Business Administration students connect with instructor Chris Lewis through humor
Chris Lewis has many reasons to love his job teaching Business Administration program students on the Modesto campus. Close to the top is one that might surprise his students and his peers. “Part of the reason I enjoy doing this is because I think I’m hilarious,” he offers without any false modesty.
There is a method to his zany madness. “I can just talk to students for two hours in class every day, but that risks boring everybody – especially on a Monday,” he explains. “I have a captive audience, and they have no choice but to listen to me for a little while. They are going to be more receptive to what I have to say if I can also say something that gives them a little smirk. Then I know they are paying attention and are open to the information I’m giving them.” Timing is important.
Whether he draws out a smirk, groan, eye-roll or a laugh-out-loud, he has their attention and will make good use of it.
“I’m not teaching my students to be workers, I’m training them to be thinkers,” says Chris. And his methodology is a more efficient delivery system.
The business – and life – lessons he delivers lean heavily on the necessary pillars of communication, rapport-building, negotiation techniques and successful presentation of ideas – the soft skills. Classroom studies also focus on the fundamentals of accounting/bookkeeping, inventory control, marketing and sales projections – the hard skills needed to operate and support a successful business.
“When giving students information, I like to give real-life examples from my experiences,” says Chris. “Whether I’ve made a mistake or done something well, I can give them a story that connects with the material I’m teaching them.” Many of his Business Administration program students have a dream to start their own companies one day or want to move up in their current business roles.
Chris also makes certain that his students are taking the long-view approach to their career goals.
“They’ve already taken the major step to go back to school, but that credential doesn’t mean much unless they have a clearly defined path. They need to be intentional about where they’re going and what they want to do for a living. I want to help them find that intentional path and not be out there wandering from job-to-job.”
That path toward career happiness can seem so uncertain, but Chris is there to illuminate a road map. “I want my students to work at something they will enjoy for the rest of their lives,” he offers. He waits for and draws out that moment when a student breaks through to that place of uncertainty toward career potential.
“It’s when students realize what they are capable of, what they can accomplish and start owning their education – that’s the moment I expect to happen for all of them; I’m never surprised to see that breakthrough.”
Chris lives for those moments in his students’ lives. And getting there with them is completely satisfying. “At any given point in time, I’m having more fun than anyone should be allowed to have,” says Chris. “Students are feeding off my energy, and I’m feeding off their energy.” He wants all his students to have the same joy in their own career choices one day.
“This is not just a theory,” he affirms. “I’m living that, and I want to give that same career expectation to everyone in my class.”
All his students get a taste of real-life business experience through the operation and management of the campus Student Store that sells food and beverages primarily to the campus population. “This is our lab,” says Chris, who calls the store the Business Administration program’s “business incubator resource.”
“Students get a fundamental understanding of staffing, training, marketing, inventory control, accounting, bookkeeping and customer service,” says Chris, who guides but does not direct the store’s operation. “This is where we might experiment with business concepts that might fail or might work very well. Most important is what did you learn, what can you make better.”
Chris doesn’t sleep more than a handful of hours each night. He is always reading, searching for new teaching techniques, ways to update lesson plans, creating innovative student interaction techniques and fun ways to inspire his students.
Fortunately for Chris, his wife Natalie is his biggest cheerleader. “She’s very excited for me to be doing what I do.” She is also his go-to audience for his stand-up material. “I try my jokes out on her first. She thinks I’m moderately funny.” He credits Natalie with his career success. “Without her, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. My wife is a saint.” Their three sons Owen, Jaxon and Dawson round out the ensemble.
Chris has big hopes for all his students…and some solid advice:
“You’ve got to want the future more than what you’ve been doing to this point. What are you willing to give up now to be what you want to be tomorrow? For some, it’s not going to be much, for others it’s going to be everything.”
If you’re sitting in Chris’ classroom, you can expect to be challenged, inspired, excited, tested and maybe even a little uncomfortable. That discomfort comes in the form of a definite chill in the air. He keeps the room’s thermostat a little on the cool side. But he loves it when a student complains about the chill. “You may want to sit over there in the corner,” he deadpans. “It’s always 90 degrees.” Badda boom! Mic drop.
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