Oakland University
Monday, August 18, 2014

Distinguished professor: Award-winning business professor inspires students with his love for learning

It won’t appear in any of his course descriptions, but enthusiasm seems to be a prerequisite for the business classes taught by Mark Simon, Ph.D. Or maybe it’s just a byproduct of his engaging teaching style.


Whatever the case, Dr. Simon, a professor of management in the School of Business Administration, has earned a reputation on the OU campus as both a motivator and critical thinker.


For his part, Dr. Simon, an expert on entrepreneurship, observes that it’s his students who inspire him to work harder, longer and with the genuine enthusiasm for which he’s known.


“I find that watching them all at work is inspiring and it energizes me,” Dr. Simon says. “Hopefully, I’m a catalyst to help them reach their goals, but all the credit goes to them.”


Even so, it’s not just students who recognize the passion and commitment he has for teaching. Dr. Simon has also attracted the attention of the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan. The council — comprising the chief academic officers at 15 public universities across Michigan — recently named him as one of three educators in Michigan to be honored with a 2014 Distinguished Professor of the Year Award.


In selecting Dr. Simon for the prestigious award, the Presidents Council recognized his “thoughtful course designs, which he monitors closely to gauge student learning and success,” as well as his gift for “fostering undergraduate research and scholarship, experiential learning, social responsibility, and entrepreneurship on local, national, and international levels.”


Real examples

Dr. Simon says he teaches his students to apply management tools and theories which are aimed at increasing a company’s performance. As the author of The Balanced Entrepreneur: Finding and Perfecting Ideas to Generate Financing, Freedom, Fun and Fortune, he often sprinkles his lectures with real-world examples.


Priding himself on “thinking out of the box,” Dr. Simon also insists that his students determine what they hope to achieve before starting a business, a project or a task. Dr. Simon has founded a variety of companies, including Wilderness Bound, a nature-focused travel venture; Andean Designs, a gift and decorative accessories import company with his brother and another partner; and The Balanced Entrepreneur, which provides educational services to entrepreneurs — a business he continues to operate.


“I’ve kept that business because it helps me be a better teacher,” explains Dr. Simon. “It keeps my knowledge and the examples I use in the classroom both current and practical.”


More recently, he helped a team of OU students create Café de Kuna (CafédeKuna.org), a coffee business based in rural Panama. Dr. Simon accompanied 16 students in OU’s Global Business Brigades chapter in August 2013 to help the village pave a way out of poverty by establishing a sustainable coffee business.


That trip was followed by a special strategic management class and a 30-day “crowd funding” campaign to raise more than $30,000 for Café de Kuna, an initiative Dr. Simon confesses was one of the more exciting projects in his adventure-rich life.


Driving force

Kelly Torpey, SBA ’14, one of the founding members of Café de Kuna, says that Dr. Simon was a guiding light and a driving force in getting the project off the ground.


“Dr. Simon has been with the team since the beginning: mentoring, teaching and empowering us to achieve more than we ever thought was possible,” she says. “His passion for teaching truly shows in every project he is involved with.”


Co-founder Catherine Pesta, SBA ’14, concurs, adding that working with Dr. Simon “was a highlight of my academic career” at OU.



“He cares about his students in a way that extends beyond the classroom,” she says. “He believes in his students, empowers them and encourages experiential learning. He’s truly special.”


Café de Kuna is but one of many collaborative projects that Dr. Simon has championed to give students a 21st century global business experience. He also brought together students from OU and India for a project that won a $30,000 grant from the state.


Prize surprise

While teaching awards are nothing new for Dr. Simon — he’s won the Paul Lorenz Award for Teaching Excellence and also a teaching award sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the world’s largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship — he admits the

Distinguished Professor of the Year Award is something special.


“It was a big surprise,” he says. “I found out by email that I had won it, so it was pretty dramatic.”


The honor also came with his own reserved parking space on OU’s campus, which he promptly donated to his students’ crowd funding campaign so the team could use it as a door prize to raise additional funds.


“I felt I had to give something back because these students gave me an incredible experience,” Dr. Simon explains. “I wanted to show my faith in them.”



By Rene Wisely


It won’t appear in any of his course descriptions, but enthusiasm seems to be a prerequisite for the business classes taught by Mark Simon, Ph.D. Or maybe it’s just a byproduct of his engaging teaching style.


Created by Claudette Zolkowski-Brown (zolkowsk@oakland.edu) on Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Modified by Claudette Zolkowski-Brown (zolkowsk@oakland.edu) on Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Article Start Date: Monday, August 18, 2014