Jindal Professor Receives Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award
Dr. McClain Watson
Dr. McClain Watson’s goal as a teacher is to prepare his students for life after college.
“One of the things I like to tell students is that they are going to graduate. It is going to happen,” said Watson, director of business communication programs in the Naveen Jindal School of Management. “I think the reality of that moment, not only as an accomplishment of getting the degree, but as a radical life change, is something we cannot just acknowledge, but need to help them prepare for.”
Through his instruction and innovation in the classroom — and his mentorship outside of class — Watson encourages students to remember that they’re not simply pupils, and that after they graduate, other aspects of their lives will matter more than test scores and GPAs.
After about nine years at UT Dallas, Watson’s outlook and success in teaching helped him earn a 2016 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA). This is the second teaching award he has received in the past two years. Last year, Watson received a President’s Teaching Excellence Award.
In his business communication courses, Watson discusses with students the importance of not only being knowledgeable in a business context, but why they also need to project a sense of confidence and warmth. They need to lead others to think they are trustworthy, hardworking and take their jobs seriously, he said.
“For me, teaching is about building imaginative bridges so students can put themselves in situations where they can think through some of the everyday decisions that they’ll have to make, not as students, but as a professional struggling to make an impression or an entry-level employee trying to convince an employer to open a door for them professionally,” he said. “It’s primarily about skill development and attitude development.”
Watson also assigns public-facing work. In the Advanced Business Communication class, students create Professional Online Portfolios (POP) that help them stand out in their job searches and give companies a fuller picture of their skills and personality.
Using digital tools, students can project a sense of competence and credibility, without having to be in the same room as a potential employer.
“Being able to communicate about yourself and tell other people what you care about, what you’re good at and what you’ve done is an extremely important kind of communication, especially for new graduates who have to quickly establish a sense of competence and warmth in others,” Watson said. “That has always been important, and that will always be important.”
In a letter to the ROTA selection committee, Jatin Julakanti BS’16 wrote about how Watson clearly presented the purpose of the course and its real-world applications.
“In (the POP) project, we created a website that brought the skills and experiences and stories in our resumes to life,” wrote Julakanti, who will attend medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch this fall. “Dr. Watson told us that the POP could be a difference-maker for us as we made our way from school to the professional world.”
Watson said he believes it’s important to nurture students’ interests outside of school and work, so he advises organizations and serves on committees.
Recently, he has been involved with TEDxUTD, the Student Media Operating Board and Alpha Lambda Mu. He enjoys helping the organizations with challenges they will face in the working world.
“I believe it’s important to enhance those non-classroom, non-grade-focused environments and make them as beneficial as possible,” Watson said. “It’s also a lot of fun to work with students in those contexts. There’s an enormous amount of communication, leadership and professional skill development that you can accomplish in those contexts that are more difficult to create in a classroom environment.”
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