Professor Mary Conran has been a staple of the Fox School community for nearly three decades. Even before earning her BBA in 1979 and MBA in 1981, Conran was a member of the Fox family; her father had been a faculty member and administrator, helping create the school’s MBA program in the 1970s. She was even present at the opening of Speakman Hall in 1967, alongside her father and nine brothers and sisters!
Since joining the Fox School as an adjunct in 1993, Conran has served in a variety of roles, including associate professor of marketing and supply chain management, faculty director of assessment, and Chief Academic Officer of Temple Rome. This July, she takes on a new role: Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Curriculum.
The Fox Editorial team caught up with Conran to ask about her career and future plans.
- What has your career at Fox been like?
After starting my career working in a variety of corporate positions, including as a consultant to small businesses, I started teaching part-time in 1993 at Temple’s Ambler Campus.
Since I joined the Fox School full time in 2001, I have worked with senior faculty to develop an updated curriculum map and curriculum alignment for the Department of Marketing, as well as the evolution of core coordination efforts. Working with colleagues, mentors and school leadership allowed me to develop perspectives on the passion our faculty have for our programs and our students.
I also developed a better understanding and appreciation for the key value drivers of our graduate programs and the rich variety of undergraduate programs and support services offered to our students when I was appointed faculty director of assessment in 2008. In this role, I had a chance to interact with faculty and administrators across our departments and developed a strong sense of the curriculum, objectives and outcomes.
- What will be your biggest priorities as the school’s new associate dean for academic programs and curriculum?
I see this as a pivotal moment for each of our programs. Because of our current dynamic context, I plan to continue to assure an appropriate alignment of our vision of the curricular activities and programs with the market and the needs of employers.
The most important priorities are to balance impact with efficiency in our programs and to leverage the meaningful points of differentiation of a Fox degree.
We need to assure curriculum and programmatic innovation are guided by our goals outlined in our Strategic Plan: Educational Innovation, Research Leadership, Inclusive Culture and Community Engagement. These need to be meaningful, and traceable, outcomes of our activities.
A resilient curriculum structure for our programs must reflect a variety of learning modalities based on analysis and analytics. I look forward to working with partners across the school to continue innovation and honing the value propositions of each program.
Harmonization of the curriculum should result in a more cohesive and holistic approach to the design of the programs, not merely a focus on technical skills development. Through both curricular and co-curricular activities, our graduates develop a special set of combinations of soft and hard skills that are sought after by employers.
- What are your favorite tools, tactics or strategies for increasing engagement in the classroom?
My key mode of teaching is discussion. When my mentors here invited me into their classes, I saw the impact of focusing a learner’s attention on discussion as a means of fostering deeper, stickier learning. I treasure the many comments I have from former students who have indicated that, while this model was a little uncomfortable, it provided them with a competitive edge when they interviewed and started their careers. I found that facilitating discussion allows students to become more connected to their learning and to develop agency as active stakeholders in the learning process.
There are several tools to engage learners in the classroom: simulations, cases, client-based projects, community service initiatives, involvement with a student professional organization (SPO) and more. I also love using polling solutions in the classroom. Today, I use Poll Everywhere in all my classes to assess and engage learners. I also use online discussion tools like Yellow Dig and Voice Thread to continue discussions outside the classroom.
I empower students to share their experiences in class discussions, including from their SPO leadership position, internships or current jobs. Having learners make the direct connection to a live situation is one of the most effective tools in teaching.
- How have you seen yourself grow as an educator over the course of your career? What resources have you used?
I am very fortunate that we have a strong community of colleagues, professors and administrators who are passionate about our students. Faculty like Mike Smith, Tony DiBenedetto, Howard Weiss, Ed Rosenthal, George Titus, Harold Klein, Terry Halbert Sam Hodge, Rob Hamilton and Elyas Elyasani have been very generous to me over the years in mentoring and offering constructive feedback.
- What resources do you encourage your fellow faculty to take advantage of to improve teaching and learning?
We are so very fortunate that we have resources to help with our teaching and impact here at the Fox School.
There is tremendous support for researchers and for those seeking to work with fellow researchers. In particular, the Translational Research Center has provided all faculty, but especially non-tenured faculty, an opportunity to leverage corporate experiences in an academic environment and to provide an opportunity to demonstrate translation from theory to practice—and back again.
The instructional designers in the Department of Online and Digital Learning are a great resource as well. I have found that they help me consider options for delivery models which allow me to achieve my learning outcomes, but also have an impact while nurturing those deeper dives into the material.
The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning also offers programming and resources to connect faculty across the school. Through these connections, faculty can learn that we all face similar challenges in the classroom, which can be both therapeutic and productive.
I often encourage my colleagues to remember that they are part of a diverse community, with access to these great resources.