Academics

Big Wins: Professor Carrie Heilman Wins All-University Teaching Award, Leads “Promotions” to NSAC Finals

Heilman believes a rich and rewarding classroom experience and personal connections with her students make the most significant impact.

Carrie Heilman

Fresh off being awarded an All-University Teaching Award by UVA, McIntire Marketing Professor Carrie Heilman has also led the School’s “Promotions” team to a win at the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) semifinals May 7; they’ll now advance to face seven other schools in the finals on June 5.

It’s been quite the hot streak for this dedicated Commerce School faculty member, but both of the recent accomplishments are the result of a longstanding commitment to those she teaches.

“Part of my success is that I genuinely care about my students,” she says.

An Impactful Philosophy
Heilman notes that she recently read a survey of college students that found that “caring” stood out as the most critical characteristic of effective faculty. It’s clear that her interest is nothing short of profound and genuine.

“While I put a lot of effort into developing a rich and rewarding classroom experience, I also spend a lot of time with students outside of the classroom, helping them with everything from finding jobs and internships to giving them advice about life after college,” she says.

Heilman believes that it’s those personal connections make the most significant impact.

But the strength of her relationships is supported by a teaching philosophy guided by efforts to instill students with crucial skills. She’s found those key abilities and lessons are best taught through experiential learning, and include thinking critically; problem solving; being overprepared; never settling for mediocrity; and the beliefs that passion is often as valuable as knowledge and expertise and that it’s important to take risks and fail often, because we learn best from our failures.

An Impressive Track Record
Despite the message of the last aforementioned lesson, it’s perhaps a great irony that Heilman has led the UVA McIntire “Promotions” class so well in the NSAC, which includes a national title in 2016 and second-place finish in 2018.

She says the biggest challenges for her in helping students to craft effective campaigns in the past came from pushing them to produce work that goes above and beyond any they have previously undertaken.

“At times this can be a painful journey for them,” she admits, “but it is their most significant and most gratifying reward for taking the class.”

Indeed, students have remarked that Heilman makes “Promotions” feel like a job since she holds them as accountable as any boss would. That rigor is the result of being focused on the NSAC’s 150-school competition, in which students take a real business problem from an actual client and pitch their ideas like an agency in order to “win the business.” Heilman explains that the competitive environment demands excellence and mirrors what life after graduation will be like when students join the workforce. Being a part of such a challenging competition creates a lasting impression.

“I believe that most students will forget much of what they learn from course readings and exams during their four years of college. However, it is these experiential learning opportunities that provide them with the most relevant knowledge and experiences that prepare them for the future.”

Going Virtual
As the current crisis has changed so many aspects of everyone’s lives, it’s also predictably shaped UVA’s NSAC campaign. But before the team changed gears, all of McIntire—and indeed the entire University—needed to switch gears to pivot to a virtual platform, a change that continues to impress Heilman.

“It is remarkable to think we moved our entire curriculum, across multiple programs, to an online delivery system in less than seven days. It was a collaborative effort, guided by exemplary leadership and executed by a dedicated and resilient faculty and staff. I have never been more proud to be part of this McIntire community in light of what we accomplished over the past four weeks,” she says.

As expected, all levels of the NSAC have gone virtual, necessitating preparations for online submissions. Heilman recounts the “Promotions” team’s quick adjustment:

“We spent the weeks after spring break identifying innovative ways to make our recorded Zoom presentation stand out from other schools. Rather than spend countless hours with the students in our media lab finalizing the project, we did all of that over more Zoom calls than I would like to count.”

But she explains that the students’ resiliency and commitment to collaborating in the new environment surpassed her expectations for the team.

“The students didn’t quit; they went above and beyond what I ever would have imagined was possible. Furthermore, because I had no prior experience working in this format, we struggled through it together, and they even taught me some innovative things to improve my online teaching,” she says.

Lasting Impact
The positive results equate to more than their win at the district level and a spot in the semifinals, where they hope to be one of the top eight teams that advance to the national finals in June. She says the experience has also taught students how to focus and produce in the face of uncertainty and adversity, while remaining agile and flexible. Heilman believes the unexpected change readied them for distance working, which she suspects will likely become more commonplace after the worst of the pandemic passes.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my students and all of the McIntire students for how they have handled this situation with grace, determination, and grit.”

While Heilman’s other classes don’t involve a national competition, she insists that she still tries to create an experiential learning environment in each of them.

“By teaming up with actual clients in the local community or through McIntire’s alumni network, students work on a real problem posed by the corporate partner and then compete with the other groups in the class.”

She says that ensuring those hands-on learning opportunities throughout its disciplines and programs is an essential component at the very core of the Commerce School. “It is what makes McIntire unique, successful, and extremely valuable to our students.”

A Truly Supportive Group
Regarding winning UVA’s All-University Teaching Award, Heilman was surprised with the news by UVA Vice Provost Louis Nelson, McIntire Dean Carl Zeithaml, and Senior Associate Dean Saonee Sarker, who entered the virtual “Promotions” classroom under what Zeithaml lightheartedly called “somewhat false pretenses.” They pulled off the ruse, surprising Heilman with the good news.

She has been effusive about her fellow faculty and staff members for their inimitable encouragement and positivity.

“I work with the best colleagues imaginable, starting with Dean Zeithaml and everyone in the Dean’s office, to my colleagues in the Marketing Area, to the collaborative and collegial faculty and staff throughout the entire building. McIntire is so special in that regard,” she says. “I have received nothing but support for my teaching efforts from all of my colleagues, and I share the same respect and admiration for them. I am humbled to receive this award, given the many talented teachers we have in our fine school.”

In the not-too-distant future, Heilman is hoping for a return to normalcy in the teaching environment, though she believes that the future will look different than was previously expected (“a new normal,” she predicts). Heilman says she’s also looking forward to simple things like getting back to the office and interacting with her colleagues in person more regularly. “I am looking forward to doing fewer Zoom calls, as I am sure most of us would agree.”

She’d be hard-pressed to find an argument, but rather easily meet with congratulatory praise from all who are lucky enough to work with her or to learn under her guidance. Here’s to Heilman’s successes and more to come in brighter days ahead.

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