Dannals, Fisher, and Kyung Receive 2021 Tuck Teaching Excellence Awards

The Class of 2021 selected professors Jennifer Dannals, Peter Fisher, and Ellie Kyung for this year’s Teaching Excellence Awards.

The Tuck Class of 2021 has announced this year’s recipients of the annual Teaching Excellence Awards.

For teaching in the core curriculum, students chose Assistant Professor of Business Administration Jennifer Dannals, who co-teaches the Managing People course with Professor Daniel Feiler. In the elective curriculum, students for the first time selected two faculty members, “due to a combination of the vote totals, extensive praise for both faculty members, and the unprecedented nature of the remote and hybrid learning environment,” says Caleb Dorfman T’21, the academic representative for his class. They chose clinical professor Peter Fisher, who teaches The Arrhythmia of Finance, and Associate Professor Ellie Kyung, for her teaching in the research-to-practice seminar Time in the Consumer Mind.

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 their students, have made an outstanding contribution to the quality of the educational experience.” Each year, an academic representative from the graduating class surveys his or her classmates about their favorite teachers and meets with a committee to examine the comments and data and select the winners.

Our course tries to point out those natural biases towards certain behaviors and then gives some structure to thinking about when they’re acceptable and when you should go in a different direction.

Jennifer Dannals, who was named on Poets & Quants' best 40-under-40 professors list last year, has been at Tuck since 2018. She and fellow professor Dan Feiler designed Managing People two years ago, as part of the core curriculum review.  It starts in Tuck Launch and continues through the Summer Term.

“A lot of our natural human tendencies for managing and interacting with others in a workplace can be maladaptive,” Dannals says. “Our course tries to point out those natural biases towards certain behaviors and then gives some structure to thinking about when they’re acceptable and when you should go in a different direction.” For example, Dannals explains, we’re naturally conflict-averse, but sometimes conflict is necessary or even good for a team. Also, we’re naturally more likely to attribute outcomes to someone’s personality or fixed characteristics, so we don’t appreciate the situational factors involved. These over-arching themes cover many sessions, including motivation, decision-making and gender and racial biases.

The Class of 2021 completed Managing People in the fall of 2019. Here are a few of their comments about Dannals’ teaching:

Peter Fisher came to Tuck in 2013, after a career that took him from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to the U.S. Treasury and to BlackRock. In that time, he hired and mentored many MBAs and found that they rarely came equipped to read a balance sheet and to understand what he calls “the deeper meaning of double-entry bookkeeping.” The Arrhythmia of Finance is the course he designed to fill in those gaps which, as the syllabus explains, aims “to provide you with the opportunity to develop and practice analytic skills (principally non-quantitative) that can help you better understand the sources of volatility in financial asset prices: why the heartbeat of finance appears to be irregular.” Fisher breathes life into that question through class sessions such as “What is the role of chance in your life—and in history,” “Why do you think that?”, “What is money and who says so?”, “What makes capitalism go?” and readings that range from Tolstoy and Kahneman to Keynes and Warren Buffet. A friend recently observed that he was teaching “completeness,” and Fisher agrees. To understand the subtleties of risk and money, Fisher invokes a range of disciplines: accounting, economics, corporate finance, business strategy, epistemology and probability, just to name a few.

“This is the course I imagined I would teach,” Fisher says, “but it took me a few years to get it into the zip code that I wanted. The students have been both helpful and wonderful.  I have learned a great deal.”

Here are some comments from Fisher’s students, who took the course last fall:

From the very first session of Ellie Kyung’s course Time in the Consumer Mind, Kyung aims to disabuse students of the notion that time is just an objective number they might see expressed as the exponent “t” in an equation. “There are so many psychological mechanisms in how we think about time, including how it’s subjective, how it affects your decision-making, and how you use it as a resource,” Kyung says. Kyung leads the students through this theme with sessions on avoiding regret, intertemporal choice and temporal discounting, mental accounting, priming, and time’s role in their own life goals, among others.

It’s a nice opportunity for students to see what it is we do as researchers and really dive into one topic and introduce them to a new way of thinking. … I want them to be constructive skeptics.

The research-to-practice (RTP) seminar is the perfect format to explore these ideas, because the class size is small (14 or so) and each session is three hours, allowing plenty of time for deep conversations and reflection. A central component of RTPs—there are roughly 10 of them offered at Tuck—is to teach students about the knowledge creation process by way of reading academic papers. The objective is not just to develop knowledge about the subject area, but also to discuss experimental design, data collection, and empirical evidence. “Students have to want to dive in and read these papers and engage,” Kyung says. “It’s a nice opportunity for students to see what it is we do as researchers and really dive into one topic and introduce them to a new way of thinking.”

Beyond the implications of the subjective nature of time, Kyung hopes to teach her students to see the limitations and possibilities of data. As managers, students will one day have to make business decisions with imperfect information. They could reject and criticize that information, but the better approach, Kyung says, is to determine what conclusions they can draw from the evidence they have, and then to figure out what additional data they might need to make a better decision. “I want them to be constructive skeptics,” she says.

According to Kyung, it is really the Tuck students who make a class like this possible. It is not easy to learn to read, let alone discuss in depth, academic papers in just one quarter. This year’s students had to be flexible with a hybrid format. “In spite of the challenges that this year posed, everyone was willing to really dig in. It was an amazing experience for me to have that time with them. What I will miss when I leave Tuck is, without question, the students,” she says.

Kyung taught Time in the Consumer Mind last winter. Here are some comments from her students: