Associate Professor Dean Johnson of the School of Business and Economics has received the 2009 Distinguished Teaching Award in the associate professor/professor category for the second time. He joins the ranks of only three other Michigan Tech faculty members to have been honored in both categories of the award since its inception in 1952. Johnson’s class offerings include derivative securities, investments, principles of finance and applied portfolio management.
What engages a student enough to make them say, “Johnson’s classes have increased my interest in my major by 100 percent”? The answer comes from students surveyed in Johnson’s investment analysis class. One student says, in a nutshell, “He knows his stuff, keeps students involved and seems to really enjoy teaching his subject.” Several students have commented on the real-world connections made in the classroom. One says, “He cares about the subject and wants to ensure that students understand it and will be able to apply it in real-life situations.”
Johnson says the pedagogy of finance is grounded in the real world. “I tie class material to what’s going on in the financial markets,” he says. “Maybe I’m lucky that with finance, it’s pretty easy to make those connections. We have the stock market, CNBC–it’s front and center every day.” And it’s easy for the School to keep an eye on current events with the new stock ticker located on the first floor of the Academic Office Building–Johnson had a hand in implementing the TV monitor that “brings the market alive” for students and faculty.
Current affairs are at the forefront of his classroom. A typical day in principles of finance calls for students to lead a session on happenings in the market at the beginning of class.
And in the Applied Portfolio Management Program (APMP), the brainchild of Johnson, students gain practical experience in managing a portfolio for a real client, the Michigan Tech Fund. The class, a select group of students, has excelled in managing a $1-million pool of funds contributed by outside donors. The APMP has won the national RISE investment competition in the value category three times in the past eight years.
“Professor Johnson has done a remarkable job of developing and implementing the nationally recognized Applied Portfolio Management Program,” says Darrell Radson, dean of the School of Business and Economics. “We’ve had students come to Michigan Tech just to study in the Program. His unique teaching style allows him to convey difficult financial principles in an applied manner, giving students the ability to be successful financial analysts and investors.”
Johnson goes beyond making practical connections in his classroom–he also makes it a priority to “get to know students as people.” One student says, “He truly cares about the development and understanding of each student.”
Johnson says his perspective on teaching has remained unchanged since he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000. “When I walk into the classroom, I have an hour to make a difference in the lives of those students,” he says. “Teaching isn’t just a job for me. If it’s a job for me, it’ll be a job for the students.”
“I realize students, instead of just faces in the crowd, are here to make their lives better. I try to find out where they’re from and what career goals they have,” he says. “Once you develop a personal relationship, it becomes so much easier to push, push, push them to learn and study because they realize I truly have their best interest at heart.”
It’s clear that students pick up on this lesson and come out of his classes in the black, so to speak. One student comments, “He is the best teacher I have ever had, and I have learned so much in a short amount of time.”
What does Johnson enjoy most about teaching? “Simply seeing students connect the dots, seeing the ‘light-bulb’ moment on their faces. And hearing back from students five years later on how well they’ve done.”
Students in the Tech MBA program are eligible to compete for a position in the Applied Portfolio Management Program.