Kopalle, Feiler Selected for Teaching Awards by Class of 2015

Praveen Kopalle and Daniel Feiler are recognized for their engaging and practical teaching.

Tuck professors Praveen Kopalle and Daniel Feiler are recognized for their engaging and practical teaching.

Tuck marketing professor Praveen Kopalle has vivid memories of the statistics course he had to take as an undergraduate engineering student. “The professor was always going over my head,” he recalled, “and I vowed that if I taught it I would do it in a way that people get it.”

It looks like that vow wasn’t merely an idle thought, because Kopalle has just won the Teaching Excellence Award for his core course, Statistics for Managers. The award, set up and endowed by the Tuck Class of 2011, is designed to “celebrate the learning environment at Tuck by honoring two faculty members each year who have made an outstanding contribution to the quality of the second-years’ educational experience.” Daniel Feiler, an assistant professor of business administration, also won the award this year, for teaching the elective course, Negotiations. Feiler is the first junior faculty member to receive the honor.

Kopalle (at left) has been teaching Statistics for Managers for more than 10 years, and in that time he has developed effective methods for bringing abstract principles to life. One example is his session on the central limit theorem, the bedrock of classical statistics. Kopalle asks the class to imagine walking through an enchanted forest and seeing colorful but slightly different butterflies all around, playfully arranging themselves in a nice bell-shaped curve. Each butterfly, he says, is like a sample mean: it helps you to predict the identity of the mother butterfly, which is the population mean. “The course is much more interactive than the average statistics course,” Kopalle said. “I build stories into it, to engage the students and show the relevance of statistics.”

That creative approach pays off for the students, who praised Kopalle for his ability to explain difficult material so that they really understand it. “The passion and energy Professor Kopalle brings to the classroom makes a typically dry subject, statistics, thoroughly enjoyable,” wrote one student when nominating of Kopalle for the award. “He genuinely cares for his students and works hard to make sure every single student is keeping up with him in class.”

Meanwhile, in Negotiations, Feiler (at right) tries to keep his students from getting comfortable. Each week, his students complete a simulated negotiation; for example, half of the students might play the role of a movie director and the other half a movie producer. After the deals are made, everyone’s scores go up on the board and they discuss why some parties were successful and some not. The next day, Feiler ties the in-class experience to academic research and real-world examples. But every week, the students get hit with a new twist: a cross-cultural issue, say, or hidden incentives among team-members. “If they simply apply what they learned the previous week, then they are always a step behind,” Feiler said. “I think that aspect keeps students engaged and motivated to anticipate the next lesson.” Feiler wants his students to understand that negotiation is about much more than squeezing a dollar from a supposed opponent. “The gold standard is to maximize your value while strengthening relationships with others,” he said.

Students applauded Feiler’s approach in their nomination comments. “Everything he taught me was a ‘mind-blown’ moment,” one student wrote, “and I thought the pedagogy was an excellent way to get practical experience with just enough of the theoretical to make it stick.” Another student appreciated that Feiler frequently related the lessons from class to current events.

In teaching these particular courses, Kopalle and Feiler epitomize the scholar/teacher model that Tuck always strives for. Kopalle’s research is heavily dependent on statistics and empirical analysis in the areas of pricing strategy and new product development. Feiler, for his part, studies behavioral science and the psychology of managerial decision-making, two areas that converge during negotiations. And their excitement about their field is palpable. “I love the dynamic of needing to be competitive but also cooperative in deal-making,” Feiler said. “Walking that line is really fun.”

Kopalle and Feiler will deliver “Last Lecture” classes during Friends and Family Day on June 12. Previous winners of the Class of 2011 Teaching Excellence Award include Giovanni Gavetti, associate professor of business administration; Chris Trimble, adjunct associate professor of business administration; Andrew King, professor of business administration; Scott Neslin, Albert Wesley Frey Professor of Marketing; Matthew J. Slaughter, associate dean for faculty and the Signal Companies’ Professor of Management; Joseph Hall, visiting associate professor of business administration; associate dean for the MBA program and accounting professor Phillip Stocken; and Ron Adner, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship.