Two MBA profs win Schulich teaching awards

Business Professors Mary Waller and Atipol Bhanich Supapol are prouder and richer after their students voted to give them the Seymour Schulich Awards for Teaching Excellence this year. 

Waller received the $15,000 first prize and Bhanich Supapol, the $10,000 second prize at the master of business administration (MBA) formal and awards gala dinner on March 28. Each of the other 24 nominees received $500 in this annual student-led contest sponsored by philanthropist Seymour Schulich. The teaching prizes are considered among the richest in North America.

Of 26 nominees, the two MBA professors came out on top after nine days of online voting by students in March. Winning is based on the percentage of a professor’s current students who vote for him or her.  

Waller (right) teaches and researches team dynamics. At the American and European universities where she taught before coming to York two years ago, she won research awards and was nominated for but never won any teaching awards. To win this one “feels great,” says Waller, who teaches a course on managing team dynamics to a class of 26 this year. “I’m still in shock. It was a big surprise. I didn’t think I had a chance.” 

Waller has been teaching since 1995, when she earned her PhD in organizational behaviour, but York is the first university where she has completely designed and delivered her own course material. That’s made a difference to her teaching but so have her students, she says. “These students are so much more different than any other MBA students I’ve ever taught,” she says. “They don’t look at the degree as just a rubber stamp to get the job they want. I don’t get, ‘Is this going to be on the exam?’ I get questions like, ‘How can I apply this?’ They really try to deeply understand a lot of the concepts."

“And they treat each other with more courtesy and respect,” says Waller. “I get the fallout from that. I’m treated better and I feel really good about teaching. They also have more work experience they bring to the classroom. It’s just a good match. I don’t really think I’ve changed my teaching style, I just have an audience that’s receptive.”

What is she going to do with the $15,000? Fix up the 150-year-old house she and her partner just bought near Orangeville.

Bhanich Supapol (left) teaches managerial economics and has been nominated many times for this award since he joined York in 1989. “Being nominated has always been an honour,” says the former Thai banker, who teaches about 90 students this year. “Really to win is nice. It’s the ultimate form of appreciation, especially considering the time and effort students have to make in the middle of midterms to complete a nomination, each of which requires five support letters and 10 signatures."

“The best learning environment is one where students are relaxed,” says Bhanich Supapol. Teaching is not just imparting knowledge, he says. “What’s important is interaction and building a relationship with students.” He encourages students to participate and prefers an informal atmosphere.

What will Bhanich Supapol do with $10,000? Pay down his debts!

At the gala, a five-minute video made by the graduating class of 2010 briefly stole the spotlight from the teaching award winners. Produced by MBA student Elliot Grundmanis and called Schulich State of Mind, it features students and faculty – even Dean Dezsö Horváth – rapping and literally singing the praises of York’s world-ranking business school, “where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do.” See it here: 

This year’s nominees included 12 other MBA instructors: Wade Cook, Joe Fayt, Stephen Friedman, Ingo Holzinger, Douglas Kong, Ashley Konson, Robert Kozinets, Fred Lazar, Jane MacNaughton, Dean Neu, Steve Pulver and Michael Rochon; and 12 bachelor of business administration instructors: Jean Adams, Sammy Bonsu, Elizabeth Farrell, George Klar, Peter Macdonald, Alan Marshall, Tom Medcof, John Milne, Marshall Rice, Theo Tolias, David Weitzner and Diane Zorn.

A special March issue of The Insider, the business school’s student newspaper, highlighted why students nominated professors for the award.