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Krishnan: Humor and Vulnerability Inspire Learning

By Alyssa Smith
Broad Student Writer

There are times in students’ lives where they run across a professor who changes their perspective, changes the way they think and see the world. Ranjani Krishnan, Mainstreet Capital Partners Endowed Professor, is one of those professors. It’s the third year in a row that she’s received the Faculty of Excellence Award from the graduating Executive MBA class, for example.

Professor Krishnan in her office
Professor Ranjani Krishnan teaches management accounting and operational management for the Full-Time MBA, Executive MBA, executive education, and doctoral programs. Photo By Alyssa Smith

Krishnan has a passion and vitality for teaching that imbues all her lectures. “The teaching is the most rewarding to me. I just love teaching, I just love it,” said Krishnan.

Her interest in teaching started during the master’s program at the University of Pittsburgh in 1993. She admired the faculty’s skill at explaining things and connecting with their students, and she liked the idea of working with students of her own.

“I think it’s important for a faculty member to show a certain amount of vulnerability,” said Krishnan. “The human element is very important.”

Krishnan’s goal is for her students to feel comfortable in her class. “For example, suppose I’m working out a difficult question, and I make a mistake; I never try to cover it up! I’m like, ‘Oh, I messed up, I’m glad it’s not a test for me!’” she said.

Krishnan takes the same passion for teaching her MBA students to the undergraduate level, and she is proud that she is able to help guide them through her classes.

“They’re so young, and so open. There’s so much influence you can have on them. Just explaining a difficult or challenging concept and then seeing how it all comes together for them, and getting them excited about a topic. It’s wonderful.”

“I don’t think that there’s a level difference between me and my students,” Krishnan said. “I happen to know one topic better than them because I’ve done research, but they know other topics better than me.”

One way she keeps her classes interesting and unique is with humor, both planned and ad-libbed. “I can’t stay serious for more than five minutes,” she said with a laugh. “I remember in one class I was scrambling [to come up with jokes] because it was 8 in the morning, and I went in there for the first class – and the first class I like to go in for the first five minutes and make a very serious face and tell them how I’m going to fail all of them, how I go up to 4 decimal points, and here’s a quiz, and then say ‘No, this is not how I do stuff.’”

She also spends time coming up with “themed” lectures, riffing off of cultural institutions like Shakespeare and Star Wars to encourage students to connect and remember the material. “This one class, I went up, took the skull out of my bag and said ‘Alas, poor Yorick, he was a CEO of infinite wisdom,’” Krishnan explained. “This semester I did a Disney theme.”

Krishnan teaches management accounting and operational management for the Full-Time MBA, Executive MBA, executive education, and doctoral programs.

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