Finding Greater Purpose in Teaching

PROVO, Utah – Nov 05, 2021 – Even masks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic can’t stop McKenzie Rees from memorizing the faces—at least the upper half—and names of all her students. The human resource management (HRM) professor has built her career on connecting with people and their stories, a tradition she looks forward to continuing as a new professor at the BYU Marriott School of Business.

Rees’ passion for connecting with others began as an undergraduate at Utah State University (USU), where she studied both marketing and economics. Her favorite courses were always related to people’s behavior as she was intrigued by the reasons behind why individuals make purchases.

After graduating in 2007, Rees put her business skills to the test as an associate director of development at USU, where her main responsibility was to fundraise large gifts for the university’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. Through her work at USU, Rees interacted with numerous people every day and learned their personal stories. “In that job, I realized my interests and passions centered around understanding how people work, how people find success, and the different dynamics of organizations,” she says.

To help her understand more about how people act in various situations, Rees returned to school and obtained a PhD in business administration from the University of Utah in 2015. Her studies emphasized decision making, negotiation, ethics, and gender issues.

Rees chose to become a professor after earning her PhD because she wanted to help others recognize the joy that can come from the people they work with. But while that desire is at the center of what she teaches, her love of teaching stems from her continual lifelong passion for human connection. “Fostering and developing relationships with students is my favorite part of teaching,” she says. “If I don’t have the opportunity to connect with and know the students in my class, teaching is not worthwhile for me.”

To accomplish this goal, Rees invites her students to interact with her in a variety of unique ways. She asks students several get-to-know-you questions throughout the first part of the semester, which help her remember individuals beyond their names and faces. Rees also uses the information from her students to understand how she can help them reach their goals. “I try to build on what I’ve learned about my students through early interactions to truly know them throughout the semester,” she adds.

In addition to introductory exercises, Rees invites her students to participate in practice negotiations that can apply directly to relevant experiences in their lives. Since part of her PhD expertise is resolving conflict through negotiations, she understands how important those interactions are and that practice is required. She invites students who have an upcoming negotiation, such as a job offer, to practice with her. She is pleasantly surprised by how many students take her up on this offer, and these one-on-one meetings allow her to connect even further with her students.

Rees enjoys interacting with people anywhere, but she says having the opportunity to teach at BYU Marriott holds special meaning for her. After completing her PhD, she taught at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic institution. While at Notre Dame, she came to appreciate the combination of religion with higher education.

“I had a devout Catholic colleague who chose to work at Notre Dame over other schools that had expressed interest in hiring her,” Rees explains. “She and I discussed the deeper meaning and purpose that came from working at an institution that represented her religion. This unique mission seemed like a blessing I would also like to experience in my career.”

While she has only been at BYU Marriott for a short while, Rees says she already relishes the opportunity to combine her religious beliefs with her teaching. Those principles carry outside the classroom as well, as she adds that her colleagues are examples of positive moral character. “Knowing that I was coming into a school where the faculty had a strong culture of respect and support for each other was exciting,” she adds.

Rees loves forming positive connections with the people around her and feels gratitude for the moments she has experienced thus far at BYU Marriott, both with students and colleagues. “The people you surround yourself with define your experience at any job,” she says. “When an opportunity arose to join the faculty at BYU Marriott, I knew I was making the right move, and I’m grateful to be here.”

McKenzie Rees
McKenzie Rees. Photo by BYU Photo.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Mike Miller