Blanchard, Sundaram Selected for 2016 Teaching Excellence Awards

The professors were praised for their expertise, passion for teaching, and their ability to make classroom sessions fun and relevant.

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The professors were praised for their expertise, passion for teaching, and their ability to make classroom sessions fun and relevant.

Most people would be hard pressed to articulate a succinct ethos that guides their professional work. Not Tuck associate professor Emily Blanchard. “Above all, I want everyone to think clearly, ask questions carefully, and demand data,” she said recently. Then she added, with her trademark sense of humor, “it’s not okay to just make stuff up.”

For the past five years, Blanchard, a specialist in international economics and policy, has imprinted those values on the MBA students in her course Global Economics for Managers (GEM). And her students clearly appreciate it, because the Class of 2016 has selected Blanchard for this year’s Teaching Excellence Award for a core course. “Professor Blanchard is not only a leading expert in her field,” commented one student, “she artfully balances the acts of lecturing, coaching, and championing students in their individual learning journeys.”

Students had equal praise for visiting professor of business administration Anant Sundaram, who received the 2016 Teaching Excellence Award for his teaching in the elective courses Corporate Valuation and Business and Climate Change. “Professor Sundaram combines his expertise and passion for teaching in one of the most compelling and engaging ways at Tuck,” said a student. “His ability to make finance and corporate valuation accessible to an incredibly diverse group of students is admirable.”

The Teaching Excellence Awards were set up by the Class of 2011 “to celebrate the learning environment at Tuck by honoring the faculty who, in the eyes of the students, have made an outstanding contribution to the quality of the educational experience.” The awards are given each year to two professors—one who teaches a core course, and another who teaches an elective—chosen by the graduating class.

Blanchard has been teaching international economics since well before the 2008 global financial crisis. Back then, when she was at the University of Virginia, students sometimes questioned the day-to-day relevance of studying the mechanisms that undergird the global economy. That all changed with the U.S. housing market collapse, bank failures, and subsequent European economic crisis. Today, students and managers are acutely aware of the importance of linkages between countries and industries in a hyper-connected global economy.  Actions by governments and businesses anywhere in the world can (and often do) have global consequences that touch every level of the business landscape. Now, Blanchard said, “no one needs convincing that all of this matters.”

Every session in Blanchard’s course, which she co-teaches in close partnership with Andrew Bernard, the Jack Byrne Professor of International Economics, combines concept and application. Students are given weekly memorandums on readings, which are typically a chapter from their textbook, written specifically for GEM, and articles from The Economist, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or the Financial Times. Blanchard describes her classroom style as “highly interactive lectures,” and she frequently calls on students to answer questions or discuss issues. “I have high expectations, and I think the students like that,” she said. Ultimately, her goal is to give everyone basic fluency in understanding the global macro economy—what governments do, what central banks do, and how managers can respond. Because the world is complex, there’s rarely a single right answer, “but there are plenty of wrong ones,” she said with a grin. “I view GEM as giving students the tools they need to identify bad answers.”

For Sundaram, who has been teaching corporate finance, valuation, and governance for more than 30 years, and pioneered a course on business and climate change, the key to a productive set of classes is to bring students together in the first session to discuss a simple question that guides future learning. For example, in Corporate Valuation, he begins by asking what finance is all about. “It leads to a very rich discussion,” he said, “and I try to bring it down to the point that when you strip away a lot of the complications, a great deal of what goes on in finance is understanding what is a fair price to pay or value to place on an object we call an asset.” The question is important, because managers have to write a check today for the asset based solely on their expectations of the uncertain cash flows it can produce for us in the future. Sundaram explains to his students that everyone approaches this circumstance with the same preferences: more wealth rather than less, less risk rather than more, and cash flows sooner rather than later. “In shorthand terms,” he said, “greed, fear, and impatience. And if we can agree on that, pretty much everything we’re going to talk about in the next 17 sessions falls into place.”

When asked how Tuck’s unique learning environment facilitates their excellent teaching, Blanchard and Sundaram agree that it has a lot to do with the students. “I think that Tuck students are different and special as a group,” Blanchard said. “They seem to have this incredible intellectual curiosity. They’re hungry for conversations about the world and their place in it.” Similarly, Sundaram cited his students’ “superb” work ethic. “They’re looking for rigor and relevance, and I’m happy to be able to give them that,” he said.

As has become the tradition, Blanchard and Sundaram, as the recipients of the Teaching Excellence Awards, will deliver the “Last Lecture” on Friends and Family Day on Friday, June 10. Previous winners of the Class of 2011 Teaching Excellence Award include Praveen Kopalle, Signal Companies Professor of Management and associate dean for the MBA Program; Daniel Feiler, assistant professor of business administration; Giovanni Gavetti, associate professor of business administration; Chris Trimble, adjunct associate professor of business administration; Andrew King, professor of business administration; Scott Neslin, Albert Wesley Frey Professor of Marketing; Matthew J. Slaughter, the Paul Danos Dean of the Tuck School and the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business; Joseph Hall, visiting professor of business administration; Phillip Stocken, professor of accounting; and Ron Adner, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship.