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Best Local College Professor: Dr. Alan Chow, University of South Alabama
If you took a poll of business school graduates and asked what the most grueling part of their college career was, there is a strong chance the word “statistics” is going to come up.
That makes it all the more impressive that alumni, students and educators came together to help Dr. Alan Chow from the University of South Alabama (USA) claim the title of “Best Local College Professor” on the very first year it was included as a category.
Chow is an associate professor of marketing and quantitative methods at USA. He has four degrees and has published research on volatility measures in equity returns, alternative methods of statistical comparison and other topics the author of this piece has zero understanding of.
Some of the courses Chow teaches include business statistics and analytics, and he is well aware not everyone is wild about them. Most people are familiar with mean, median and mode, but statistics gets into concepts like interval estimates, hypothesis testing and integration analysis.
Chow said that’s difficult and unfamiliar territory for a lot of students.
“I try to take a topic that’s not most people’s favorite and make it, maybe not enjoyable, but at least endurable,” he told Lagniappe. “A lot of students ask: ‘When will I ever use this?’ And my answer is: ‘I teach this material because, at some point in your career, you’re going to need maybe 10 percent of it, but you won’t know which 10 percent until you actually get there.’”
When it comes to teaching those difficult subject areas, Chow said he tries to find ways to make things interesting or at least seem more applicable. He injects humor where he can and tells students to think of it as applied mathematics, as opposed to just plain old math — something a lot of business students go into their college careers assuming they’re bad at.
After coming into academia from a career in the industry, Chow began teaching at USA in 2003. As a second generation professor — yes, his father taught stats, too — Chow said he learned early on being a good professor was about building relationships with students and meeting their needs.
When you’re knee-deep in a difficult subject, a professor with that outlook can be a lifeline, and Chow said that approach has helped him reach and mentor students in and out of the classroom.
“You really have to be thinking about the students and their success, and success in my classes doesn’t always mean making an ‘A.’ For some people it’s making a ‘C’ and continuing on,” he added. “It’s important to realize that everybody is trying to make it through this, as long as they’re doing their share, I’m willing to do mine and work with them anyway I can.”
According to Chow, another thing he inherited from his father is a love for sports.
His dad taught at what is now Louisiana Lafayette University, and like any good Louisianan, he’s been known to cheer for those purple and gold tigers in Baton Rouge. After all, he did get two of his degrees from Louisiana State University (LSU). Though, despite his history pulling for other schools, Chow said he’s all in for the USA Jaguars today no matter who they’re playing.
“Occasionally, we’ll play LSU in baseball or basketball and people always ask me who I’m going to be pulling for,” Chow said. “I always tell them: ‘South Alabama gives me a check every month, and every year LSU asks me for one.’ That will square your allegiance up quickly.”
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