Ruchi M. Watson teaches in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, while also serving as managing director of the Goff Strategic Leadership Center. Watson has many years of experience in academia, working on the dean’s team prior to becoming the managing director, but her background is diverse: she has a bachelor’s in chemical engineering, an MBA, and a doctoral degree in higher education management.
For Watson, education is all about connection: connecting professors to students, students to material, and material to the real world. Young people are poised to take on an ever-changing world, and Watson believes that strategic navigation of problems, and a problem-finding approach, can help them tackle big issues.
What are you passionate about?
Watson: I was that kid that just loved school. I was a nerd — I’ll put that out there. I think I was always passionate about education: I was a teaching assistant in undergrad, a mentor, and a tutor to students. But, at the time, I had no idea that this is where I would end up.
But when I look back, there was a thread of passion and belief in education. My personal mission is to help others achieve their full potential, just like folks did for me in directing my path to education in the first place. Now, working as a faculty member and a director, I fully believe in what we’re doing. That belief, that commitment is transformational in achieving both my personal mission and the school’s. It’s easy to come to work each day when you’re doing something you believe in.
What is your favorite course to teach? Why?
Watson: I don’t know that it would come down to a course or lesson. In general, I love engaging with students one-on-one. That’s where I’m able to help connect the dots of what we’re learning to what they’re experiencing. It’s my teaching philosophy: if information is just put out there, that’s great. But, if you can tie someone’s experience to the facts and information, that’s when it really becomes meaningful. That is my favorite thing.
I teach with prompts and questions that students write in a pre-class journal. When they come to class, and they join breakout groups and talk about it. Then, we have a speaker from industry that connects the topic to the workplace, which students then write about in a post-class journal.
I feel connected to each student when I read their stories about how these concepts resonate in their lives. And it allows the students the opportunity to share something they might not ever have shared — they’re talking about immigrating to this country and the challenges they faced with that or working multiple jobs in order to make this whole thing work. They have a lot of experiences that they bring to the table.
What was the most important entrepreneurial skill that someone taught you? Why?
Watson: To value feedback and appreciate those who challenge me.
During my time at General Mills, we acquired a new organic division. It wasn’t integrated into General Mills, so I was sent in to better understand their supply chain and distribution. I was pretty junior in my career and reporting information to the president of the division each week, which was a big deal for me. The manager I was working with at the time would sit with me and go over my communications. I would write an email, and he would give me feedback — over and over and over, for hours.
I’ve always remembered that and feel fortunate that I was taught to respect that, and not be frustrated by constructive feedback. I knew that it was a lot of time for him to be spending on an email, but that also meant it was really important. I learned that very early on. Throughout my entire life, I’ve had people that would push me. Sometimes I would feel like, hey, why am I being the one that’s getting challenged? But now I see that all those people, so many people, were just trying to get the best out of me, and they knew that was the way to do it.
Is there a mistake or misstep that many entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial students consistently make? If so, how can it be avoided?
Watson: They think they need to know everything. That’s not what we’re asking them to do — instead, it’s really about being self-aware enough to know what you know and what you don’t. Value creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and there’s really no way to do it alone. We see students try, and it’s frustrating. We see students struggling because they’re fighting to know everything, which just isn’t possible. CEOs don’t know every little thing about the company. They know where to focus and when to ask for help.
What skills do you want students to leave your classes or conversations with?
Watson: What I find the most meaningful is if young people, in particular, leave here, saying, “I can tackle hard things, I can do hard things and make an impact.” I hope they feel equipped, even if they don’t know all the answers. I want them to leave with the right mindset, skillset, and competencies to go out there to be confident enough to be willing to try and ultimately make an impact. That’s what we’re really trying to do — help them maximize whatever that impact is going to be.