The name, Rob Rouwenhorst, is far from new news around Tippie. However, he does have a new title as Associate Professor of Instruction this year. I sat down with Rob to learn more about his work and what it is about Tippie that keeps him coming back. Rob has quite the interesting story and I think everyone could learn a little bit from his experience. Without further introduction, Rob Rouwenhorst!
Could you start by telling me a little about yourself?
I was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Of note, I started up a computer company in the late 90’s with my best friend since the 2nd grade, called ComputeTHIS. That went gangbusters. So many stories there which we don’t need to get into. VCs that had taken Gateway public had talked to us about taking us public. Russian hackers broke into our servers. Got a ‘Cease and Desist’ and threatened lawsuit from Sony.
Best story though is one of our accountants embezzled all of our money. We found out about it when he got a charge on delivery, a carton of cigars for $1200. I guess, he filled out the shipping wrong, so it got sent to the office instead of his office. I mean $1200 even today would be a lot, but back in the late 90’s that was even more. So then we came to find out that our accountant had embezzled all our money.
Then Jerry and I, it was a big decision of what to do, do we take the money we paid ourselves and invest it in the firm and come out swinging again? Or do we just part ways, say “that was fun”, and move on to the next thing? We decided on the latter.
Then I went to the University of Iowa and majored in Computer Science. My senior year I took a class in Marketing with Dave Collins. He was very good. I had the privilege of later on I’d be his head TA. I worked with him for years, watched that guy in the classroom, saw him outside of the classroom. I mean, he and I are friends now. He taught me so much, he was one of my chief mentors.
So I was interested in Marketing now. I was a senior and I was like I could keep going for another 2 years of undergrad or I could get my MBA. I chose MBA. Normally, they don’t let in people straight out of undergrad, but I told them the whole computer story and they were like ‘okay, good’.
Then orientation week, they were hiring for a TA and I got hired on with Irwin Lebin. He’s probably one of the most prolific researchers at Tippie. The guy is retired now and will still come out with half a dozen papers per year. So, Irwin hired me and he said, ‘I want you to interact with the class,’ and I had no idea what that meant because if you were a TA, you were either a grader or you led your own discussion section.
I was going to class with him every day; second week of class he asked me, “Rob, what’s your opinion on this?” I stood up and I started talking, and that was my calling in life moment. The energy return I felt from students was such that I knew I needed to do this the rest of my life. That was when I was 23.
I’m very fortunate, you know, there’s this cliche that if you know what you want to do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I was so singular on this mission of helping other people become better versions of themselves that now this is all just play for me. The fact that I got that at 23… I realize how fortunate I am.
What is it about Tippie that has been so appealing to you in furthering your career?
Well, I came back, but I never really left. It’s a weird deal. Tippie was very nice to me. I came out into the job market in ‘08; ‘08 was not a good year. They had set aside money to start something known as the Marketing Institute. So they said, ‘hey, would you like a crack at this?’. So I helped start the Marketing Institute with several people. I was the director before Peggy, so I did that for about 4 years.
Then St. Ambrose University in Davenport reached out and told me that they had this tenure track position, and they wanted me to come out. So I went there and did that. I was there 7 years then Iowa reached out and asked if I would be interested in coming back.
The thing that brought me back and the reason why I love this place is just the people. Fabulous faculty and Marketing Department, staff, like Michelle Highly, are awesome. The dean had a vision for engaging with the community. I’ve always been a huge proponent of experiential learning because Marketing is tied to that. Experiential learning and getting students involved with real-world problems and companies, not only helps those clients, but also helps students sell themselves later when they’re looking for an internship or job. It’s a lot more valuable for everybody if we can get students engaged with the community at large.
Can you tell me about your research and teaching interests and why you think they’re important to understand?
My teaching interests are basically teaching effectiveness in higher ed. I’ve done things like clickers in the classroom, looking at flipped classrooms in terms of just changing the model, banning electronics in the classroom. Which how much greater than using clickers in the classroom to banning electronics can you get? I’m constantly questioning, you have to question yourself and you have to question the assumptions that everyone has.
My current research is related to banning electronics in the classroom, which now with COVID, that’s a weird paper to submit. Now, I’m really doubling down on healthy habits, trying to get students to think beyond just marketing, beyond the domain. Think about how they can better themselves and having, hopefully, a growth mindset that they can improve intellectually, physically, emotionally. My refrain is being better versions of themselves and constantly improving. I think now more than ever that hits home. It’s very easy, in terms of not only in our culture, of just complaining, but also the pandemic and everything going on. It’s very easy to look at the negative side of things, but if you step back, there’s 7 billion people on the planet, so as long as you’re not dead last on the list, you’re okay. I think we’ve got to focus in on the positive and help students know that they can constantly and always change.
Circumstances are a bit strange this semester, so how have you changed your goals for student outcomes? How are you staying flexible with all the changes?
