Episode 31: Molly Rapert
Molly Rapert is one of the most revered professors in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Molly has served as an Associate Professor of Marketing for 21 years and Director of the Walton College of Business Center for Teaching Effectiveness for 13 years. Students often describe Molly's Marketing Management course as one of the best classes to transition into the workforce. Each year, Molly's course incorporates guest speakers, retail safaris, and dynamic projects into the curriculum to give students a sense of what to expect after graduation.
0:01 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to BeEPIC, the Podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education and your life today. Today's guest is Molly Rapert, an associate professor of marketing in the Walton College. Molly helps our faculty become better teachers as she directs our Center for Teaching Effectiveness. Molly is loved by her students both for her dedication, warmth and knowledge. And for her classroom approach that focuses on projects in dialogue with working professionals. Her unique approach is based on tapping the time and talents of alumni who are now executives. Those executives devise projects for the students while serving as guest speakers and advisors for Molly's Marketing Management undergraduate class. Join us as we talk about how she creates a class that students absolutely love, and how she helps other Walton College faculty become outstanding teachers. What is the Center for Teaching Effectiveness?
1:16 Molly Rapert: The CTE really has three goals. When I became involved with it in 2006, I was asked to be director for one year, while some of my former director went on sabbatical. And that was 2006. So 13 years later, I'm still the director. And and I think it's because I love it. But at that time, the goals were to run new faculty orientation, and to run a workshop on Fridays for our first year doctoral students. But as I started really taking ownership of the CTE, I thought there was a big opportunity to do workshops, we have immense teaching talent on our campus. And so if I can organize a workshop once a month, that bring together faculty that either love teaching already, or want to become more comfortable in teaching, I believe that's a great service not just to our faculty in their careers, but to our students who might then be on the receiving end of better teaching. I love these workshops because I get to handpick the topics, and based either on what is relevant or timely in industry, or what I'm hearing from faculty or students or issues that we need to face, handling disruptive students in the classroom, managing small classes in a way that get people to really participate and come to class prepared, how to get great evaluations, even if you're teaching in a challenging way, and not giving grades away. So we just identify activities that will help support our faculty. And that might mean helping a good faculty member become great. But it also might mean taking a tentative faculty member, maybe somebody teaching for the first or second time and helping them gain the confidence and the skill set and the exposure to best practices to help enhance that part of their career.
3:16 Matt Waller: It's surprising to me that all business schools don't have something like this, because if you think about it, teaching is one of our primary deliverables.
3:27 Molly Rapert: It is one of our primary deliverables. But I think that if you look across the United States, at public institutions, quite often the metric for a performance for faculty is very research driven. And teaching is important to a lot of people, but not necessarily to everyone in their professional growth. And so one thing I've always loved about Walton is that I've felt very supported and encouraged and valued through caring about teaching.
4:00 Matt Waller: Well, well, you know, professors clearly need it. We all do. If you want to be good at anything. You you want to benchmark what others are doing and learn from people.
4:12 Molly Rapert: Yes. And, you know, I hate to sound so naive, but when I came here in 1991, I'll admit that my focus was on research. I mean, I loved the classroom, but I envisioned that what I was doing in 1991, it was working well. And I would just continue doing it exactly that way. But I went, I had the pleasure of meeting Ro Di Brezzo, who is just iconic on our campus, and Rose said in a conversation to me something that's impacted every single day of my job here. She said your research is going to grow and extend and move into new areas and your teaching should do the same. And I clearly remember she said don't be complacent about teaching. Let that grow. every bit as much as you let your research grow. And in those early years, I used a textbook, for example, and now I haven't used a textbook since 2001.
5:10 Matt Waller: Something interesting about that, you know, I've heard professors say, Well, if the teaching evaluations are too high, the professor's making it too easy. And I know that's not true. You're an example. You get off the charts evaluations and your class is challenging. But the other thing about it is that I know, I mean, I've taught for a long time myself. And I know, the more organized you are, that the better you'll do on evaluations, period. But I know when you move away from a syllabus, it all of a sudden, gets more complicated. You have to do an even better job, a lot it people listening may not know that, but because they feel it's, it doesn't have enough structure to it, right? How do you overcome that?
6:03 Molly Rapert: So this is one of my favorite things about the class that I teach. And I've taught doctoral seminars I've taught in our MBA program, I've taught at the undergrad level in our core entry level classes, Freshmen Business Connections, Principles of Marketing, I wouldn't trade anything for teaching Marketing Management to graduating seniors. And it's for exactly the reason you said they come through a curriculum that's textbook based, and things are framed up for them. And within a semester, they're going into the real world where nothing is framed up. And there's not a textbook, there's not a test bank, there aren't resources, I feel that I'm a great transition to that environment. I have PowerPoint, articles and Instagram accounts, they have to read on LinkedIn, they have to post on LinkedIn, they have to watch videos of my students from the workplace, they have guest speakers. They have retail safaris, where they're out in the store, they do a project with a company, it is a flurry of chaos with the only commonality throughout 16 weeks is an enthusiasm for learning.
7:12 Matt Waller: Well I know, you teach Marketing Management and marketing management could be taught in a way to make it an easy class, but from what the students tell me, your class is extremely rigorous. And yet the students rate your class and you extremely highly, even though you make it very challenging. How do you do that?
7:38 Molly Rapert: I did have a student in my class A month ago that came into my office and he said, I hope I didn't cause a problem. But I just ran into the Dean, and he asked me how my day was. And I told him that I just took the hardest test of my college career in your class.
