Tara Ceranic is an assistant professor of Social and Legal Research at the University of San Diego’s School of Business Administration. She teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses and writes on topics such as business ethics, moral behavior and sustainability. She’s the faculty advisor for the undergraduate and MBA Net Impact student chapters and has been recognized as a “faculty champion” by the USD Changemaker Hub. Inside USD asked Ceranic about teaching, technology and privacy, her research on the Ultimate Fighting Championships and more.
Topics such as climate change, immigration, and business ethics, even at the highest levels of government, spark debate and often just temporary solutions. How do you reinforce belief in what you’re teaching to students?
I always talk about ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) as long-term solutions. I feel like so much of what is implemented today (in business and government) focuses on getting that immediate impact/”bang for your buck” and that isn’t always the best way to handle problems. In my classes I talk about ethics and CSR as things that pay dividends in the long run. If a company has a focus on ethics and CSR, then they can retain and attract employees — especially millennials — and save money because everyone is more on the same page in terms of ethical behavior. They also attract customers and improve their reputation. It’s a win, win, win. Good ethics is good business!
Technology usage has grown exponentially and with it major concerns about privacy. How do you present this in your class and what research/projects are students doing to reflect their understanding of it?
This is a huge issue for students that have never been without the Internet. We talk about the impact social media has on their own lives and how their Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. accounts can actually hinder their ability to get a job. Specifically, this comes up in my class in the context of public issues and crisis management. We discuss companies that have had their mistakes plastered all over the news and then talk about how those situations could have been either avoided or better handled. All of my students participate in a semester-long project where they work with a local business and one part of that project is assessing and analyzing any crisis their organization faced. They explore how the organization looked in the media and the impact that this crisis had on the business and their bottom line. Then we bring it back to them as individuals and address that their mistakes can also be plastered all over the internet so they need to exercise good judgment on what they post. I also stress the importance of all of them having a LinkedIn profile so that when potential employers do want to research them they are putting their best foot forward online.
You’re a fan of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Your interest led you to do a research study on the brand, which is run by USD business alumnus Lorenzo Fertitta. Can you talk about the research and results?
I’m a huge UFC fan and I went to Vegas to meet with Lorenzo and his team to talk about how I could write something about UFC from an academic perspective that could be used in courses. We settled on the difficulties inherent in expanding any business internationally. At the time the UFC was considering expansion into China, South Korea and India so the case considers the different cultures in those countries and how the UFC would be received because if a business isn’t culturally viable it certainly won’t be financially viable. The case presents pros and cons of each location and sparks a great discussion in class about globalization and regulation-especially since so many students are UFC fans!
What advice have you received about teaching/research that’s stuck with you?
I’ve been so lucky to have amazing mentors and they gave me sage advice during my time at the University of Washington as I was completing my doctorate. I was told to never pretend to be someone else in the classroom and that has served me really well. I’m insanely enthusiastic about what I teach and I think that comes out in my classes. I’m an ethics nerd from Pittsburgh, Pa., with a tendency to talk really loud and I incorporate cat pictures in my course slides whenever possible and I’m OK with that. When it comes to research I was once told: “Sometimes you need to know when to stop.” I didn’t really understand that until I started my own projects. There are always new articles or some other theory you can include or other people that can give you advice, but if you do that you’ll never finish anything.
I have two pedagogical projects. The first one tries to better understand how to improve teaching to meet the needs of our millennial students. I am trying some approaches in my own courses — use of online social media readers, elimination of textbook, etc. — to see their impacts. I don’t think we can do what we have always done because our students are different and we need to change the way we teach to better help them learn. The second project examines students’ “Ethical Lenses” (i.e. What’s the foundation on which they make ethical decisions) to better understand if/how their ethical point of view impacts other aspects of their decision making. Once we look at the data we can see which lens results in the “best” decision-making and teach to that in our classes to impact behavior. I’m also in the process of applying for an Australia Research Council grant with two research partners in Sydney. We’re working on a long-term project exploring the creation of an integrated model of work-life balance.
What hobbies/activities do you enjoy away from USD?
That UFC case wasn’t a fluke; I love fighting and I train in mixed martial arts twice a week. I mostly do Muay Thai and sparring is a great way to get out any stress. I also love to cook and bake — there is something so rewarding about throwing some things together and having a finished product that other people enjoy. I think that making something with a fairly immediate positive response makes me really happy. I love taking my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Allegheny (Ally) for walks in Balboa Park and I’m a sucker for Netflix marathons on the couch with the dog, cat (Franny), boyfriend (Casey) and a good glass of pinot noir!