Faculty Spotlight: Mary Raber

mary raber

what makes for a great teacher? a passion for learning

This week we continue our series on educators within the VentureWell network. These educators are challenging norms in higher education and inspiring students to impact the world through invention.

This month’s faculty spotlight is Mary Raber, Assistant Dean of Academic Programs, Pavlis Honors College Director, and Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership Professor of Practice at Michigan Technological University. Mary has been involved in a number of VentureWell programs over the years, including University Innovation Fellows, I-Corps, Pathways in Innovation, and regularly attending our annual conference, Open.

How did you get interested in teaching entrepreneurship?

I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to work with really innovative programs at Michigan Tech, including the Enterprise Program and the Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership. These experiential programs allow students to work in multidisciplinary teams on problems of significance to industry and society, facilitating the development of both technical and interpersonal skills and preparing students for their eventual careers.

But while these programs have exceeded expectations for many of the desired outcomes, the entrepreneurial outcomes we envisioned weren’t being realized. To address that issue, I started learning as much as possible about innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E), and how to best engage students in an educational framework that would help them develop those skills. Programs such as NSF I-Corps and Pathways to Innovation introduced me to a broad network of people who were doing amazing work with I&E education and we now have a focused plan to develop our ecosystem in order to foster an entrepreneurial mindset in all of our students.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

I’m constantly searching for ways to better engage students in the learning process and I love to experiment with different approaches. It’s particularly rewarding when I’m able to bring something new to the classroom that really gets students excited about learning.

What is your least favorite thing about teaching?

Not enough time! The timeframe we have to work with students is so short, and we’re competing against many and varied demands on their time. I hope I’m able to create a lasting, positive impact in the limited amount of time I’m able to work with them.

Where would you like to see the field of entrepreneurship in five years?

I believe that helping students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset should be an integral part of their education, starting in K-12 and continuing through their college education. Whether they aspire to start their own business or work for an established company, the skills associated with an I&E mindset will help them to succeed as they strive to create solutions to the very complex problems we face today.   

What traits make for great teachers, advisors or mentors?

A passion for learning. This is an important trait for any field, but particularly for those who are responsible for teaching or mentoring others. As educators we need to be good role models for our students and help them to recognize the importance of life-long learning.

What books on innovation and entrepreneurship have you been reading lately?

I’m currently working on several projects to help infuse design thinking into the curriculum, so I’m reading several books about creativity and design: Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley, Originals by Adam Grant.

What’s your most useful classroom activity or assignment?

Reflection assignments are a powerful learning tool that allows students to construct meaning from their experiences and build connections with previous learnings in a way that engages them more directly in the learning process. I’m also a big fan of hands-on activities that get the students out of their seats and interacting with their classmates.

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