Five questions for a professor who loves to teach


Professor Brad Shrader captures the attention of students in his Management 377 class. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

It's safe to say that Brad Shrader has impacted hundreds -- probably thousands -- of Iowa State students since he set foot on campus in 1984, the same year the College of Business was founded. Whether he's introducing undergrads to competitive business strategies or challenging MBA students to consider business ethics and professional responsibility as well as profit margins, Shrader enjoys watching students learn. Even with multiple titles and honors tied to his name, he is -- first and foremost -- a teacher.

The basics

Name: Charles Bradley Shrader (he prefers Brad)

Position: Morrill Professor and University Professor in the department of management, Ralph and Jean Eucher Faculty Fellow

Time at ISU: 32 years

Is teaching your job or your passion?

Yes and yes.

When did you first think about becoming a teacher?

I began my career as a consultant. I worked for a small boutique firm and I did fine. But in the back of my mind I always thought I'd really like to go for a Ph.D. The ambition nowadays for the Ph.D. isn't necessarily always to teach. It's also for research, certainly in business.

When I was 18, I served a two-year Mormon mission. Quite frankly, that changed me, it fundamentally did. I had to learn to stand for something and I had plenty of opportunities to teach and plenty of opportunities to get rejected. As part of that, the feedback I received as a missionary was this sense that I should be a teacher. Prior to that I had no clue what I wanted to do. Just none. That was the life event that changed it for me. It was, "You better grow up, you better figure out what's important." It's people that are important. That was the light going on.

You talk about teaching as a moral obligation. What do you mean?

Sometimes you hear faculty talk about a teaching load. Load. Remember that song that says, "Take a load off, Annie (some say Fanny)?" It's like a burden. I don't want to be heavy about that, but it's an interesting way to put it. A teaching load. It's something I have to do to let me have time to do what I really want to do. But can I take my own agenda into the classroom and somehow make it work seamlessly with the bigger agenda of teaching? It seems to me that's how you should go about it.  

I remember when I was in a doctoral consortium, I went to an Academy of Management meeting and sat at the feet of the great names in management. I remember a guy named Don Hambrick, who is at Penn State, and he basically said, "Look, teaching and service are part of the deal." That statement stuck with me. If I view teaching as painful, as a load, as root canal work, that's not going to go. Why not make it into something interesting, provocative, upbeat and relevant, and that energizes research also? I would guess that most faculty who are perceived as good teachers operate that way. There's a sense of caring. I'm here because I like being here, I want to be here. I want this to be uplifting and positive, rather than drudgery.

What keeps you motivated after 30-plus years?

It's a variety of things. Students really do. Iowa State students are great. The Iowa State kid that sits in a classroom is a good person at heart. The other thing, on a selfish note, is I've just been blindsided by awards. I've had no thought or clue or hope or inkling about the awards I've won. When something good happens in the context of work, and it's on top of all the other good things, you're thinking, what did I do to merit this? I used to teach MBA classes during the summers at Tulane University (New Orleans). I was there during Katrina. My Katrina cohort in the Tulane MBA was very small, about 20. When I left, we had dinner together. I had a really good experience with that group and I still remember many of them. A couple of months later, I'm sitting at home and I get a phone call and it's the head of the MBA program at Tulane. He says, "You've won one of our teaching awards." I had no clue. I didn't even know they had awards. All I'm saying is when you're rewarded for something, it's this connection that enhances the idea that yes, I was doing it right. It's an incredible, pleasant surprise.

What advice do you have for new faculty members?

Try to find joy and meaning in the three parts of faculty work -- teaching, service and research. Most people enjoy their research, they like being published. There is a beauty and exhilaration to doing research. When you do a study and the analysis, and up on the screen pops the results, you're the first person in the world to know that. That's exhilarating. But also find that in teaching and service. I think we are developing a two-tiered system in academe: Those who teach and serve, and those who just do their own thing. I'm not sure that's sustainable. I think this institution is blessed with a lot of people who are committed to teaching and service. This is a special place.