A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Bringing Business to Life: Leaders in the Classroom

By Mason Spirit contributor on December 5, 2017

More than 60 alumni take part each year in the School of Business Leaders in the Classroom series. Organized by the school’s advancement and alumni relations team, the series puts alumni in the classroom as guest speakers on industry-related topics. In the 2016-17 academic year, the series coordinated 80 classroom visits.

When Mason management professor Cindy Parker reached out to Amber Myers, BS Marketing ’15, to visit her class, Myers jumped at the opportunity because of the impact guest speakers had on her education.

“I remember being so encouraged by the guest speakers that dedicated their time to speak with us,” says Myers, who is an HR business partner at CGI Federal. “I knew that I wanted to give someone that same encouragement one day and that is what has inspired me to continue coming back.”

In addition to adding a “real-world element to the learning experience,” guest speaking allows alumni like Trevor Montano, BS Accounting ’00, to stay connected to Mason.

“I thoroughly enjoy giving back and sharing career development and other advice,” says Montano, who serves as the chief investment officer at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and is on the university foundation’s Board of Trustees. “Getting good grades is important, but managing the approach to your first job and subsequent career management is equally as important.”

Graduate students who are already working professionals also learn skills to advance their careers from speakers. John Hillen, professor of practice and executive in residence at the school, teaches MBA courses where the majority of students are between the ages of 26 to 35.

“They can read all about leadership, but being able to ask questions and interact with someone leading a big enterprise, it is an extra kind of experiential learning for them,” Hillen says. “Having a leader or strategist [answer their questions] really gives them an idea of what [theory] looks like in action.”

Guest speakers are among the most popular “course material” for Hillen’s students, and he invites CEOs, business owners, and other leaders to talk on topics like leadership development, leading in a crisis, and more. He’s even received notes from former students who talk about how the speakers have influenced them in their careers.

“Experiential learning by far is the most impactful,” he says. “It just brings to life the real issues of business.”

Management professor Mandy O’Neill takes students on site visits where she trains them to conduct culture diagnoses of organizations. This allows them to start applying skills and thinking like a professional.

“I think that, especially being a business school, there is an expectation that we’re going to be able to place our students in the industry in ways that require knowledge of them that they can’t necessarily get in a textbook,” she says. “We have opportunities to take the learning outside of the classroom and into the laboratory that is our region, and specifically the workplaces.”

O’Neill said the experience allows students to learn skills like professional dress, arriving on time, and asking engaging questions. “I’d rather have them learn in my classroom in a safe environment than learn when they’re already on the job trying to be at their best,” she says.

O’Neill believes a diversity of speakers enriches the learning experience.

“I am one person, and I can only bring a certain set of experiences. It really means a lot to the students, and to me, to bring in a diverse set of speakers who represent varying backgrounds, races, and genders, to expose them to the wide ranges of professionals out there,” she says.

—Katherine Johnson

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