Professor Emma Zhao, who joined the McIntire community this fall, teaches the “Organizational Behavior” course in the M.S. in Commerce Program. Prior to joining McIntire, she was a post-doctoral fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Professor Zhao’s research focuses on how teams organize themselves in ways that maximize individual and team effectiveness. I recently had the honor of sitting down with her to learn more about her background and McIntire experience thus far.
What do you enjoy about teaching in the M.S. in Commerce Program?
I think the M.S. Commerce Program is unique in that we have a diverse group of students. You all have different backgrounds: You might come from different countries, various undergraduate programs, different majors. It is great to have this mix in the classroom because it will produce meaningful conversations. I really enjoy this aspect of the M.S. in Commerce Program and appreciate the diversity in my classroom.
How would you describe your teaching style?
My teaching style is centered around two values: respect and collaboration. Respect meaning, I respect you, you respect me, and you also respect each other. It indicates that there is a certain level of professionalism in the classroom, and it shows that there is a mutual give and take from the classroom as well. For the collaboration piece, you all are here to work toward a career and a degree. I’m here to help you to reach these goals. I really encourage having this collaborative environment, where you will learn from each other. Respect and collaboration are valuable in any other work-related setting.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice, both professionally and academically, is “Don’t be afraid of failure.” One of the markers of getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself is failure. Once you fail, you pick yourself up, learn from it, and keep moving forward. In many instances, people tend to dwell upon their failures, thinking about what they could have done better, but at some point, you will need to press on. I am continually working on setting myself challenging goals and learning from the process.
Because teamwork is so essential in our Program, do you have some techniques, in terms of fostering collaboration within a team, that you employ?
One of the things I had you all complete was the team contract; always go back to the team contract, because those are the terms and norms you and your team members agreed upon at the beginning of the project. If communication lines drop or if you feel like members are not working well with each other, you can always go back and say, “Hey, can we have a one-on-one conversation? Remember what we discussed as acceptable behavior in our contract?” Another technique is to listen to your team members and let them tell you what’s going on. They might be going through things that you don’t know, so listening and understanding what they have to say shows that you respect them. You are more likely to avoid making (often inaccurate) assumptions about others’ behaviors, which is very important in teamwork.
How have you enjoyed living in Charlottesville?
Charlottesville is beautiful and has everything you need. I love that we have access to all the nicer grocery stores—we have Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Wegmans. There are also a lot of outdoor activities I can do around the town and within a short drive, such as hiking trails and parks.
What’s your favorite place to visit besides your home and the University campus?
I like hiking trails, but recently I’ve really enjoyed going to Riverview Park with my dog (a corgi). I also enjoyed the farmers market in the summer and fall because they have a lot of excellent local produce, especially the fruits—they are all so fresh!