitions and expressions of community (e.g. shaking hands, sharing a meal, attending a sporting event or attending the performing arts) for a long time, and the current moment forces us to rethink them. When things return to something resembling what we used to call ‘normal’, we will hold these definitions/expressions even more sacred and special than before.”

Pope: “‘Excited’ is probably not a word that we would use about this situation.  But, I do think that we are all learning some valuable lessons about the human need to be with other people, to accept each other’s different perspectives on things, and live together in community.  It will be interesting to see how family, education, business, and church are changed long term by this experience.”

While the ACU campus looks and works differently in 2020, COVID-19 hasn’t stopped faculty members from looking for ways to put students first. Echoed in the comments of each of our faculty members is the theme that is so central to ACU – community. We value our students and our relationships with them as faculty and staff. We will continue to strive to connect in the best ways possible this semester and we look forward to the day that we can see those smiles in the classroom.

Alumni Spotlight: Matt Boisvert

Matt Boisvert

When Matt Boisvert (’97), President and co-founder of Pharos Resources, graduated from ACU with a degree in marketing he never would have dreamed that his professional life would be so heavily influenced by his time as a student and as an educator. Matt has given back to his alma mater by being consistently involved in helping current students with professional development by providing internships and support at Pharos Resources as well as serving on COBA’s Visiting Committee.

After graduating from ACU, Matt began his career at C&W Manufacturing in Alvarado, Texas as the Director of Marketing. It didn’t take long for Boisvert to return to the classroom. In 2001, while working on his MBA in Services Marketing and Management at Arizona State, he began interning with Hallmark Cards at their headquarters (Kansas City, MO) in their Specialty Retail Group, implementing and measuring the grand opening marketing strategy for Hallmark stores. Matt received his MBA in 2002 and came back to ACU’s College of Business Administration to become the Director of COBA’s Career Development Center, building a comprehensive career readiness and employer relations program for business majors.

Some of the colleges and universities that Pharos works with.

In 2004, Boisvert became the Director of Career Development for ACU and, in 2006, the Executive Director of the Office of Career and Academic Development. It was during these years that he learned about the challenges of student success, as this office was tasked with overseeing the “Support Our Students” program and related SOS software, as well as providing career development and academic counseling services to students. In 2007, Matt returned to COBA and served as the Assistant Dean of Marketing Operations and as a marketing instructor. He said, “Teaching taught me the power of actually ‘seeing’ your students in the classroom… identifying those who were struggling in academic and non-academic ways. At the same time, I was consulting with ACU to help commercialize the SOS software for the higher education market…which led to me making an offer to purchase and transfer the ACU-developed technology to a newly formed entity (Pharos Resources) in 2008.” In 2010, Matt entered Pharos Resources in the Springboard Ideas Challenge and won the “most fundable” business plan. It was time to fully pursue growing Pharos Resources – which meant leaving ACU in order to do so. However, this did not mark the end of his relationship with ACU. In fact, it has led to many opportunities for Matt to collaborate with COBA through Pharos Resources. Today, Pharos Resources serves 61 institutions across the United States and Canada. Its solutions are used by over 10,000 faculty and staff and provides support to over 125,000 college students.

Faith has played a vital role in Boisvert’s work throughout his life. “Having my identity in Christ has sustained me during the lows and keeps me humbly grateful in the highest highs. It is an incredible experience to be able to create value, impact lives, and build a team of people who are passionate about meaningful work. I feel so blessed to do this work.” Matt allows his faith to guide him day by day in all seasons, reminding him that he is uniquely made and loved by God. “God is investing in me, wanting to teach and continuously lead me for His plan. That has given me the freedom and confidence to create Pharos in a way that honors Him.” This is lived out by the way that Pharos treats their clients, how they interact with competitors, and how they invest in their client’s success.

Mission First with Anthony Melchiorri

Pharos’ current challenge, like most of the rest of the world, is helping clients navigate COVID-19. In May, COVID-19 forced universities to face difficult decisions about their summer and fall reopening plans. After hearing Anthony Melchiorri on the daily podcast “No Vacancy”, Matt reached out to the “Hotel Impossible” host and hospitality expert to see if he would share his insights from the hard-hit travel industry to improve the success of higher education institutions during the pandemic. Anthony is an expert on how to create clean, safe spaces with visual signs of sanitization, and provides an exceptional understanding of how to deliver service excellence. The Travel Channel host, Melchiorri, is known for being direct, honest, and committed to excellence. In addition, he is deeply passionate about student success! Melchiorri points to his own higher education and military experiences as life-changing and the fact that he has three daughters in college right now makes his investment clear and personal. He is also involved in the business of higher education, by serving on the board of Park University, his alma mater. Anthony’s response was immediate and definitive: “If this partnership can change the life of one student, it is worth it.” Pharos Resources is partnering with Anthony through 2020 and has already hosted four Mission First webinars with him, providing practical advice and encouragement with an engaging and entertaining format: readers can access those webinars at the links below.

