Q&A | Professors of Practice

Images by Christa Neu

Professors of practice are generally full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members appointed because of skills and expertise acquired in nonacademic careers, although individuals with academic backgrounds can be PoPs. 

Lehigh Business professors of practice
Left to right: Professors of practice James Breannan, Robert Duquette, Troy Adair, Deirdre Trabert Malacrea '89, Partick Zoro, Luis Brunstein.

Q. Why did you become a professor of practice?

Having retired from Ernst and Young back in 2009, where he had an intense position running a regional mergers and acquisitions tax practice, on call 24/7, Robert Duquette, professor of practice in accounting says, “I immediately became bored. I missed the daily problem solving, working with my team and teaching the ropes to my younger staff.”

“When I was done with Wall Street and all the craziness that went on there, I wanted to give something back,” says Patrick Zoro, professor of practice in finance. While he was working as a banker, he taught seminars and was doing adjunct teaching. “I was always motivated to share what I’ve learned and make sure the people were prepared for what’s waiting for them.”

James Brennan, professor of practice in management, served in Vietnam, was dean of the Wescoe School at Muhlenberg College, labor relations director and ran a wastewater treatment plant at a Proctor & Gamble facility, plus he was the sports psychology consultant for Villanova University basketball, among other careers. He wants to share his experiences. “A professor of practice is a live connection for the students to what’s going on out there,” says Brennan.

Deirdre Trabert Malacrea ’83, professor of practice in marketing, has an engineering degree from Lehigh. She spent years at Pepsi-Cola, coming up through the ranks in brand management and national accounts, and was CMO for a nonprofit consulting and publishing company. She was alerted to the Lehigh opening by an email from another alum. “When I saw ‘Lehigh’ and ‘marketing’ in the same sentence, I was excited as these are two things that I love,” says Malacrea. “At the time, I didn’t even know that I wanted to be a professor.” 

“I’ve been back and forth between industry and academia throughout my career,” says Troy Adair, professor of practice in decision and technology analytics. “I always knew I wanted to teach as my primary responsibility.” Adair has worked for several business schools in administrative roles as well as being a senior business intelligence consultant in the financial services industry.

Luis Brunstein, professor of practice in economics, says his path to Lehigh Business was a little different. He was teaching at Georgetown University when he applied for a government job in Tierra de Fuego in his home country of Argentina. “I led a team of negotiators, sitting across the table from big companies that had to pay up for their right to exploit and distribute our gas, shale oil and shale gas,” says Brunstein. “I was negotiating contracts worth millions of dollars. It was a good experience as a professor, but I came across political processes that were difficult to navigate.”

Q. What was the hardest part of transitioning from industry to higher education?

“You don’t realize how, even at a relatively high level in industry, so many of your tasks are driven by those above you,” says Adair. “In teaching, you really have to be more self motivated.”

The hardest part of transitioning from industry for Duquette was “learning how to connect with students who, understandably, don’t yet have the basic technical knowledge.” He says it took him a while to adjust to needing considerably more patience in the classroom, “and think of more creative ways to connect with the students.”

“Teaching is extremely invigorating, but it’s exhausting,” says Zoro. You have 20 souls looking at you. You want to make sure that you don’t waste two hours of classroom time. You’re trying to interact with them. You’re not teaching them, you’re educating them. That’s a much more difficult thing to achieve.”

Q. How are you bringing the real world to Lehigh Business?

“I want this not to be about me being the sage on the stage,” says Brennan who is actively involved with humanitarian organizations that have ties to Google X and Tesla. Brennan shares the successes and challenges he encounters in his consulting work with his students. “I want my students to benefit from witnessing what I’m working on. A lot of it is trial, error, retrial. This is me trying to figure stuff out that’s complicated.”

Malacrea creates experiential learning opportunities for her marketing classes with real-world clients. Her teams might analyze competitors for a small business or developing a social media campaign for a nonprofit. “My students are learning first-hand what’s at stake for their clients,” she says.

“Students come into the classroom with the idea that less developed countries just don’t understand how to develop,” says Brunstein. “I talk to them about the fact that when I was

"A professor of practice is a live connection for the students to what’s going on out there."
-James Brennan

in Argentina, the people that I worked with had degrees and skills. We knew what had to be done. It has nothing to do with lack of knowledge. It has more to do with this complex interaction that is described in economics as public choice and other theories. My students leave the semester with a sense of the connection between the real world and the theory.”

Q. What satisfaction do you get out of teaching?

“I am energized by the satisfying feeling I get on a daily basis,” says Duquette. “I helped these students start their careers with a stronger foundation of technical content and critical thinking skills than I ever had at their level.

Malacrea says she enjoys the informal time she spends with her students. “The chance to chat about careers or give advice on a possible venture. I take deep personal satisfaction when I can help students who are on the cusp of developing their interests and pursuing their goals,” she says.

“Teaching is like cooking from scratch,” says Brunstein. “It’s not a mechanical process. It’s one of the last endeavors out there that connects you to your humanity. I have come across many former students who have told me that they completely changed their way of thinking about the world after one of my courses.”