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November 25, 2015

Higher Education

Graduate-level MBA Professors Share Real World Experience

In the classroom, professors make good use of their real world experiences.

Janet Ware | 2/28/2014

Instructors of graduate-level courses in accounting, finance, management, marketing, economics, global strategies and other relevant topics in MBA programs in Florida are likely these days to bring as much, if not more, on the- job experience as academic credentials into their classrooms.

Does that matter? Yes, according to the following six professors and one dean, all of whom have plenty to say about the value of sharing "war stories" from the real world with students pursuing business degrees.

Seema Pissaris, Ph.D.
Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship
College of Business
Florida International University, Miami

Seema Pissaris didn't plan to be a teacher. She entered her first classroom as an instructor after 15 years in business and, even then, only because she had to.

A seasoned entrepreneur who parlayed the reselling of used video games into a multimillion- dollar distribution network that included the likes of Kmart and Walmart, Pissaris returned to college purely as an investment in herself. On the brink of completing her Ph.D. at Florida Atlantic University, she learned of one final requirement: She would have to teach a class. Consumed with her many volunteering and consulting activities, she didn't welcome that news.

Delivering her first lesson directly from the textbook, Pissaris paused; she heard what her students were hearing — a litany of dull, dry facts — and she stopped. "It was a surface-level view, no nuances or complexities," she recalls. And no one seemed remotely interested.

So she put the book away and began to talk about her experiences as a first-time vendor for Kmart and about the difficulties she had getting credit at first. The students came alive. "I realized then that I could teach by telling them what it's really like out there. I became completely engaged with the students, and they saw my enthusiasm. It was the most fun I'd had in a long time."

Today, as a professor of entrepreneurship at FIU, Pissaris continues to share real- world stories and encourages students to make a difference in the world. In 2013, she helped coordinate a team of FIU engineering and business students to develop and market Eye talker, eyeglasses that read to the blind.

"I tell my students, ‘You don't have to make a choice between making money and making a difference; you can do both.' When I see them embracing that concept, I know I've made the world a better place. That's what I teach for."

Pissaris: My Experience with Kmart

"I had convinced Kmart to test the concept of selling refurbished, discounted video games at a few local stores, and the trial was a huge success. The games few off the shelves. Kmart immediately wanted to roll out across North America and gave me just three months to do it. I didn't have the millions in cash flow needed to buy, refurbish and ship such a large order, and no lender was willing to gamble that kind of money on a novice entrepreneur and her equally novice business concept. So I found a bootstrapping solution. I asked Kmart to pay me quicker — a lot quicker than their standard 60 days. I explained that if they paid me within three days of each delivery, I could fill a few stores at a time and roll out the expansion over 12 months. The buyer laughed and said that in Kmart's entire history no vendor had ever received payment that fast. Ever. But I persisted — and became Kmart's first vendor to be paid in three days. Within 12 months, every Kmart across North America was selling used video games."

Carl Pacini, Ph.D., J.D., CPA
Associate Professor, Program of Accountancy
College of Business
University of South Florida St. Petersburg

That Carl Pacini spent 12 years in the banking industry as a loan officer and auditor prior to earning his Ph.D. is a plus for students enrolled in auditing and forensic accounting classes at USF St. Petersburg. When Pacini shares tales of approving commercial loans, overseeing the sale of foreclosed properties and auditing everything from a wholesale bakery distributor to publicly traded companies, they listen.

"Students in my auditing classes have to learn a lot of terminology, especially as it pertains to things like loan covenants," says Pacini. "But what I find is that until I bring up an example from my real-world experience, they don't really know what these things are. I have a practical working knowledge of audits from my banking days, and so I can tell them what they need to know."

The desire to pass along that kind of knowledge is the primary reason Pacini left banking for academia. While still working full time in the Orlando area, he had served as an adjunct professor at several colleges, including Valencia, Florida Southern and UCF. "I loved teaching, but I knew if I wanted to do it full time, I'd have to earn a Ph.D." So he quit cold turkey and headed for Florida State University. After academic stints at Georgia Southern, Florida Gulf Coast and Penn State universities, he joined the USF faculty in 2012.

"I love being around people who are anywhere from their 20s to 50s, who are intellectually curious, driven by wanting to achieve career goals and who have widely different work experiences. I love to see all that interaction in a classroom."

Tags: Education

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