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An Interview with Stukent’s Professor of the Year: Dr. Debika Sihi

Each year, Stukent recognizes an outstanding educator who personifies Stukent’s core values and mission to help educators help students help the world.

The selection of the Stukent Professor of the Year is a rigorous, year-long process. In the weeks leading up to ProfCon — Stukent’s annual conference — we ask educators, industry experts, and thought leaders from all over the country to vote on whom we should honor as our Stukent Professor of the Year.

The 2022 Winner Is Dr. Debika Sihi!

Stukent professor of the year Dr. Debika Sihi

The Stukent team is delighted to honor Debika’s incredible contributions to academia with this award. Debika is one of the hardest-working educators in the industry, and we look forward to celebrating her and her accomplishments throughout the year!

ABOUT DEBIKA SIHI

Debika Sihi is an associate professor at Southwestern University. Before earning her PhD in marketing at the McCombs School of Business, Debika worked at Public Strategies, Inc. and Deloitte.

Debika teaches digital marketing and a capstone course that focuses on innovation in business. She is a cofounder of Southwestern University’s Lab for Innovative Ventures and Entrepreneurship (LIVE) and an avid supporter of Emancipet, an animal welfare organization in Austin, Texas. 

Debika’s research explores technological innovations and disruptions in marketing. She has published works in peer-reviewed marketing and business journals, including the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, the Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, and the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.

STUKENT’S INTERVIEW WITH DEBIKA

1. What is your teaching philosophy and/or mission statement?

My teaching centers on three principles: discovery, value and support, and adaptability.

First, across classes, I include projects and assignments that allow students to navigate through some unfamiliar material or methods. For example, in one of my courses, student teams are provided a dense data set that they must make sense of for a hypothetical client by the end of the class period. The students rely on the course material, some outside research, and their team members to work through this challenge. They discover such interesting connections and patterns among the material. 

Second, it is easier to focus on learning when you feel supported. I try to do everything I can to make my students feel this way in every class session. They all bring such value to the classroom, and I think it is critical to acknowledge and appreciate their unique experiences.  

Finally, adaptability in my pedagogy applies as much to me as it does to the students. I want to reflect and model lifelong learning. This past year, the students who are used to completing analyses of case studies were asked to develop their own case study, essentially flipping the script and making them reevaluate a process they know well. It changed how they approached the project and how I mentored them. It was such a successful and intellectually challenging endeavor for all of us! 

2. Tell us a little more about your time working at Public Strategies, Inc. and Deloitte. How did your time in industry shape the way you approach your curricula?

I loved the people I worked with in these roles. My favorite part of the job was researching new topics and explaining this information to my team members and/or clients. It made me realize that my passion was learning and teaching. I think this stemmed from my time as an academic tutor in college. When I explained different concepts or methods, it reinforced my own knowledge and identified gaps (when I thought I understood something but really did not). I also enjoyed helping other people, whether it was to understand a new policy at work or to study for an exam in tutoring. I think that positive impact is the main reason I went into teaching. 

My time in industry definitely shapes how I structure classes and the material I include. I always try to provide a strong connection to practice. I have been incredibly fortunate to have mentors, collaborators, and dear friends who have helped me integrate new topics and methods into classes. I constantly learn from them and have so much gratitude for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and insights.

3. The Lab for Innovative Ventures and Entrepreneurship (LIVE) looks amazing! How did you get involved in LIVE? Can you tell us more about how it has impacted your students? How has your involvement impacted you?

One of my fantastic colleagues and I noticed that many of our students had ideas they wanted to develop further. These ranged from developing technological and service innovations to nonprofit ventures in art. We wanted to provide students time, mentoring, and a space to develop these ideas further. 