7:55 Matt Waller: I remember that. I forgot to mention that.
7:57 Molly Rapert: And he said, I hope that's not a problem. And I said, I take that as a compliment. I want my student getting an A in my class, I want that to mean something. So that when I go out to try and help place a student in a job, they know what it means to have earned an A in my class. So in that class, I just love tying it as closely to the corporate world as possible, or the nonprofit world, and really give the students a sense of what their world is going to look like. So for example, we were teaching branding, you can't have a marketing class without branding. And I taught several days of it. But then on the last day, I brought in Jeff Metzner. And I love the story because Jeff Metzner is not a UofA grad, he went to Cornell and to Yale, but he is willing to come into my class on occasion and teach branding, based on how he does branding at Procter and Gamble, one of arguably the world's greatest brand building companies. And so they I can build up the modules and then a person like Jeff Metzner comes in. And he brought in 20 products, he spread them across the front of the room, and he said, We're gonna play Boom or Bust, pick a product and tell me why it was a boom, or why it was a bust. And we talked for an hour and a half with the students and at the end, he wrote everything down on the board. And then he went back and circled key themes. And he said, At P&G, we pull insights, we generate ideas, and then we execute. And this cuts across every single product we just talked about.
9:35 Matt Waller: You're talking about branding. If people want to to design a water tower, they would get a civil engineer. But it's funny, you know, brands are more complicated than a water tower. And yet everyone feels qualified to manage the brand and design the brand. It is such a complicated topic.
10:03 Molly Rapert: It is.
10:04 Matt Waller: Is it hard to teach?
10:06 Molly Rapert: I think it's great fun to teach. My philosophy on branding is really driven a lot by Malcolm Gladwell, a great author. And he once said, people use the word brand. Like we use the word Africa. We say brand and it, you know, it really isn't simple. It consumes so many aspects of what we do in marketing and consumer behavior and psychology and life and the shelf and every aspect we could think of brand vision, brand stewardship, grand mission, brand, personality, etc. And he said, People throw that word out the same way we talk about Africa, as if it's a country, not a continent made up of individual countries, each of which has its own specific role to play. So he actually refuses to use the term brand.
10:57 Matt Waller: Is that right?
10:57 Molly Rapert: Because he thinks that we have, we try and make it too simple. And so I love teaching branding, because that list of things that I just mentioned, are all aspects that I can go out in industry, and find people to come in and give real examples of. I've got Sarah Hood, amazing storyteller with Twin Oaks, coming into my class next Tuesday. And she'll walk my students through how Jameson Whiskey uses storytelling to build their brand. Or it might be Heather Nelson, our Entrepreneur of the Year with Walton has spoken in my class before about their brand at Seal, and how they are so driven by legislation and public policy, they can't untangle themselves from it. And that's so different than if we're selling NyQuil at P&G. So, at Walton, how we teach or how I teach is by drawing in these executives that can help me show the complexity of the topic to a student.
12:05 Matt Waller: You know, when I first started teaching, as a teaching assistant back in the 80s, while I was in graduate school, I was really nervous about public speaking back then. It took me years to get over. But when I first started teaching, I thought, I'm never going to be able to be a good teacher, because I my fear keeps me from being humorous. And I'm not very engaging, should people go into teaching if those aren't their strengths?
12:41 Molly Rapert: So my worst grade on my transcript as an undergrad was public speaking. And I was actually in a fourth interview with the Kwik Trip Corporation in Tulsa, which was my dream job. I mean, Chester Caddo is just an icon in the marketing world, what he's done with convenience stores, and it was my hometown, and I made it to the fourth interview, and he said, you don't have the personality for this. You can't walk into a room and be engaging. And that really struck me because he was right, that I'm quiet and reserved, and I think and I observe. So when I had my first job offer to teach, I thought they, they're crazy. And Chuck Bilbrey, who was my department chair at James Madison, he was hiring me to teach four sections of STAT, back to back, 120 students each. And I can remember him saying to me, don't let this intimidate you. There are multiple paths to success. And you can be quiet, you can be loud, you can be funny. You can not. And you just have to be true to who you are. And Ro Di Brezzo gave me exactly that same advice when I started here. But I would have never imagined I'd ever feel comfortable in front of a class. But that's why, part of why I love the CTE is that I think we do have this mindset that you have to be charismatic, but I found my own way. It's unquiet. And I'm super organized, and I manage my time well, and I set a clear expectation, and somehow that works. And what I love about the CTE is that I don't always go out and pick out that engaging person to come in and do a workshop. I might be picking out somebody who is notoriously quiet and soft spoken, and introspective, and I can lift them up as a champion of teaching so that people like me sitting in the audience, understand that we can continue down our path of being who we are, and still find success.
14:59 Matt Waller: So basically, we just need to be authentic,
15:02 Molly Rapert: Authentic.
15:04 Matt Waller: And leverage our strengths.
15:06 Molly Rapert: Yes. As long as I'm staying true to what I can do, then I'm, it works out fine.
15:13 Matt Waller: What an interesting insight. Thank you for taking time to talk with me about the Center for Teaching Effectiveness.
15:21 Molly Rapert: Thank you, Matt. I know we've talked about a lot of subjects. But I hope the main takeaway that anyone listening is able to have from this conversation is that teaching gets lost at a lot of schools. And one of the great things about Walton is that we have deep resources. We're still though small enough to be like a family, and that we have an enormous number of faculty members who are living out the student centered part of our mission.
15:52 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The BeEPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us you can find current and past episodes by searching BeEPIC podcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now Be EPIC.