Faculty Spotlight: Shiva Agarwal, Management Capstone

Written by Megan Tran-Olmsted

Dr. Agarwal teaches the capstone class that all Canfield Business Honors students must complete to graduate. Because the class serves as the final honors class for many students, it is designed to equip students with the necessary skills to become future business leaders. The class heavily emphasizes the importance of business strategy and successful execution. Dr. Agarwal often emphasizes the fact that “good strategies can quickly become bad strategies” if they lack proper implementation techniques. Because of this pitfall, the Management Capstone class seeks to help students become successful by implementing good strategic practices and avoiding common mistakes.

Dr. Agarwal’s background is multifaceted. She first began her career as a software developer for Microsoft after completing her undergraduate degree in computer science. It was here that she had the opportunity to explore a rapidly growing and changing business in the personal computer space. However, after several years with Microsoft, Dr. Agarwal decided to make a pivot into the business strategy space by completing her MBA. From here, she joined the Boston Consulting Group as a business associate. Here, she was able to utilize her analytical problem-solving skills gained from both her prior work experience and her MBA classes.

Ultimately, Dr. Agarwal felt a continued yearning to dive deeper into business analytics over a longer time frame than consulting allowed. Because of this drive, she pursued a Ph.D in Management at the Wharton School of Business. Here, she had the opportunity to build on her experiences at Microsoft by exploring technological innovation, platforms and business ecosystems, and how those concepts related back to strategic management and corporate strategy. After completing her Ph.D in 2017, Dr. Agarwal began her research and teaching career at the University of Texas at Austin. Now Dr. Agarwal focuses on how firms within their larger respective industries interact with each other, rather than focusing on a single firm.

Dr. Agarwal is a strong believer in the case method of teaching. She believes that this is particularly important in fields such as management where class concepts are largely theoretical, as opposed to formulaic. In her classes, students analyze how corporate giants like Apple, Amazon, and Coca-Cola have designed and adapted their strategies over time to remain competitive in a dog-eat-dog world. Furthermore Dr. Agarwal has seen time and time again that there is a common misconception about business strategy. She says that many people believe that there is “one path to success,” when in fact, each business requires a different and adaptable strategy depending on many market forces.

Since Dr. Agarwal has previously spent several years as a software developer, a business consultant, and now a prominent researcher, she can offer a unique perspective to students interested in entering the tech space, the consulting world, or even academia. She recommends that students test the waters prior to diving into a set career path. She tested several avenues before deciding that the academic world was what she desired to pursue. She fondly recalls how she developed strong relationships with her professors and was fascinated by their research and publications, which fueled her interest to join academia.

When she’s not exploring the next big move in the technology space or teaching CBHP students in the classroom, Dr. Agarwal enjoys spending time with her three-year-old daughter. Even at home, her interest in technology still shows as Dr. Agarwal thinks about the impact of technology on the younger generation. While she teaches this class on creating successful business strategies, Dr. Agarwal says that she would love to know what the ultimate successful parenting strategy looks like.

Faculty Spotlight: Shefali Patil, Organizational Behavior

Written by Nicholas Kuehl

photo credit: Lauren Gerson

Dr. Shefali Patil teaches MAN 336H, the Organizational Behavior: Honors course. A graduate of the Stern School of Business at NYU as well as the Ph.D. in Management program at Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Patil first discovered her passion for research after entering Stern’s business honors program that encouraged students to consider research. Dr. Patil quickly found that she enjoyed the freedom that research offered her as she walked the streets of New York, thinking of new questions and ways to collect data to answer those questions.

Dr. Patil’s course is often described by students as “a lot of fun,” “eye-opening,” and “unexpected” as organizational behavior can often be misconstrued as “boring” and “intuitive.” Dr. Patil emphasizes during each class how organizational behavior is actually quite multi-faceted in that decisions and characteristics that are often considered to be positive can be negative in certain situations. Because her research focuses on organizational behavior in public policy organizations, Dr. Patil’s students are also able to appreciate how organizational behavior concepts can impact everyone’s lives through the actions of police officers, politicians, firefighters, and other public officials. By filling every class with interesting exercises and activities, Dr. Patil encourages students to always look at the flip-side of every decision, which helps students develop the cognitive ability to break through typical patterns of behavior and become independent thinkers. As Dr. Patil has experienced since her childhood, being an independent thinker allows you to surprise others by challenging their expectations and by thinking of unexpected solutions to all sorts of problems, including those in the business, public policy, and personal realms.

As for her Canfield BHP students, Dr. Patil appreciates their intellectual horsepower, their enjoyment of rigorous thinking, and their penchant for abstraction. In fact, Dr. Patil has noticed over the years that her CBHP students often, when exposed to new knowledge, discover where the holes in current knowledge are and form, without being prompted, interesting hypotheses. As a result, Dr. Patil has heard many potential research questions hiding in the questions her CBHP students ask her.

Dr. Patil has this advice to offer current CBHP students: “Remember to do activities and learn new skills outside of your chosen field. Of course, rising to the top in your field is going to take immense effort, dedication, discipline, and resilience. It is a grind, no doubt. But, you also never know what new ideas you may come up with based on your experiences outside of your field—or the people you might meet who will put you on a path you never envisioned.” She believes that when coupled with independent thinking and abstraction, these new ideas and insights can lead CBHP students to have an immense impact in their careers and on the wider world. As a personal example, Dr. Patil recalls how her tennis doubles partner (a software engineer) and her tennis coach helped her identify the connections between the challenges athletes face and the challenges faced by the police officers she was studying. Her partner and coach’s unique experiences were able to  get out of a research slump and recognize new patterns and solutions that are faced by all sorts of decision makers.

