Starting Class with Student Success


Professor Lan Chaplin has a knack for fostering strong connections with her consumer behavior students. Not only does she keep in touch with former students, she brings some of them back to her classroom, recruiting them to offer new students pointers for how to succeed in the class. On Tuesday, August 23rd, two teams of former students joined Professor Chaplin’s consumer behavior sections to offer students roadmaps to success.

“My consumer behavior course isn’t for everyone,” Chaplin says. “Who’s going to get the most out of it? Self-motivated, professionally driven, hard-working students. What better way to make this point than to bring successful students back to meet new students in their first week to have a candid discussion about their experience?” 

UIC student Danuta Miskiewicz, who studied under Professor Chaplin during the Fall 2015 semester, remembers the students who visited her class with Chaplin. “It was reassuring to hear other students explain how they succeeded in the course,” says Miskiewicz. “I knew before I’d even finished the class that I wanted the honor of coming back the next year to welcome new students.”

Miskiewicz was in the first presenting team along with Donald Lacombe, Robert Grilli, and Kate Bouda, who joined via video from San Francisco. Lacombe, Grilli, and Miskiewicz arrived outside DH 230 as Chaplin's 11:00am class was getting started. They waited in the hall until Chaplin opened the door to welcome them. As they walked in, Chaplin walked out, shutting the door behind her, and sitting down on a bench in the hallway to check emails on her phone. Whatever the presenters planned to discuss, it would be a conversation among students, with no teacher in the room. 

Their presentation emphasized the rewards of self-motivation and strong teamwork. “That was my main message, teamwork and persistence,” says Lacombe. “The most important coursework is team-based, and it takes a lot of planning and preparation to execute as a group. Chaplin runs the presentations like an executive; she and the students will interrupt you with questions that throw you off track. If you don’t have your message nailed down, your work will fall apart before your eyes.”

Grilli encouraged students to set their pride aside and get ready to work hard and respond to criticism. “Professor Chaplin pushes students from the gate to see who’s hardworking and who’s strong-minded. The key is to establish good rapport right off the bat; respectful students who do the work benefit from all the support she has to offer.”

All four members of the team underscored Chaplin’s generosity as a mentor. Though her class demands each student’s best work, her students feel supported at every step. “She’s not focused on the student with the highest grade,” says Miskiewicz. “She’s there for the students who are most dedicated to improving their ability to present research.”

Later that day, the second team of presenters–made up of Zaga Zeqiri, Matthew Espinola, Mariya Amiwala, and Jaime Manriquez–broke down their presentation into key topics: how to prepare for classes, how to study for the midterm, how to manage your team, and how to deal with stress. “She puts an immense amount of work into preparing each class,” said Manriquez, “and each of you has to do the same.” Manriquez explained how to make good use of the textbook, the online materials, the study guides, and Chaplin’s guidance to ensure success in the course.

“She treats you like a working professional,” said Amiwala. “She’ll give you constructive criticism, she’ll catch you by surprise with tough questions, she’ll push you to improve, even nudge you off balance. But it thickens your skin and quickens your reflexes. You walk away with improved professionalism.” Espinola seconded this, noting in particular the gains he made as a presenter. “I came in thinking my presenting skills didn’t need improvement, and right away Professor Chaplin corrected me. Now, after the class, both at work and in school, I’m the one who’s in a position to help others improve their speaking and presenting.”

To assure students they’d have ample time to decompress, Zeqiri closed the presentation by recounting Chaplin’s Lego Day, one of the teambuilding activities built into the semester to help students bond and relax. “Professor Chaplin organizes the class on a ‘work hard, play hard’ model,” she said, “and the teambuilding activities are the best I’ve ever experienced,” hinting to students that there’s even something to be learned on these work-free days. “When you relax and bond with your team, you end up doing better work together afterwards, work that will do more than just earn you a good grade; work good enough to impress employers in interviews.”

The former students in both groups agreed that their biggest takeaways were market research skills and presentation skills, which they’ve put to use in higher-level market research courses and on the job. “The incoming students get to see the former students shine in their presentation skills,” says Chaplin, “but more importantly, they get to hear these presenters describe their own development as researchers and presenters.” The former students tell success stories that start right where the new students are sitting.

Top photo, from left: Matthew Espinola, Mariya Amiwala, Zaga Zeqiri, and Jaime Manriquez

Bottom photo, from left: Donald Lacombe, Danuta Miskiewicz, and Robert Grilli