Tres Cox

Helping Boisvert and Melchiorri drive the Mission First marketing campaign is Tres Cox, senior marketing major from Lewisville, Texas. Tres has been a marketing intern with Pharos since fall of 2018. While the Mission First marketing campaign promotes the Pharos partnership with Anthony Melchiorri, Tres has had the opportunity to work on a wide range of marketing projects for Pharos including COVID-19 resources, brochures, conference sponsorships and exhibits, digital/social media marketing campaigns, and marketing new product launches. Boisvert is highly complimentary of Cox, saying, “He is incredibly talented, with a great combination of valuable skills. It is clear that COBA continues to develop talented students into business professionals. Tres has added significant value to our brand and the team.” 

Matt’s student experience at ACU, especially with faculty members, was formative as he described each of his COBA professors as exceptional and still appreciates them for connecting him to real-world applications while in the classroom. He said that COBA gave him confidence in his ability and instilled in him the value of service as a Christian leader in business. Dr. Rick Lytle was Matt’s overall favorite professor for the reason that “he modeled a life in Christ through his love and leadership” which has greatly influenced who Matt has become.

Boisvert’s favorite ACU memory? That would be Welcome Week during his senior year. “For my friends, roommates and me, it was junior/senior wars and my house was the de facto headquarters for seniors. My roommates and I had crates of eggs set on the roof of Bob Hunter’s rent house as massive egg fights erupted. In the middle of this ‘war’, I met my wife Melissa and we have been together ever since.”

Matt advises incoming freshmen to complete at least one internship before graduation. “They expand your network, allow you to explore your career options, and will test your competence.” And to current students, he says, “I would strongly encourage COBA students to invest in learning more about who they are and how they can make an impact in the world. Then, to prepare for their future, I really encourage students to develop their ACU network: peers, faculty, mentors. The value of a college degree is more than the classes you take…the people who love the ACU mission will be valuable connections for life.”

 

ACU Chapter of AMA Hosts First Virtual Networking Event

The ACU chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) hit the ground running as they began their second year back on campus. One of the goals of the AMA chapter is to equip students through professional development and provide real-world experiences. With this goal in mind, the chapter officers and advisors have set a goal to have an annual spring trip to the DFW area where they engage with alumni to visit their workplaces and show students what the life of a marketing professional in different fields looks like. 

Even though this year’s trip had to be canceled due to the current pandemic situation, the officers and advisors didn’t want members to miss out on such an opportunity.  As the team joined to brainstorm ideas to provide a similar experience to students, they used technology to their advantage and decided to plan the first AMA virtual event. There were a few challenges to take into consideration as the event was being planned, “I think there was a lot of uncertainty about the event during the beginning. Questions like, would students attend something like this? How long should the event be? Would it be weird to do it via zoom? How do we make it personal?” Lindsay Palmer commented. The faculty and staff advisors, Dr. Jennifer Golden and Lindsay Palmer, partnered with ACU alumni who could tell students about their marketing experience and personal branding, from the comfort of their homes.  After reaching out to professionals from various industries and marketing areas, four alumni joined with ACU AMA to tell students their stories. The panel included Jay Swinney from Indeed, Katherine Hall from Schaefer Advertising, Rachel Gilliam from Lev, and Reagan Morgan from PFSweb

Alumni Panel: Jay Swinney (’09), Katherine Hall (’13), Rachel Gilliam (’13) and Reagan Morgan (’08)

On June 8th, ACU AMA members and students from the College of Business Administration joined these alumni on Zoom for the virtual event, “What Now? Five Ways to Brand Yourself During a Crisis”. The event was kicked off by Dr. Jennifer Golden, who shared five ways for students to continue working on their personal brand during COVID-19 and stand out amongst job applicants. ACU AMA also partnered with COBA’s Professional Development office to offer additional opportunities and resources for students. Then, the alumni panel was introduced and each professional shared about their roles in their respective companies. From data analysts to account directors, each of the alumni had a different experience and perspective to share that was valuable for the wide range of interests of the students attending the virtual event. To provide a personal networking experience, students entered into break-out virtual rooms of 5 as one of the alumni guest speakers conducted a Q&A session.  

