Molly Rapert has occupied the same office in the Walton College for 32 years. However, if not for a series of chance encounters, a forged cover letter and a leap of faith, her life, along with the lives of countless Walton students, would have been very different.
Molly grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and attended the University of Arkansas as an undergrad and graduate student. During her time as a graduate student, working in the then College of Business Administration, Molly came to know many of the professors as colleagues, many of which occupied the offices down the hall from her current space.
She had no dreams of going into academia and in 1986 she started a job as a data analyst back in Tulsa. Not long after that, however, Molly got one of those fateful phone calls that started a chain reaction with shockwaves still felt today.
A man had called to inform her that she was the finalist for a job teaching statistics at James Madison University in Virginia, though she never even applied for the job. The man on the phone was adamant that she was the Molly whose application was in front of him. The man on the phone said the application was accompanied with a letter of recommendation from George Wynn, a former Walton College professor, saying “She is meant to teach; she just doesn’t know it yet.”
Two weeks later, Molly leapt off the edge, moved to Virginia to become a teacher and never looked back.
However, that phone call and the leap of faith are only part of the story. A chance encounter in an elevator would forever change the trajectory of her life yet again.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and Molly was leaving a conference for the airport to catch a flight to Kentucky where she had recently accepted a new teaching position. As she was exiting an elevator, Tom Jensen, her former marketing professor, stepped on. They recognized each other. “Didn’t I have you in class?” he said. At that moment, they reconnected and Molly let him know that her long-term goal was to end up at her alma mater, the University of Arkansas. He said they didn’t have any openings at the time but would keep her in mind.
The next day a professor gave Tom notice he was leaving, which created an opening in the marketing department. Molly was Tom’s first call and now, 32 years later, their offices are across the hall from each other.
Molly sees and recognizes that the mentors in her life looked out for her, lifted her up and gave her the encouragement to soar. She has in turn been able to give back in the same way to a new generation of students. “I need to dig deep to figure out what each student is about, because George Wynn was willing to dig deep and figure out what I was about,” Molly said. “I carry it forward every day.”
Molly is the cheering fan of all who step into her classroom. She has an energy that makes others feel like they can achieve whatever they set their minds to. “I fell in love with the idea that, for me, you can see something for a student that they can’t see. My life was changed dramatically. I would not have married my husband. I would not have four kids. The dominoes would not have fallen.”
Molly recognizes that each of her students has untapped capabilities. She sees it as her mission to help the dominoes fall, much like they did for her, so her students can realize their fullest potential.
When asked what she loves about working at the University of Arkansas, Molly reiterated the mission she feels called to, “I love that we are a state university with people from all walks of life and all of our names are etched in stone together. I want to make this a worthwhile experience for my students because their name is going to be in the sidewalks right next to mine."
When not in the classroom, Molly serves as the director of the Walton College of Business Center for Teaching Effectiveness. She wants the legacy she leaves at the Walton College and University of Arkansas as being a tenured faculty member who cared about teaching and worked to uplift other faculty so they can be the most effective teachers.
Molly received her Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Memphis and has received numerous awards and recognition for her contributions to the academic careers of countless students and their education at the Walton College.
If you’ve interacted with Molly at all, in class or otherwise, then you know this to be true, “I have the world's best job exactly where I want to be working. This is home.”