From L-R: Head of the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing Professor Shiv Ganesh, Massey Business School director of Teaching and Learning Dr Terry Macpherson, Richard Buchanan Teaching Excellence Award winner Dr Sandy Bulmer and Massey Business School dean Professor Ted Zorn.

From laboratory to lecture hall success

A former food technologist who escaped the lab to “work with people” has been recognised for her engaging teaching techniques as the 2015 winner of the Richard Buchanan Teaching Excellence Award.

Dr Sandy Bulmer, from the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, is only the second lecturer from Massey University’s Albany campus to receive the award. She won for a teaching portfolio that highlighted “a student-centred focus to teaching and learning”.

“You have a genuine interest in ensuring learning is actually taking place and this extends to catering your learning strategies to assist students with English as a second language,” the judging panel said. They were also impressed with the teaching techniques and technologies Dr Bulmer used in her classes.

While she has been a marketing lecturer at Massey University’s Auckland campus for 18 years, Dr Bulmer’a relationship with the university began as food technology student. But once she was out in the workplace, she realised she wasn’t cut out for the quiet life of working in a laboratory.

“I’m a people person who likes communication so after 18 months I went to see the boss and and said, “I don’t know what to do, I’ve made a big mistake really.’ And they asked if I’d like to be a marketing trainee for them instead.”

After working as a trainee, Dr Bulmer moved on to become a brand manager at Nestle. It was only after having children and seeking more work-life balance that she began tutoring at Massey on a casual basis. She found she liked academia and completed a master’s degree, and then PhD, in marketing.

A music lover who performs in a choir, Dr Bulmer says she enjoys the “performance” aspects of lecturing.

“Teaching really has an element of performance about it, you feed off your audience and that’s something that I never imagined would happen until I stood in a lecture theatre in front of a large class. You can see that they are engaged and following you, and not just checking their Facebook status.”

Dr Bulmer says she “doesn’t like blank faces – I want students to be as engaged and interested in marketing as I am”.

She kicks each lecture off with a well-chosen pop song. Last semester she used Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere’ for a session on strategy and Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Loyal’ for her lecture on consumer behaviour.

“It engages them the moment they come into class and then we use the song to discuss the topic of the lecture. Students really love it and they start suggesting songs of their own for lectures that are often weeks away.”

Another of Dr Bulmer’s favourite teaching methods is using real-world examples.

“I draw on my own practitioner experience but also what’s happening in the news. For advertising lectures I use campaigns that are currently in the market that students will have seen,” Dr Bulmer says.

“Text books always have examples of concepts but I want up-to-date examples that students will be famiilar with. For example when I talk about the difference between products and brands, I’ll discuss something like the Apple Watch.”

The award judging panel acknowledged Dr Bulmer’s support for international students who are often shy because of a perceived lack of English language skills.

“I really try to engage my Asian students by setting up smaller discussion groups and encouraging them to think about examples from their home country and giving them credit for their international knowledge and experiences.”

Dr Bulmer says her proudest teaching moments come when graduates let her know they have nailed a great job.

“When students come back after getting a job in marketing and thank me for helping to get them well-prepared for work, it is hugely satisfying.”

The Richard Buchanan Teaching Excellence Award is in remembrance of Professor Richard Buchanan, a long-serving and popular Massey Business School faculty member who died suddenly in 2008.

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