Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Inspiring Teacher Series: Interview with Greg Henley

Welcome to The Inspiring Teacher Series - a tribute to inspirational K-12 teachers and college professors, and what we can learn from them and each other about the craft of teaching. Now let's meet...

L. Gregory Henley, Ph.D.
Director, International Center for Entrepreneurship
Robinson College of Business
Georgia State University
Atlanta, GA

Dr. Henley is the director of the Herman J. Russell, Sr. International Center for Entrepreneurship at Georgia State University. His passion is to help entrepreneurs succeed and his experiences have prepared him to do so. With a BS from MIT and an MBA and Ph.D. from Columbia University, he’s been blessed with opportunities in both business and academia. Prior to joining Georgia State University, Dr. Henley taught at the University of South Florida’s (USF) Center for Entrepreneurship, helped start the entrepreneurship undergraduate major at the University of Tampa. He worked in the Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia University while pursuing his Ph.D.
Dr. Henley’s entrepreneurial experience includes starting a mortgage company, an investment advisory firm, acquiring a community bank in Alabama and another community bank in Florida. Although he began his career working for large companies, including Procter & Gamble, Chemical Bank, and New England Telephone Company, entrepreneurship has always been his passion. Dr. Henley has held positions of President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer. His consulting assignments included evaluating bank acquisitions, working with de novo banks, E-commerce start-ups and implementing the installation of a web site for a bank client. He is an active investor in small businesses and real estate.
He is interviewed frequently for his views on a wide-range of entrepreneurship topics by the media and has been quoted in media outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Christian Science Monitor to Heart & Soul. Dr. Henley also wrote a monthly entrepreneurship column for Business-to-Business, an online publication for Atlanta executives.
Community involvement is an important part of Dr. Henley’s life. He is an active member of St. James United Methodist Church. He has served as a judge for business plan competitions for organizations including the National Black MBA Association’s Entrepreneurial Institute, the Youth Entrepreneurs of Atlanta at Morehouse College, and the Future Business Leaders of America. Dr. Henley also speaks to youth organizations throughout the nation and recently has addressed the Piney Grove Baptist Church youth program, the Atlanta After-School All-Stars, the Montgomery, AL chapter of Jack and Jill of America and M3Boys in Berkeley, CA.
He has begun a multi-year initiative, “Dr. Henley’s Road Trip,” in which he intends to interview entrepreneurs in all 50 states for a book. His goal is to also host the monthly entrepreneur forums that he currently hosts in Atlanta during his trip around the country.

What inspired you to teach?
During my business career, I noticed that a lot of people, especially people of color, have started businesses. However, many of the same people seemed to have trouble running the businesses effectively. I thought that I could help people (of all colors) run businesses more effectively, so went back to school with that objective in mind. Since my Ph.D. program, I have been teaching entrepreneurship and business strategy at business schools and, hopefully, my students can run a business better than if they hadn't taken my class.

What teaching methods are most helpful in guiding students towards their goals?
In the classroom, since I teach business courses, I try to relate everything back to the real world so students can relate to something they are familiar with. This includes bringing in businessmen, using case studies and talking about some of my business experiences. In addition, whenever possible, I like students to reach out to the business community. Examples of this include assignments for students to interview entrepreneurs and internships. For business classes, application of the material is critical to prepare students for the real world. So, telling them something and asking them to take a multiple choice question may be good for some things, but is a poor method for many business concepts. Getting the students to apply what they've learned is a goal. Often, this can be done via case studies and sometimes by working on projects for businesses. Some of the more challenging (for me and the students), but rewarding courses I've taught involved students working for real businesses. The students are able to apply business concepts, but see how businesses are actually run - the good, the bad and the ugly.

What would you like to improve about your teaching?
It's very important that I reach the students on their level. If I can get their attention, then I can teach them. Improving my teaching requires that I get constructive feedback to insure that what I'm doing is working. As I get older, using tools that are consistent with the way students learn can become more challenging, so I need to work to make sure that I'm communicating in ways they grasp. So what I'd like to improve is my knowledge and understanding of what is important to our students.

What skills should be emphasized in high school to succeed in your college class?
The skills that should be emphasized are certainly business skills. But, more broadly, I'd like for students to be able to think more analytically and in more depth. Other specific skills are a basic grasp of math and, importantly, writing skills.

What is the one thing you wished you would have known when you started your teaching career?
The value of testing early whether the students understand the material I'm presenting. In one of my first classes, I presented the material and got the verbal feedback I hoped for when I asked questions that indicated the students understood what I was telling them. However, when it came to apply the material for an assignment, the students did poorly - and my hopes and expectations were dashed. What I learned is that some of the early exercises, questions and tests that I needed to implement should be better tied to what I expected the students to learn. Also, that I needed to implement those exercises, questions and tests earlier in the semester so that I have time to make adjustments if I need to. The other thing I learned is that quite a few students are in the class to get a grade, but not necessarily to learn. This is in contrast to me whose primary reason for being in the classroom is because I want to teach.

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