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The College Classroom according to Margaret Capen

(Sept. 9, 1995)   —   Few would argue with Margaret Capen’s candor about her field of expertise. “Statistics,” she said, “can be very dry.” But Dr. Capen’s School of Business classes on statistical analysis and managerial economics are often standing-room-only because she has the knack for putting pizzazz in this sometimes dreary subject.
Her talent regularly draws praise from her students and faculty colleagues, and this year it brought her the prestigious $7,500 Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Board of Governors. She also won a 1994-95 Advising Award from ECU.
“It is important to get the students interested in the subject, but the motivation comes when the students feel their professors have an interest in them,” explained Capen, who teaches in the Department of Decision Sciences.
“We tend to think it is a one-way street. We stand up there. We give a lecture. They are supposed to learn it whether or not they have any motivation to learn it,” she said.
She says the first thing she does with a class is to learn the names of the students.
“Since I know who they are, they are more likely to prepare and to participate. Effort on my part thus results in effort on their part,” she said.
The South Carolina native joined the business school in 1981 after six years as a graduate assistant at the University of South Carolina.
She grew up in Darlington and knew from the time she was eight years old that she wanted to be a teacher. Her mother taught in the public schools.
Now starting her 15th year at ECU, she continues to impress her colleagues and endear herself to her students with the effort she puts into her profession.
Her teaching effectiveness scores over the years are near perfect. She won the Commerce Club (School of Business Alumni Association) teaching award in 1985 and 1991 and an ECU Teaching Excellence Award in 1991. She was also selected over the past four years as the outstanding teacher in the MBA graduating class.
She teaches a graduate statistics course every semester and gives her students projects that have relevance to industry concerns. Some of the companies benefiting from the projects include Hyster-Yale, Abbott Labs, Carolina Telephone, BB&T and Greenville Utilities.
Dean Ernest Uhr and Decision Sciences Chair Robert Schellenberger nominated Capen for the Board of Governors award. They wrote:
“It is not clear to us whether it is the dynamism of her lectures, the real world emphasis, or the commitment of so much time and effort to work with students as their projects evolve that makes students so please with her performance. We suspect that it is all of these factors.”
Judith Hunt, a management professor, remarked on how Capen’s reputation of teaching excellence comes from the students who “have survived very well in courses which originally would have been considered both difficult and potentially boring.”
“Managerial economics—no offense to the economists—is one that students dread, but when Maggie is teaching the course it is standing-room-only,” she said.
How does she achieve this?
She uses examples from day-to-day living in her lectures. She also motivates her students by letting them get to know her as a person.
She is quick to share a joke with her class, especially tales about people who enjoy statistics. Her office wall and file cabinet are pasted with cartoons ab