Thursday, March 21, 2013

Helping Students Connect Their Work With God's Work

Teresa Gillespie made some time for me today in her busy schedule. It was great to get caught up with her as we chatted in her office. 

Teresa serves as Dean of the School of Business and Management at Northwest University. She began her career as a school teacher on her home turf in the public schools of Los Angeles. Her pursuits then led her to the University of Washington to study law, and then to a 17-year career as a corporate attorney for US West.  She began to teach as an adjunct at Northwest in 2000 and then joined the faculty as a full-time professor in 2006. In 2008 she was promoted to serve as Dean, leading the business faculty, administering the University’s business curricula, and building new programs. 

In reflecting on her career she said, “I never expected to serve as Dean of a business school, but I can see that the Lord used my experience to thoroughly prepare me.” Her background and experience in teaching provides valuable tools she shares with her colleagues on the faculty. Her career at US West occurred during a time of constant, rapid change as the communications industry was being rebuilt and redefined as the Internet was taking hold. And her solid grounding in faith gave her the skills to integrate faith with life and work; the kind of integration that is unique to a place like Northwest. 

I asked her about what works when teaching students about work and calling. What seems to land with students as she and her colleagues endeavor to help students connect their work with God’s work?  

One of her teaching and research interests lies in the field of business ethics. She explained how she recently reworked her whole approach to the topic (an approach she’ll be presenting to peers at an academic conference in the coming months).  

She had been teaching courses in the tried and true ways, reviewing philosophies and evaluating case studies. There was one specific episode that stood out to her as a turning point. A graduate student turned in a paper that was part of a capstone course focused on business ethics in which the student needed to evaluate an ethical dilemma according to the philosophies and processes presented in the course. Teresa said, “The paper was an accomplished example of thorough analysis. But the problem was that the student arrived at the wrong conclusion… disappointingly justifying a self-serving decision.”  In this case, the professor took this as an opportunity to not merely assess the student’s performance, but courageously asses her own performance.

Now her approach includes leading her students to
  • Establish and adhere to codes and creeds,
  • Identify and emulate heroes (role models), and 
  • Anticipate and prepare for tough decisions and ethical crisis (practice).
She acquainted me with the MBA Oath, a movement that binds MBA graduates and students to each other and to higher ethical standards. Codes and creeds like this serve as a basis for students and professors to call one another to high standards; it is a new call to integrity and accountability that results in greater good.  

This approach is landing well with students, resulting in productive conversations and work. Teresa is seeing evidence that this new approach is making a difference.  

From my perspective as an MBA graduate, I’m impressed. It seems that such an approach steers students away from the selfish ambition that has been common among business students to a focus on stewardship.    

Way to go Teresa for your efforts to help students connect their work with God’s work!

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