Jacob Steffen always knew he would jump at the chance to teach at the BYU Marriott School of Business because of the community and comradery he felt there. After graduating in 2017, Steffen is back—this time as a professor in the information systems (IS) program, and he uses the lessons he learned as a student to influence his teaching. “I know what is expected of me as a professor, because it’s what I would have wanted as a student,” Steffen says.
As an undergraduate student, Steffen discovered his interest in information systems through a prerequisite class for the accounting program. “I quickly realized IS was where I wanted to be,” he says. “For me, finding my major was less about uncovering an inner passion and more about practicing and developing the skills to be good at what I decided to major in,” he explains.
Steffen was drawn to the program because of the range of focuses—from designing systems to solving problems with multiple solutions.
Now as an assistant professor of information systems, Steffen brings that same variety to his teaching. “I try to put my own spin on teaching—I’m a little more laid-back as a person, and I think that translates to my style of teaching,” he says.
Letting go of the traditional teaching model helps Steffen create a classroom where everyone feels comfortable. Steffen’s classes are structured more like labs than lecture halls. Regularly, students have their laptops out working through problems together. “My classes are not lecture heavy. I have concepts I want to cover, and I teach through hands-on experiences,” Steffen explains.
Adaptability is important to Steffen, not only in his teaching style but also as a skill he fosters in his students. “I’ve learned to roll with what students need rather than staying rigid to my course plan,” he says. A few times, students have brought up problems they encountered in their jobs or concepts they wanted to learn for future jobs. I try to be open and cater to those needs while I’m teaching.”
Steffen’s favorite aspect of teaching at BYU Marriott is the simultaneous emphasis on students and Christ. “I think everybody wants to produce excellent leaders, but the way BYU Marriott approaches leadership with a focus on faith in Christ makes the school unique.”
Even so, creating genuine gospel moments in the classroom was a process for Steffen. “My first semester of teaching, I tried to just smush a spiritual concept into the topic I was teaching, but I felt like I was forcing it,” he says.
So he decided to take a different approach and survey students to gauge which methods they liked best when other professors talked about spiritual topics. “The main takeaway was that students wanted their professors to talk openly about what they were studying in the scriptures without trying to couple it to a class concept,” he shares.
Following their feedback, once a week Steffen shares a spiritual thought about his recent studies or impressions from devotionals. “It’s a small thing, but I’ve noticed a difference for my students when I’m tuned in to what I need and what my students need.”
Whether he is explaining IS coursework or sharing his spiritual experiences, focusing on the individual needs of students gives Steffen opportunities to be the type of instructor he wanted as a student.
Written by Liesel Allen