I am fortunate to be involved in the startup community in Central Texas, which provided a springboard for LIVE. My colleague and I have now worked with three amazing cohorts of students. We have learned so much from the students’ entrepreneurial passions and the diligent market research they have conducted. One of our students commercialized her venture last year. I am certain she would have been successful with or without LIVE — she is outstanding. However, I feel so lucky that we were able to play a small role in her journey.

4. In your Professor of the Month profile, you mentioned a student who was reluctant to take your digital marketing course but eventually went on to succeed in the subject. Would you elaborate on that story?

Digital marketing is one of my favorite courses to teach because we dive deeply into making sense of data and consider so many different topics, including the regulatory climate related to data privacy and the impacts of changing technologies on marketing strategy. However, the range of the topics and unfamiliar analysis can be intimidating.  

This student was nervous about the analysis and was not sure the material in the course would be useful for his long-term plans. However, he put so much effort into the class assignments, met with me during office hours, and really discovered a passion and aptitude for marketing, in general, and digital strategy, specifically. It was so meaningful to me to see his interest and confidence grow throughout the course. I know I talk about my students a lot, but they are definitely the reason I do what I do. They inspire me every day.

5. It sounds like you’ve been using Stukent’s courseware and simulations since 2014 or 2015. How have these resources impacted the way you teach?

Stukent disrupted courseware in the best ways possible. It offered instructors a credible and timely way to integrate topics and assignments that help students build the skills they need for an internship or full-time position. Some of the best aspects of Stukent are: 

1. The format of the materials allows for real-time updates (e.g., if there is an update to Google’s core algorithm, it is quickly updated in the materials) 

2. The links to expert sessions and a variety of resources so students can gain exposure to the material in different ways

3. How often Stukent adds new projects, assignments, and other materials that can be leveraged in the class

I also cannot say enough about the team at Stukent. They are knowledgeable, kind, and so responsive!

6. You have a long list of published works — which ones are the most meaningful to you?

All the works helped me grow as a scholar. One that is particularly meaningful is the paper “Marketing leaders and social media: Blending personal and professional identities.” It was so interesting to examine the identities held and managed by different marketing leaders, and my coauthor is one of the most intelligent people I know. She was my student and worked on this research with me her senior year. (She is now a rockstar manager at a great company.) We definitely learned a lot going through the research process together.

7. Can you tell us a little about your work for Emancipet? It looks like a great organization!

I love animals of all kinds. I am pretty sure as a kid I included a line item in my budget — money I earned and my birthday money — towards the local SPCA or the Marine Mammal Center. There were several years of my life when I either wanted to be a ballerina or a marine biologist; I still love manatees! I have always been drawn to animal-focused causes. 

Emancipet’s mission is to provide accessible and affordable veterinary care, providing support for families and their companion animals. 

I first volunteered for a unique fundraising initiative Emancipet had called Sit Stay Day. Think of this as a fantastic meal and picnic basket comprised of locally donated products so you can sit, stay, and enjoy! This initiative combined my love of animals, food, and event planning, and I have been a huge supporter ever since. I am in awe of Emancipet’s leadership and their commitment to their mission in everything they do. I am excited to advocate for them as they continue to open clinics throughout the United States.

8. What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Outside of researching the U.S. tax code, of course!

Yes, due to my accounting background I will always have some interest in tax research! Other than that, I love reading books of all genres. One of my best friends is a voracious reader and library lover, so I get terrific recommendations from her. I mentioned food earlier and love trying different cuisines. Often, I try to pair what I am watching on Netflix with a new cuisine. For example, I have been watching lots of shows based in Sweden, and we have a relatively new bakery in town focused on the Swedish practice of fika — a coffee and a treat! 

Finally, I am a small business advocate. However, during the height of COVID-19, I gained a new appreciation for the importance of these businesses not only as purveyors of goods and services but also as sources of community and support. Therefore, I am constantly looking for small businesses to support either as a customer, a brand advocate, or through partnerships in my own work.

Congratulations, Debika! We are thrilled to give this award to such an outstanding member of the academic community!

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