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"Under their leadership, our faculty and staff across all of our programs have really spearheaded and supported our initiatives during this time. I was never concerned whether our team was going to do the right thing for students. They are committed to our students’ success, and no matter the obstacle, they will find a way." — Stan Harris, Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs
Stan Harris is a leader, an educator, and a motivator. As Associate Dean for Harbert College’s Graduate and International Programs and Luck Professor, he oversees the college’s four MBA programs and works with faculty and staff to ensure students receive a high-quality educational experience. Learn more about Stan and the college’s MBA programs here:
What motivates you to inspire our students and play an integral role in molding tomorrow’s business leaders?
Stan Harris: I am lucky that I get to teach and champion leadership, change and ethics in our programs. If you interact well with others and are empathetic and motivating – then that helps you personally and professionally. It helps your co-workers. It helps your boss. It helps your subordinates. It helps your loved ones and children. It helps all of those around you be more positive, supportive and more successful. I want to inspire people to be the best they can be in their interactions with other people. That does not always have to be in the world of work, but it certainly is a big part. I have an opportunity in my position to help people and influence their lives positively in all domains.
As an administrator, you have an opportunity to influence your staff and those who teach. In this role, how do you ensure they are giving students the quality education they deserve under the odd circumstances we face?
Stan Harris: When you have faculty members and staff like I do who are committed to our mission and vision of providing students with a high-quality transformational educational experience, then you give those faculty and staff the creative leeway and resources to be able to accomplish this in whatever environment they find themselves. The teaching pivot required in March 2020 in response to the pandemic was relatively straightforward for us. We have been providing online education for years in our graduate programs and have one of the oldest distance MBA programs in the world. Our Executive, Physicians Executive and Master of Real Estate Development programs all utilize a hybrid approach that marries distance learning with periodic in-person residencies. In short, we’re used to providing a great remote learning experience. For us, it was not that big of a leap to translate what we were doing in the classroom to a remote audience. We used our experience to make the remote learning as engaging as possible during Spring and Summer semesters.
However, when Fall rolled around, the faculty members in our full-time MBA program decided with the incoming cohort to figure out a way to offer this in an environment where the students can be together, bond and see each other – but safely. To this end, we reconfigured the Broadway Event and Space Theater, a large, auditorium-style venue in Horton-Hardgrave Hall, to safely accommodate our new MBA class together for their courses, and that’s made a huge difference. Of course, those students uncomfortable with attending live were given options to watch recordings of the courses.
We have great faculty across our MBA programs. Wonderful educators like Keven Yost, Mark Clark, Brian Vansant, for example now serve as faculty directors of the programs. Our programs also have wonderful staff supporting and managing them led by Kim Kuerten and Jim Parrish. Under their leadership, our faculty and staff across all of our programs have really spearheaded and supported our initiatives during this time. I was never concerned whether our team was going to do the right thing for students. They are committed to our students’ success, and no matter the obstacle, they will find a way.
How do our graduate programs stand out above other peer institutions?
Stan Harris: Our long history of providing distance/remote education stands out. Particularly within our executive and online programs in the graduate programs at the Harbert College, we are focused on maximizing student flexibility and convenience. What that means is … almost everything we do is designed to be consumed by the student asynchronously. Students don’t have to be in front of a computer at a particular time. We build in other opportunities for connectivity. From the get-go, we have tried to focus on maximizing learning within the Auburn graduate program experience in a flexible environment. Even before COVID, we were set up to do this. We designed the program this way so we could reach more students across and country and we wanted to provide opportunities that fit with their personal and professional demands. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to step out of a job to pursue a graduate degree full-time and face-to-face. Another nice thing about making it possible for working professionals to earn a degree while maintaining their careers is that they can immediately apply the lessons they learn to make their jobs and organizations better.
Describe your feelings when students graduate from the program.
Stan Harris: It sends shivers up my spine just to think about the sacrifices many of our students have made. Some leave jobs to spend two years earning an MBA. Many others continued to work full-time. The level of commitment is different for different groups, but it’s all inspiring to me.
Our students have so much going on and I feel so happy for them when they graduate. I know their loved ones are relieved that they’re not going to be studying every night. Hopefully, their children have learned that, ‘Hey, if Mom or Dad can study hard, I can too.’ It’s so inspiring they have made all of these choices and finally succeeded, and I am proud of the small role in helping.
What kind of impact do you want to make on people?
Stan Harris: I want people not to take themselves so seriously and realize you can get a lot done and make big differences while having a good time doing it. You can help other people, have a good time in life and be successful. Hopefully, I’ve been able to make things for our students and faculty a bit more lighthearted and fun.
Speaking of lighthearted and fun, many of us have hobbies. Yours is a large collection of guitars – and enough talent to play them. Please elaborate.
Stan Harris: I’ve always wanted to be a rocker sort of person and dreamed of being on the stage. I’ve always loved music and singing. In graduate school, Nancy, my wife, bought me a guitar for my birthday and I took a few lessons. Years ago, I had the opportunity to play with three of our PhD students and they taught me a lot. Now, I play with a few friends or just on my own. One of my greatest joys in life is playing music with my two sons. John is 30 and a management professor at Georgia Southern and plays a mean guitar. Daniel (27) is a digital media specialist in Arizona and a wonderful drummer. The neighbors always know when they are in town because the house is rockin’. I buy guitars better than I play them; I think I have about 23 guitars. I’d have to count – but they’re all functional works of art; Just like our students here in our graduate programs.