Here’s something I learned at a recent information session for working professionals who are interested in teaching a class or two at the Sam M. Walton College of Business: You don’t have to take your students on a canoe trip down the Buffalo River, but it’s always an option.
That’s not all I learned, of course. But it made the list. And the list was long.
Brent Williams, associate dean for executive education and outreach, provided an overview of the Walton College’s strategy for using guest lecturers to teach courses and the nuts and bolts of how it works. A panel of three veteran guest lecturers then answered questions about their experiences.
Around 50 people signed up to attend the session, including me. But unlike the others, I showed up mostly because I was interested in writing about it. So, if the idea of teaching a class or two at the Walton College sounds both interesting and frightening to you but you couldn’t attend the session, I’ve got you covered.
Why guest lecturers matter to the Walton College
When the School of Business Administration launched at the University of Arkansas in 1926, Sam Walton was a wee lad of eight years old living in Missouri. There were 21 students in the college that eventually would take his name, and the four faculty members pretty much had things covered.
The surrounding business community, meanwhile, was mostly a modest collection of merchants, service providers, farmers, and ranchers. The combined populations of Washington and Benton counties were around 70,000 people, and the pool of experts was a bit shallow.
Today, location is a tremendous competitive advantage for the Walton College. The population has soared to more than half-a-million people in the region and the business community is thriving. In addition to “the big three” of Walmart, J.B. Hunt, and Tyson Foods, Northwest Arkansas has hundreds of vendors who work with Walmart, a vibrant entrepreneurial scene, and a growing reputation for expertise and innovation in supply chains, health care, and the arts.
The Walton College, meanwhile, now has eight departments with more than 7,000 undergraduate students. A full-time faculty of tenure/tenure-track professors, teaching professors, and instructors teach most of the courses. The professors usually have a Ph.D. and conduct research; the full-time instructors, meanwhile, may have an advanced degree like an MBA or Ph.D. but most typically bank on their business backgrounds for their expertise.
Guest lecturers complement the full-time faculty by filling specific needs departments have with experts who are working full-time in other jobs. They bring real and current business experiences to the classroom, and that practical component is a huge value in the courses they teach.
Why teaching at the Walton College might matter to you
It was Jason Fowler, a CPA who teaches accounting courses, who mentioned the occasional float trips on the Buffalo with his students. The trips were a great way to connect with students, he said, while adding value beyond the classroom, especially for the ones who grew up surrounded by steel, brick, and glass, not rivers, trees, and majestic bluffs.
The other two panelists – Lee Anne Mills of Walmart and Charles Dietrich of J.B. Hunt – haven’t gone on float trips with students, but they related to the theme of adding value to the lives of students. If one reason rose above all others for why they teach, it was the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of students.
Teaching a course or two each semester also added variety to the routines of their lives, helped them learn the subjects they were teaching at a deeper level, and sharpened them professionally because it taught them to be better organized, better public speakers, and better leaders. It also put them in a position to help recruit top talent to their respective organizations.
What you need to know
I am a list guy, so, of course, I took notes during the presentation and made a list of seven things you might need to know if you are thinking about teaching a class for the Walton College:
1. Guest lecturers typically teach established courses. They don’t have to create the content, just apply their personal expertise, stories, and style to the course materials.
2. Class sizes vary. A class with 50 students isn’t uncommon, and a few classes have as many as 200 students.
3. Guest lecturers should be prepared to invest several hours per week beyond the time they spend in the classroom. They have office hours to meet with students, which can be in person or virtually, and they need to prep and handle some administrative duties. The prep time decreases each time you teach the same class, but it never fully goes away.
4. Some guest lecturers teach online-only courses. While that reduces the time commitment, the panelists all seemed to enjoy the face-to-face interactions with students and other faculty.
5. You’ll need the support of your company because teaching, even if your class is online or in the evenings, will take some time away from your work. The value to employers is that you will be better at your job, you will be connected to future talent and other experts, and you will be serving your community. All the panelists said they were supported by their employers and one, Dietrich, started teaching because his supervisor at the time recommended him.
6. There’s an application process through the university, but the best place to start is by identifying the subject matter you feel best equipped to teach and then talking to the appropriate department head. If there’s a need and a fit, they will help you navigate the process.
7. The Walton College is working out the details for an executive education workshop it will offer at the end of the summer to provide detailed training for guest lecturers. The college also plans to offer quarterly events that will cover topics like creative ways to engage students, drafting a course syllabus, managing course discussions, and how to prepare for final exams.
So, there it is. No excuses. And remember: Paddles and life vests are optional.