Teach Like Peach
Professor Taryn Stanko carries the torch for one of Orfalea’s most memorable educators.
Cal Poly’s Clock Tower rings out its harmonious yet thunderous chime, and students empty into the Business Building hallways. Tucked away in her fourth-floor office, management Professor Taryn Stanko prepares for the energy and excitement of her signature class — BUS 489: Negotiation. Eager Orfalea College of Business students await Stanko’s artful breakdown of the science of persuasion and its tangents into gender, culture, conflict and ethics just two floors below.
As she strides toward the front of her classroom, Stanko treads on territory paved by legendary Professor David Peach, one of the Orfalea College of Business’ department leaders and most revered educators of the late 80s and 90s. Though the two professors never met, their connection is one that benefits students and inspires fellow faculty.
With a gregarious personality and a vocabulary to match, Peach joined Cal Poly’s faculty in 1983 after earning degrees at Ohio University and Harvard. Immediately he stepped up to run Cal Poly’s Management Area, Graduate Programs and Academic Senate, among other leadership posts across campus.
The MBA program was his personal passion. After implementing an integrated MBA program with blended curriculum and faculty, he helped coach teams of Cal Poly graduate students in an international collegiate strategy competition for 13 years. According to Peach’s colleagues, he took great pride in besting teams from UC Berkley and other prominent schools each year. But the cornerstone of Peach’s work was his design of experiential courses in employment law, organizational behavior and — most notably — negotiation.
With his vision, Learn by Doing took center stage in management courses, giving students room to build instincts in leadership and ethics. The lore of this intense class that put students in the hot seat is still discussed by faculty today.
“The key was student involvement in dynamic analysis of real business situations. Students were expected to take positions regarding case issues,” said Peach’s colleague Professor James Sena. “Students quickly learned how prepared they had to be for his classes.”
Peach’s colleagues quickly realized this was a game changer for their students. “To enhance the learning experience, Peach engaged students in role playing to experience the situation’s actual pressures in class,” recalls Professor Rami Shani. “The critical individual and class reflection that followed generated a new level of insights, understanding and integration of theory and practice.”
Professors like Dawn Chandler continued to amplify the negation course after Peach retired in 2005. And now, Stanko has picked up where her predecessors left off. She arrived at Cal Poly in 2014 after earning degrees at UCLA, NYU’s Stern School of Business, and UC Irvine. Thanks to her experience working for a startup software company and Paramount Pictures, Stanko created a class that navigated large and small scale negotiation with Learn by Doing at its core.
“I try to avoid standing at the front of the room and talking at students for an hour or two,” Stanko said. “I’m inspired by Peach because I think the way students learn the most is when they are pushed out of their comfort zones and are forced to be taking the action themselves.”
The connection between the two educators became stronger in 2016 when Orfalea’s Management, HR and Information Systems Area awarded Stanko the first David Peach Excellence in Teaching Award. The fund was established by Peach’s family in 2015 after he passed away to amplify the legacy he left at Cal Poly. To mirror his style and commitment to students, the award requires that its recipient must have a track record of designing and managing a meaningful learning environment, inspiring students, and fostering student learning and student success.
Stanko was honored for her dedication to excellence that embodies the Cal Poly teacher/ scholar model. Outside of the classroom, her respected portfolio of research on topics like virtual work, communications technology, organizational control, and the management of work/non-work identities provides a notable benefit to her students who absorb those concepts in class.
Today, Stanko aims to expand the negotiation class to become an approved elective for more students so it can impact more disciplines. She has also taken things a step further: creating a new class that explores an entrepreneurial bent to negotiation that will support Cal Poly’s forthcoming entrepreneurship minor, debuting in 2017. Inspiration for the class came as she volunteered her expertise to student and alumni startups working in the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s (CIE) programs.
And, thanks to the support of the Peach family, she’s not slowing down. Stanko is also moving the needle forward for other specialized Negotiation in a Cross-Cultural Context. She hopes that building the academic structure will help the next generation of faculty implement timely shifts in curriculum that improve career-readiness among students.
“I have the best job in the world,” she proclaims. “I get to be involved in things that really excite me.” In many ways, Stanko is not alone while leading her classes. As she lays the foundation for her own legacy at Cal Poly, she stands on the shoulders of pioneers like Peach just as surely as the Clock Tower chimes.