The outcomes don’t change, but the message and tools I use are flexible. I’ve always been interested in technology, given my background. So, way back in 2011, when we first started discussing online education and online BBA, I was coming out with content in classes. I’m always interested in what’s the next channel and how can I use these tools that society is going to, in some cases, quickly adopt? The outcomes haven’t changed, the method and structure has.
It’s interesting to me because I’d take a week’s worth of content, which is 3 hours, and if I take that lecture and just do a video of it, which was my old method, I’ve only got about 45 minutes now. That freaked me out because I was like I’ve got 2 hours of discussion normally and now I don’t have that. The last few years, I’ve thought that 45 minutes is too long in an online environment. I mean if it’s a Ted Talk, that’s something that you’ve really honed and mastered, and you can maybe, maybe capture people’s attention for 16 minutes. So, I’m shortening the videos; I’m creating more content, but shorter duration. Certainly, Zoom is something that’s intriguing with breakout rooms and discussion boards, so I’m just trying to take advantage of all these different tools that we have available to us.
What has been the most difficult part of planning for this semester?
My kids. I’ve got 4 kids. I’ve got two boys, 13 and 11, and two girls, 9 and 5. That’s been the most difficult thing because the school system is changing and the options they give. So my kids are here and I’m trying to entertain them and trying to work.
How have you then adjusted the format of your classes?
I have gone into it thinking, and this is terms to taking advantage of different tools as opposed to just set in stone, I’ve got to be flexible. I’m taking advantage of the tools that I have to make sure that the live class has the ability to go online. Plus, those that have COVID or have worries, they’ve got an alternative to the live class. There’s discussion boards they can use and videos they can watch. It’s more work, but it’s worth it in the end when you’re trying to create the best learning environment for students. That’s where I get a lot of pleasure actually, trying to create the best environment, help students be better versions of themselves and then constantly questioning how can I accomplish that goal. The fact that I’m able to take advantage of technology and always push to be ahead of that curve means that when we switched to online in Spring, I already had videos from the online section of the class.
What has been your favorite thing about Iowa/ the University of Iowa/ Tippie?
That’s a tough one because it depends on my viewpoint! Friday after class is very fun when you’re a student. It certainly has changed with time and with my perspective with going through the family lifecycle. I think that’s what I value about Iowa City. Regardless of your age, the opportunities and things for you to do, see, and experience, are some of the best in the state. So I’d have a different answer when I was a student. I’d have a different answer when I got married, now that I’m faculty and have kids. There’s lots of cool stuff.
When I was a grad student, the equivalent of Film Scene, played movies I thought were really cool. The different things they put on at Hancher, even the Main Library will bring in really quality speakers or comedians, lots of cool performances at the Englert. It’s a really cool place regardless of your age or where you are in the family lifecycle.
What do you hope to gain from your experience? What are you most looking forward to this year?
There’s this old cliché of a wooden vessel or an old sailing ship, if you replace all the boards is it still the same ship? When I left and now coming back, I feel like everything has been replaced and I feel like a new person. Hopefully, better. What I value has changed. So, the reason I left back in 2013 was because tenure was so appealing. It was this special deal in terms of being an academic, it’s this reward you get for years of hard research and service. So, I had the nicest office at St. Ambrose University and then you get tenure, and in my experience and depending who you talk to it probably varies, but my experience was that it was very anti-climactic. There’s no parade, there’s no ceremony. You get a letter and it says congratulations and I was like, “that’s all there is?”. I went there for that, but I found it unfulfilling.
The thing that fills my cup and makes me get up super excited every day is helping as many people as I can be better versions of themselves. My metric has completely shifted to that. That was one of the appealing things about coming back. If that’s my metric and that’s my personal mission, then being able to be exposed to and hopefully influence students is very powerful.
It’s very easy to focus on the negative. I’ve got all these students who are either freaked out to come to class or who have been exposed and can’t come to class, so it’s like what can I say? I think helping students be better every day, help them see the positive light in all of this, help them get jobs and internships – that’s the positive angle for me. In terms of improving, this has forced all of us to use technology, whether we want to or not. I actually like technology, so I’m not scared by it, but it’s different. You have to adapt with the times, you have to learn it, master it, and figure it out, so that’s appealing to me. I look forward to working through that and hopefully, being a better instructor because of it.
Favorite quarantine activities/ hobbies?
Personal fitness has become a huge deal for me. 7 years ago I was way overweight, so I started swimming and lost a lot of weight, so then I started looking at my diet. Now, I’ll do cardio for about 30 minutes, I’ll go weight training for about an hour, my diet is pretty specific, and my Apple Watch tells me my resting heartbeat is 38 beats per minute. What’s changed in terms of quarantine is since the pool’s closed, I’ve picked up running.
Also, lots of family time. More watching movies with the kids at night, more going on bike rides with the kids. We also got a dog on March 6th! We had been searching for a dog for a year and we had really specific requirements because we have 4 kids and an elderly cat whose 15 years old, so we needed a dog that could get along with the kids and the cat. I was like Goldilocks, I didn’t want anything too big or too small. The dog has been incredibly awesome!