DeSanctis Combines Scholarship with Teaching Excellence

In these days of the Olympics, Gerardine DeSanctis, professor of management in the Fuqua School of Business, might be considered the Marion Jones of the organizational behavior field. With Thursday's presentation of the 2000 University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award, DeSanctis has now swept the gold of many of the university's most prestigious teaching honors. The university award was presented at the Founders Day convocation. Previously, DeSanctis (whose first name does not have an "l" in it, even though people have tried to correct the spelling all her life) received the NationsBank Award in 1998 for outstanding contributions to teaching, research and service and was named the Duke MBA Weekend Executive Outstanding Teacher the same year. "I was stunned to learn I won it," said DeSanctis, 46, who is one of the most heavily cited and influential scholars in the field of management information sciences. "I thought they must have the wrong person." The award, established in 1981, recognizes outstanding faculty members for their contributions to teaching, research and service to Duke and the community. In the classroom -- DeSanctis teaches in the Duke MBA-Global Executive program, the daytime MBA program and the MBA-Weekend Executive program -- she strives for a relevancy sought by her students, some of whom are already highly accomplished. "My style is fairly interactive," she said. "I use a lot of management cases and bring in leading edge topics. I make a point of reading daily newspapers and international publications to give me a global perspective of what's happening in business and the world, and use that as a context to talk about fundamental concepts and theories." Over the years DeSanctis has noticed that students, aside from seeming younger every year, are more interested in innovation, not only in discovering a technology they can apply, but in new and better methods of accomplishing things. They are more demanding in seeking ideas they can bring into the workplace and apply to their careers or to making their corporation more competitive. That pushes faculty, drawing out the newest and best ideas from professors. Teaching adds a dynamism that inspires her work, one reason she chose a university over a private think tank. "Being at a place like Duke where students are so talented, sharing my ideas and hearing their reflection is a tremendous dynamic relationship," she said. "It infuses my research with ideas, and I like to think that my research gives them ideas." Research brought her into the field and still captivates her interest. Her current project investigates how organizations can use electronic communication effectively and how workers cope with communication overload. The ability to reach anyone, anytime, anywhere, can interfere with what people want to accomplish in their lives, she noted. That cascades to the more specific question of how to use e-mail effectively so folks don't spend their workday doing nothing but processing e-mail. "I see as imperative that teaching and research be intertwined," she said. "The faculty of a university is its intellectual capital. Our ability to advance knowledge is the most important thing we do. Our ability to transfer that to students and learn from them, which informs our research, is what a university is all about." The path DeSanctis took to Duke led from psychology to business. She grew up on a small farm in Delaware, traveling only as far as Villanova, Penn., to get a bachelor's degree in psychology, summa cum laude, in 1975 from Villanova University. She ventured a bit north to earn a master's degree in psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J., then headed south to Texas where she worked in the mental health field. There, she got involved in a research project at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and began taking some MBA courses. It seemed a good fit. That led to a research project with the management faculty, which solidified her decision to work toward a doctorate in management, with a focus on organizational behavior and information systems. She was granted her Ph.D. from Texas Tech in 1982. After teaching and conducting research at the University of Minnesota, she came to Duke in 1994. DeSanctis is quick to give credit for her professional success to those she works with at Fuqua. "Universities award individuals, but individuals accomplish what they do because of their colleagues," she said. "You don't achieve these things alone. I have superb colleagues at Fuqua who have helped my career in terms of scholarship and teaching. They could easily have won this award, too."

Written by Nancy Oates.