One of the highlights of the M.S. in Commerce Program is getting to know the awesome faculty who teach our courses. Check out my conversation with Rob Patterson, Associate Professor and Communication Coordinator for the M.S. in Commerce Program, to learn more about his journey to become a faculty member at McIntire and what he loves about his job.
Describe your path to McIntire.
After I received my Ph.D. degree in Rhetoric and Communication Studies, I taught at JMU’s School of Communication Studies for four years. I was simultaneously the Director of a minor in Political Communication and the basic course in Speech Communication. Some of the courses I taught there were Introduction to Speech Communication, Political Campaign Communication, Media and Politics, etc. I left JMU to work for a company in D.C. for five years. However, I soon realized it is not a sustainable life, since we started having more children and the commute from Manassas, VA, to Capitol Hill was not easy.
By then, I had two options: going back to JMU or working at UVA as an administrator. I chose UVA because I wanted to try something new. I came to UVA in 2005, and in 2007, I joined McIntire, teaching Business Communication. I have always taught Communication, but not Business Communication in a business school, so I was excited about the opportunity. Then in 2009-2010, I was approached by Professor Ira Harris, who was a new Director of the M.S. in Commerce at the time, to help with the program. I accepted the offer and have enjoyed teaching in the program ever since.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love how the M.S. in Commerce Program brings together students who had not experienced the business major before, but are intrigued in understanding how business works. The diversity of the program is also something I enjoy. Students come from different backgrounds, different undergrad majors, and different parts of the States and the world. They all come here and commit themselves to studying business for an intense 10-month program. It is challenging for both students and professors to make the students ready for the job market, but the teaching work is also very rewarding.
Do you have a favorite memory from this past semester?
Because of COVID and the course being taught online, I was able to expand the choice classes. Over the summer, Professor Harris and I discussed the content students might be interested in for these elective classes. We were not sure whether they would work, but they seemed to work and resonate with students.
Another element of virtual teaching I enjoyed during the fall was the breakout room function in Zoom. I did not use the breakouts feature in Zoom a lot for my classes in spring 2020. I really like dropping in breakout rooms to listen to students’ discussions and enjoy having students work in smaller groups. It replicates the normal classroom experience because richer interactions are also a norm.
How we communicate has changed drastically since COVID-19 hit. How has this affected your course content or method of teaching students?
It is a mixed yes-and-no answer. I’ll start with the “no” first. The core content did not change. Whether it is face-to-face or virtual, certain content needs to be covered, especially the business writing component. Email writing, online presence, memo, report writing—those are stable concepts. Even during COVID-19, I still commit to developing a sense of how business writing differs from academic writing for students.
Speaking is different too. We are required to approach speaking skills differently because of COVID-19. For example, if I taught in-person classes, I would emphasize the importance of movement during presentations or conversations. However, movement appears to be counterproductive when talking online. There are definitely changes in the speaking component, given the medium.
What do you think the workplace will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides? Will it ever return to normal?
A new and possibly exciting “normal” has been created. We have developed ways to make things easier due to time efficiency, monetary efficiency, and commuting efficiency. We have also created a blended, hybrid experience for American workers, especially those in some segments such as IT, the service sector, education, and even medicine. There will be more available choices for workers to decide on: work in person, virtually, or both. I believe more meetings will be conducted virtually, as it is now. COVID-19 will also change how we commute to work and potentially reduce the footprint. After all, not everything coming out of this pandemic is bad. A hybrid-work model might be exciting and even environmentally sensible.
What advice do you have for future students in the program?
Be patient. There will be moments when you might feel tested in this program. Have trust in the process, trust your professors, trust your peers, and you will be just fine. Everything will align eventually. Be patient and committed to the process. It’s a 10-month accelerated program, so it is packed with a lot work, but it will pay off in the end.
What about advice for students entering the job search now?
I encourage people to be nimble and have a growth mindset. Wait for the right job instead of taking the first one, if you can withstand that sort of uncertainty and economic insecurity. I understand the necessity to take the first job that is given to you; however, even then, keep a growth mindset and realize in some ways the first job is a stepping stone. Three to five years down the road, you will be exactly where you want to be. Along the journey, don’t forget us. Write to us and keep us updated about where your path has taken you and where you envision yourself in the future. We love to hear from you all after you leave the School and the program.