Missouri State University

Dr. D. Keith Denton

  • Management professor
  • Ph.D., Southern Illinois University

Management professor: ‘I design experiences where students can actually do something’

Dr. D. Keith Denton wants his business students to learn lessons that will stick with them for life.

Making paper planes may not seem like a typical business project, but this is a regular assignment for students of Dr. D. Keith Denton, management professor. Students in his operations management courses are divided into teams that complete business plans, choose CEOs, create an assembly line to make a product and are graded on how much (theoretical) money they make. To make money they must control costs, provide a quality product, control their inventory, meet customer expectations — and, of course, the plane must pass inspection and fly! He wants students to have these hands-on experiences and an emotional connection to their work, so they’ll remember it for a lifetime. He has worked in private-sector jobs in management, but says nothing beats the feeling of making a difference by teaching.

You are being profiled because students say you’re a great teacher. What do you think makes a teacher great?

For starters, you have to like your own discipline and have some energy for it. You should feel excited about the information you’re sharing with your class. You’re more likely to engage students when you have a lot of energy and want to make the class enjoyable for them. It also involves being able to teach something other than what is in the book. If you can bring real life into the classroom, students will connect to what you are saying.

How do you foster an intelligent, open discussion in your classroom?

I think of myself as an architect rather than a teacher. I design experiences where students can actually do something. I serve as a conduit to let them express themselves and have experiences in the classroom. And when you listen in the hallways, my students are using the words they’re supposed to and using the processes they’re supposed to. I’m a real believer in learning by mistakes, and for them to learn something, there has to be an emotional experience to really learn it. Whether it’s happy or sad, those are the experiences that stick with them.

How are MSU business students prepared for the real world?

We teach students how to handle stress well and prioritize what they need to do. The choice, for some, is to try and take the easy road. But this is students’ one shot to overcome their fears, try something new and really push themselves. They learn it here first, so they can continue to do it in the real world.

What advantages does Missouri State offer that other business schools do not?

We teach students how to write and research, so they get an opportunity to create new knowledge in their classrooms. Not only that, but we have strong student-teacher relationships where both parties get the one-on-one beneficial experience. The classes are smaller, so a lot of the emphasis is on teaching and ensuring students understand their work.

What types of jobs do graduates from your program receive?

Most graduates end up in the operations field. These professionals are the ones responsible for delivering goods and services to the customer. The hot item right now in the field is “supply-chain management,” where we look at business as consisting of your suppliers, you/your business and your customers. We’re making the “you” part of that equation much better. There is a range of jobs dealing with operations management, from all types of services to manufacturing. If you’re on the front line, you’re an operations person!

What is the best thing about your job?

Feeling that you make a difference. Teaching is cool and unlike a lot of professions. If you care about people and showcase that, every now and then you really touch somebody. This is the only place I’ve got that feeling. One positive comment from a student is worth a thousand complaints. Nothing is better than when you see the learning process in place and student’s eyes light up and they get it. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning — that, and the alarm clock!