The Oklahoma State University Department of Management has continued to hire what it calls professors of professional practice, also known as PoPPs, in recent years.
These professors were brought to OSU because of their practical experience in the management sector.
Stephanie Royce, who is the department’s most recently hired professor of professional practice, said her prior experience gives students an idea of what they will be doing once they graduate.
“I think it brings reality into the classroom,” Royce said. “I think it enhances the student experience because (professors of professional practice) have real-world experiences. Rather than speaking hypothetically, I can give real-world examples.”
Professors of professional practice are different from the normal tenure-track research professors universities employ.
The department has continued to add these professors because they are able to focus on building relationships with the students rather than focusing on research and publishing papers.
Bryan Finch, who is also the director of the sports management institute at Spears School of Business, said when he was first looking for employment in higher education, there was no tenure track for sports management professors.
“You just had to apply for what there was,” Finch said. “There wasn’t even a program when I applied; they had one class and they didn’t even know what they were doing with it.”
Finch has built the sports management program from the ground up through his time at OSU. He has taught classes such as advanced sports management and international sports management. These classes allowed Finch to build relationships with students who now are working in professional sports.
Jennifer Coonce, who previously worked in management for companies such as Dolce Vita and UBS Financial Services Wealth Management, said she didn’t know the department was looking for a PoPP when she decided to move from New York City back to Stillwater. She found out about the job while at a fundraising lunch with Ken Eastman, the dean of Spears School of Business.
“One of the things he mentioned was that they were hiring people who have extensive industry experience to come back and be solely focused on the students and the community,” Coonce said.
Coonce added that building those relationships with students is the most important aspect overall.
“It’s easy to have blinders on and say, ‘Here’s the course, and this is how the world works,’” Coonce said. “But when you really step out into industry, it's a much more complicated craze. I think that providing the perspective to students is to give them skills, and one of those skills is to be able to deal with the unpredictable.”
Professors of professional practice make up a small but growing number of professors in the Spears School of Business, as well as in many schools around the country.
Although Royce, Finch and Coonce see the benefit of having more professors of professional practice, they recognize that tenure-track research professors are always needed as well.
“If we don’t have the people doing the research and validating what’s going on in the workplace, then professors of professional practice don’t have a foundation, they’re just giving opinions,” Coonce said. “It’s definitely a team approach because I can tell stories all day long, but without the research, my experience may have just been a one-off.”