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For President's Professor Amy Ostrom, it's all about connecting

February 23, 2011

This article is part of a series that looks at ASU's 2010 Regents' Professors and President's Professors.

Amy Ostrom’s classroom is something like “Cheers,” but in this case it’s reversed: Ostrom knows everyone’s name.

Ostrom, named a 2010 President’s Professor, adds this title to her already glittering crown of achievements: Arizona Professor of the Year in 2004, ASU Parents Association Professor of the Year in 2007, finalist for the Teets Undergraduate Faculty Award, and more.

But no matter how many awards she receives, Ostrom, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Professor in Services Leadership in the W. P. Carey School of Business, doesn’t deviate from her main goals in the classroom: to teach every student in her class as much as she can, and to help them network, learn about job opportunities and give them as much help as she can.

The process begins when students come to her marketing classes for the first time. She photographs them in groups of four or five, and has each student introduce himself or herself.

“The first day is one of the most important days in class," said Ostrom, who teaches services marketing. "It sets the tone. The students learn my expectations of them, and what they can gain from the class."

“I almost always begin with a discussion of what they’re going to study and why they should care. I’m expecting a lot of engagement and interaction among the students.”
Students who are anticipating a traditionally short first-day class – get the syllabus and get out – have a surprise in

Ostrom’s first classes: they go until the very end of the hour, and sometimes a few minutes over. During this first hour, Ostrom sets the stage, and hopes the students become “engaged and excited,” she said. “If they’re really engaged and excited, it’s a conducive learning environment.”

Ostrom conducts her classes, including Honors Marketing 303, theory and practice, and Marketing 442, services marketing strategy, in a workshop format where she breaks the students into groups to talk about and share what they have come up with.

One of her major assignments is a “brand audit,” where students pick a major brand such as Fender Guitar, Taser or Make a Wish, to study. “They learn about that brand, then make recommendations for things for the company to do going forward.”

If the student group has studied a local company, they may share their ideas with the company, Ostrom said.

“A couple of times a student group has come up with something three to six months ahead of the company they evaluated. Last semester, a group picked Make a Wish, and they learned about the re-branding Make a Wish was doing.

“When companies are local, it’s a great opportunity for students to connect,” she added. “Connect,” in fact, is a huge word in Ostrom’s teaching vocabulary. She keeps track of her students once they graduate, and she tries to connect them with current students where there are commonalities.

“For example, we have an alum who graduated from Parsons the New School for Design, and I will connect a student who is interested in fashion marketing with her.”

Ostrom also recommends books to students that they might like to read. “I try to do what I can to facilitate those connections,’ she said.

All of this, perhaps, is not surprising for a professor who majored in psychology, since Ostrom is, in a sense, marketing herself and her field, and marketing has close ties with the study of psychology.

In fact, one of her mentors was Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology who is an expert on the subject of persuasion.

Ostrom, an ASU alumna, said she learned how to teach by watching her professors at ASU, such as Cialdini and business faculty member Nancy Roberts, who kept Ostrom’s attention even in a lecture-hall economics class of 500 students.

“I’ve had a lot of great professors I had the privilege of learning from and interacting with, most of them at ASU.”

After she graduated from ASU, Ostrom earned her doctoral degree from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. While she was an undergraduate at ASU, she met professors Mary Jo Bitner and Stephen Brown, who were pioneers in the study of services marketing. Thus her interest in services marketing and teaching came together at ASU. And at ASU, she also discovered her niche in working with undergraduate students.

"I love to teach undergraduates because they are so interesting to teach," Ostrom said. "They’re excited about a variety of things, and they’re trying to figure out their career paths.”

If she weren’t teaching, she would most certainly have some sort of job involving people. “I like interacting with people. I like trying to help people move forward in a positive way,” she said. “And as a faculty member, I have the chance to interact with people all over the world.”

That she enjoys her students is evident, but how does she know their names, so quickly and for such a long time (she still hears from some of the first students she taught at ASU)?

“I study the pictures, and the forms they fill out,” she said. “On the second day of class I go around to see if I can call out their names.

“I talk to each one of them, and get to know who they are. I want to know who they are, because I care.”