Outside of class, Dr. Patil greatly enjoys playing video games with her younger brother. In addition, as mentioned above, Dr. Patil enjoys every aspect of playing tennis with her doubles partner and tennis coach, both of whom she finds endlessly inspiring and motivating.

Faculty Spotlight: Elizabeth Goins – Business Communications

Written by Nandita Daga

Dr. Elizabeth Goins is currently teaching BA324H, the foundational Canfield BHP Business communication course. Although new to CBHP, she finds teaching CBHP students a rewarding experience because “[they] truly engage with the learning process and bring so much interesting experience to the classroom. I love hearing about their big ideas and big dreams, and that I get the opportunity to help turn those into realities.”

Dr. Goins’ dreams are what led her here to us in Austin. Ten years ago, she was on K Street (Washington D.C.’s lobbying industry) and working with C-suite executives. Her lingering wish of getting a doctorate led her to apply to UT, which has one of the best communication programs nationally. She started graduate school thinking she’d leave as a researcher, but her grad school “side hustles” – as an athletic tutor, assistant director of the University Writing Center, instructor of writing and public speaking, and MBA coach – helped her discover a new calling. Although she has built a successful consulting business post-graduation, her closest passion is still teaching.

Her teaching philosophy is based on pragmatism, which believes that education should be practically applicable to life. She provides examples of how class material will help students be more successful at work, have better relationships, and set themselves apart from the competition. These examples come from her professional experiences, current issues facing companies from different industries, and the latest in business communication research. Dr. Goins believes that BA324H is an essential course because you can be the smartest person in the room, but if you don’t know how to communicate your ideas and persuade people, you’ll never be a successful leader. The BA324H course is particularly empowering, because becoming a skilled communicator is all about practicing and getting feedback – just like playing piano or soccer. Her goal is that wherever a student begins, they will feel more confident about their communication skills after taking her class.

To students, she offers some words of wisdom: “You face so much pressure when it comes to grades, and as someone with an anxiety disorder, I often worry about what that constant stress does to you. But here’s a secret: after your first job or application to graduate school, no one will care about your GPA. ​I had a 3.2 in undergrad and it’s never held me back from anything…What you’ll really remember from this time are the classes that changed your thinking, the experiences that shaped your identity, and the people who became your family. Focus on becoming the best version of yourself while you’re here, and the rest will take care of itself”.

When not in class, you can find Dr. Goins doing yoga, circuit training, spinning, and hiking with her husband. She also enjoys gardening, traveling, and camping (right now she’s into road trips and National Parks). On the less active side, Dr. Goins loves a good Netflix or Amazon binge and is re-watching The Good Wife and The Good Place and about to finish the latest season of The Man in the High Castle. If you would like to learn more about her, email her at elizabethgoins@utexas.edu or drop by her office at GSB 4.126H! ​

Faculty Spotlight: Alex Gabbi, Principles of Marketing

Written by Nicholas Kuehl

Professor Alex Gabbi teaches MKT 337H, the honors section of Principles of Marketing. For many BHP students, this is the first marketing course that they will take, and Professor Gabbi loves challenging students’ expectations of marketing. Because many students believe that marketing is solely the domain of creatively-minded people, one of Professor Gabbi’s favorite things to discuss is how broad marketing can be, from analytics to product management to promotion design, and how understanding your customer and how to build value for them are important skills for everyone in business to know.

Because this is Professor Gabbi’s first semester teaching BHP students, he has been excited to experiment with several new class concepts, such as a new game-based assignment delivery system, and he has enjoyed gathering feedback and other new ideas from his BHP students. When asked about his BHP students, he mentioned their high level of pre-class preparation, high work ethic, and high level of support for each other as some characteristics that he has noticed. For his students, Professor Gabbi offers this advice: “One of the most important things for all students to do is to first develop self-awareness. What are you great at? What things do you love? What inspires you? Then I encourage students to take those answers to heart and follow their passion and strengths. I always tell a student to ‘make it YOUR major,’ ‘make it YOUR career.’ If you always do the things that inspire you, then your odds of success will be dramatically higher.”

Professor Gabbi attended the MBA program at UT, and during this time he served as a teaching assistant for some of the courses that he teaches today. After getting his MBA, Professor Gabbi worked in industry, and he has founded several startups. He deeply enjoys teaching students the tools and techniques that he uses in industry, and he enjoys showing students how what they are learning in class can (and, in his case, has) applied to real-life business scenarios. “Teaching at the university level brings many rewards,” Professor Gabbi said. “I find undergraduates still very open to different perspectives and learning. I love the short-term gratification of seeing a student engage enthusiastically in a class discussion or a concept, and nothing is more satisfying than befriending a student later in life and having them recount the impact you had on their development.”

Outside of industry work and teaching, Professor Gabbi loves traveling to exotic locations with his children. In fact, during the past year, he has been able to see the World Cup in Russia, visit the Global Seed Bank in Svalbard, see the Redentore fireworks in Venice, visit the solemn site of Auschwitz, and experience the Northern Lights in Iceland. In addition to traveling, Professor Gabbi enjoys playing strategy games, playing basketball, and building Legos!