Besides learning practical ways to grow their network and develop their personal brand, students were able to connect with alumni and peers on LinkedIn with the information provided by the ACU AMA advisors. Social distancing did not limit the ability to connect with marketing professionals and learn insightful skills for the future. The alumni who willingly shared their time and experience with the students, once again, showed how ACU’s community is still valuable long after graduation. “We have such awesome alumni at ACU and in COBA specifically. They were all so willing to give up some of their time to advise and pour into current students. Overall, the event was a huge success in my opinion. It was cool to see how engaging the students and alumni were with each other. I think this event also helped bring a new opportunities to our students. I can’t wait to see what else AMA does.” Lindsay added.

Students joined by ACU Alumni for the virtual event via Zoom

The ACU AMA chapter is looking forward to another year of professional growth and events that empower students to fulfill their career goals. As the year was kicked off with an incredible event, the new officers and advisors hope to provide similar opportunities to all members throughout the 2020-2021 academic year. 

Click here to check out the landing page created for the event with the bios of participating alumni. Follow ACU AMA on Instagram @ama_acu to hear about our next event. If you have any questions about membership, please email ACU AMA advisor, Lindsay Palmer.

COBA Professors and ACU Alum Team Up For Research

Have you ever struggled to make a decision when given too many options? Choice overload, or overchoice, is a cognitive process where people have difficulty making a decision due to a variety of options. Why does this happen?

As part of the lifelong relationship vision of the College of Business Administration, Associate Professor of Marketing, Dr. Ryan Jessup,  and SITC Director and Professor of Computer Science, Dr. John Homer, partnered with ACU alum, Levi Ritchie (’15), to research the choice overload effect. Their paper,  “Hurry up and decide: Empirical tests of the choice overload effect using cognitive process models”, was featured in the American Psychology Association’s April issue on decision. According to Scimago Journal & Country Rank, this journal is in the top 10% in psychology, neuropsychology and physical psychology subfield.

Dr. Ryan Jessup

While in graduate school at Indiana University, Dr. Ryan Jessup collected data to study a theory of decision making that prompted him to conduct this research as a follow-up from that work. As the lead author, Dr. Jessup generated the research idea and designed the experiment which was programmed by Dr. Homer. Levi Ritchie helped program part of the experiment in Python, recruited participants, and collected data before analyzing the data along with Dr. Jessup. The team combined their expertise in their respective fields to compile and edit the paper that was then published in the APA Journal. Dr. Jessup described the goal of their research as, “We wanted to test between multiple competing hypotheses that I had proposed in an earlier paper for the choice overload aka too much choice effect. The effect is that people purchase more when they have fewer options to choose from, violating basic economic principles.” 

Levi Ritchie (’15)

The science of cognitive psychology is broad and contains a variety of potential research studies; however, Levi Ritchie described the importance of studying the choice overload effect as essential to the business field, “From a business perspective, understanding the elements that moderate the effect is crucial to marketing. Even when your selection of alternatives is plentiful, it may be beneficial to only present the strongest subset.” Similarly, Dr. Jessup commented on how important the understanding of this effect is when selling or promoting a product, as well as for personal decision making. 

“An interesting thing about conducting quality research is that it makes us better at teaching. In my case, it is particularly true because I tend to teach courses on how to conduct or analyze research. But, even if I were teaching a different type of course it would still improve my teaching for several reasons. First, when teaching on a relevant topic, I would be far more aware of the pioneering research – in some cases because I would have been the one to do it; in other cases, it would be because I had to examine all possible theories and explanations when conducting my research, simultaneously giving far more breadth and depth than I would have gotten had I just read about it in the textbook or merely just read a few things about it. In essence, researchers know more about these findings because they are the ones making them – we are not merely reading about them. It is the ultimate in experiential learning”, Jessup said. 

The conclusion of this research was explained in-depth in their publication, but Jessup summarized by saying, “We found that one of our proposed explanations well predicted the data whereas another one – the one that is commonly espoused as causing the effect – did not appear to play a role. A specific conclusion was time pressure appears to really drive the effect; so, if you are trying to sell things to people who are often hurried – think drive-thru’s or situations where people often have little children with them – you are better off giving them a very small set of options.”

Levi Ritchie is currently pursuing a career in Data Science, while Dr. Jessup continues to work on research on an improved theory of decision making that combines choice with learning. He is currently working on another project that involves the choices of married individuals and economic games with professors Katie Wick, John Homer and, recently graduated marketing major, Luke Stevens (’20).

Alumnus Christian Guerra brings Avanzar Interior Technologies to Campus

Christian Guerra speaks to students at a Lunch and Learn event.

ACU’s Career Center, Department of Engineering and Physics, and College of Business Administration worked together to host ACU alumnus Christian Guerra (’06) on January 28th. Christian serves as the Vice President and General Manager Operations for Avanzar Interior Technologies and returned to campus to address engineering, physics, and business students about the career opportunities available in automotive manufacturing. Christian was joined by other Avanzar team members including C.D. Rodriguez, who serves as the Human Resources Manager. Avanzar, an award winning manufacturer located in San Antonio, Texas, is a Toyota Motors production partner who manufacturers the seats for the Toyota Tundra.  

The Toyota automotive manufacturing production standards are truly world class and give Avanzar employees the tremendous opportunity to learn best practices and work to produce top of the line products. Christian gave students insights into the internship and career opportunities available with their company as well as the company culture. Guerra was a student worker for former COBA Dean Dr. Rick Lytle when he was at ACU. He shared with students that Dr. Lytle impressed on him the need to be “Christ in the workplace”. Christian said that he puts this lesson into practice every day as he works to lead this family owned business with 1,100 associates in San Antonio and 200 associates in Mexico. He also reflected on his time in LYNAY and Dr. Gary McCaleb’s encouragement to go back to your community and help where you can. Christian took this advice, returned home, and is helping Avanzar provide an excellent work opportunity for employees in his hometown of San Antonio. This same work ethic is exemplified throughout the Avanzar organization. Berto Guerra, founder of Avanzar and ACU Board of Trustee, was honored by EY as the 2015 Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year.

Addressing work challenges through effective teamwork is critical at Avanzar.  In their visit to the Engineering Department, the Avanzar representatives had a chance to observe current students working in teams to determine objectives and alternative solutions all while

Engineering, physics and business students were invited to learn about careers and internships with Avanzar.

operating with constraints during their engineering classes. The opportunity to work with ACU engineering, physics and business students aligns with the needs of the manufacturer both with regard to their work ethic and with their Christ-centered focus in the workplace. HR representative C.D. Rodriguez was impressed with the Engineering and Science facilities and enjoyed meeting the professors and students, stating that they will be back later this spring to conduct interviews. COBA looks forward to creating more opportunities for our students as we continue to collaborate with our partners in the ACU Career Center and across campus. To learn more about the ACU Career Center and job and internship opportunities, click here.

Student Internship Spotlight on Zach Jennings

Zach Jennings

Zach Jennings is a Management major from Abilene, Texas and graduated in December 2019. Zach interned with Edward Jones this last summer. “I learned the basics of what it takes to be a financial advisor. I got to work with other offices and two other interns in town. There were about 200 interns nationwide, so having even one intern in Abilene was awesome, but we had three!”

As Zach prepared for graduation, he also prepared to begin work with Edward Jones as a financial advisor. He says, “I believe my time at ACU helped me find out what I wanted to do moving forward. Not only did it prepare me for my future career, but I grew so much in my relationship with God because of the wonderful people here.” Zach found that he wanted a career with Edward Jones after his experience as an intern and is looking forward to the great opportunities laid before him. 

Zach enjoyed his college career at ACU. We asked him what his favorite thing about being a part of COBA was and how the environment influenced his growth throughout his time here. “My favorite thing about COBA was attending Leadership Summit. I grew a lot in the Lord and made so many good friendships as well. It was a refreshing and soul-quenching experience. I would say that ACU offers not only some of the best education programs out there, but what makes ACU great is the community. You actually get to know your professors and you’ll realize they want to get to know you too. The community of ACU is welcoming, inclusive and Christ-like. The people here are what sets ACU apart from the rest.”

Helping students find how their gifts and talents can be used for God in the workplace is something COBA is passionate about. For those students who aren’t sure what career path they want to take, COBA and ACU provide exploration through the COBA Edge professional development program and the guidance offered at the Career Center. To learn more about the COBA Edge program, students can email Steph Brown at srb19c@acu.edu. Students can also learn more about internships, interviewing, and career search information by reading the COBA student newsletter, looking through Handshake, or contacting Steph Brown or the ACU Career Center.