Rooting for Student Success

PROVO, Utah – Nov 13, 2020 – Since root beer became commercially available in 1876, the popular soft drink flavor has found its way into a variety of delicious delights: hard candies, gummies, jelly beans, and, perhaps most importantly, root beer floats. For Taylor Wells, a professor of information systems at the BYU Marriott School of Business, root beer is more than just a tasty treat—the beverage is also a part of his everyday life as a teacher and mentor.  

Wells’ root beer obsession started around the same time that he entered his PhD program at Indiana University in 2011. "My wife and I came across a store with dozens of different brands and flavors of root beer,” he remembers. “I knew these kinds of stores existed all over the country, but I had never been in one before.” Over the next few months, Wells and his wife sampled various root beer brands.

After moving from Indiana to Utah, Wells and his wife continued the tradition, and now he always looks for root beer while traveling. “Finding a place to try new root beer is a necessity when I go on a trip,” he says. “If I'm traveling to a conference or if I'm going to visit someone on vacation, I look on Google Maps to see if there’s any place nearby that sells unique root beer. I always stop by and pick one up to enjoy and add to my collection.”

When Wells found out that his students were interested in his root beer collection, he began applying the flavorful drink to his curriculum. “My collection of root beer bottles was originally in my home office. Then, at one point in time, students asked me if I had any hobbies, so I told them about my root beer bottle collection. They thought that was cool,” he says. “So in the following class period, I gave an example that was root beer related. Since then, root beer examples have become my thing, which I'm totally okay with because root beer is awesome.” Wells has since moved more than half of his collection of roughly one hundred root beer bottles to his office in the Tanner Building. 
Wells teaches the information systems security class and creates assignments involving hypothetical root beer companies. “My students’ first assignment is to examine the server of a root beer company that got hacked. The student is tasked with figuring out how the hackers got in and caused problems," he says. “I realize that these examples are unique to my classes, but I think using root beer is a fun way to teach.”

Root beer even helps Wells remain connected with his former students. “Every once in a while, I have a former student who drops by and says, ‘Hey, I was in this place and I saw this root beer, and I got you a bottle. Have you tried it before?’ More often than not, I haven’t tried the kind that they bring in,” he says. “The fact that students remember that detail about me is touching.” 

As Wells connects with his students over root beer and information systems, he works hard to create an environment that allows students to focus on sharpening their skills. “I received both my undergraduate degree and my master’s degree in information systems from BYU Marriott, and I remember always being stressed about getting good grades,” he says. “However, when I made the transition in my mind from ticking the boxes for the sake of doing them to thinking, ‘Information systems is my career and my passion,’ I changed my approach to studying and completing assignments. I focused more on absorbing the material and applying it to real-life situations instead of just finishing everything for points.”
Wells believes his students will have a richer and more fulfilling BYU Marriott experience if they follow the same approach. “As a student, focusing on sharpening your skills and gaining knowledge is a much better way to get the most out of class than just focusing on how many points you get on an assignment. Students tend to be overfocused on grades, which I completely understand, because BYU Marriott programs are competitive. However, switching your mindset from making a checklist to focusing on what you can take and apply in your career will help you identify the most important aspects of your education."

Ultimately, when his students come into Wells office, they can be sure of two things: first, that he will be committed to helping them focus on the important things, and second, that he will have a bottle of his favorite root beer on his desk.

BYU Marriott information systems professor Taylor Wells
BYU Marriott information systems professor Taylor Wells.
Wells and his wife, Katie. Photo courtesy of Taylor Wells.
Wells and his wife, Katie. Photo courtesy of Taylor Wells.
Wells has moved most of his root beer collection to his office in the Tanner Building. Photo courtesy of Taylor Wells.
Wells has moved most of his root beer collection to his office in the Tanner Building. Photo courtesy of Taylor Wells.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Sarah Calvert