CSM Professor, Dr. Mary Beth Klinger, Imparts The Power of Education in Business Coursework

Dr. Mary Beth Klinger

On her way to interview for a position at the College of Southern Maryland, Mary Beth Klinger realized that the Southern Maryland location was well beyond a reasonable commute from her Mount Airy home. She had applied for the faculty position “on a lark,” but that job interview turned out to be the most significant step along Klinger’s wide-ranging career path. She got the job, loved the work and 14 years later she is still teaching business courses at CSM, and living much closer.

It’s the longest stop in a personal journey that has seen Klinger earn two bachelor’s, two master’s and one doctorate degree in between stints as a federal government worker and an employee in the private sector, as well as operating her own consulting business.

Klinger, recently honored with CSM’s Faculty Excellence Award for full-time faculty, believes in the power of education to open doors, and she says that she tries to impart that philosophy from the first day of class, “just the fact that [students] can do it, that they can get an education, that they can have a future, that they can have opportunity,” Klinger said.

Klinger has taught a variety of business classes at CSM: management, marketing, entrepreneurship and small business management, but she says her favorite has always been the college’s broad-based introductory business course that applies to a number of degree programs at CSM. “It’s a survey class where we touch on all the different functions of a business, look at marketing and finance and human resources and operations …. small business entrepreneurship, global business, technology.

“The courses I teach are very much applicable to everyday living. For example, the unemployment rate, the housing market crisis, what the Federal Reserve is doing with the money supply, how a company is marketing their product, the human resources—are they hiring, are they not, how are they hiring?”

Klinger believes that education, coupled with hard work and motivation, can help students be successful. She says that the recession, which began in earnest in 2008, “has thrown everything askew,” and she has seen a change in her students since that time, with fewer viewing themselves as entrepreneurs and seeking more stable work.

“A few years ago, before the economy really tanked…it was ‘I’m here to grab the world, and I’m going to be OK with whatever I do, here I come.’ The current student is uncertain,” she said. “When the world needs entrepreneurs and innovators [students] are more interested in making sure they have something to hold on to.”

Unlike some educators, Klinger had never really planned to be a teacher. After earning bachelor’s degrees in psychology and economics from Frederick’s Hood College, she spent several years at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management conducting background investigations and interviews for prospective federal employees. “I got tired of asking the same questions. It wasn’t something I saw myself doing my whole life. Going back to school was a tremendous opportunity to apply myself in a different way.”

Klinger earned two master’s degrees, one in international management and one in business administration. She also operated a consulting business, working with Frederick Community College to help establish its distance learning program, and taught classes part-time there to earn extra money. Those classes made her realize that teaching might be a new avenue for her. “I did take to it, like a fish in water, I think. I do enjoy what I do and I feel very fortunate.”

Klinger’s experience also translated well to her classes. “I have a lot of respect for entrepreneurs. It’s very difficult to start your own business, takes a lot of courage. I can help someone professionally with a business plan, I can tell them what to do.” She has used that experience to develop business courses at CSM, and she often puts students together for collaborative learning experiences.

In Klinger’s upper-level classes, with the help of grant money, she has incorporated simulations in which students assume roles in mock negotiations between American and foreign businesses. Students take their roles seriously. If the persona of one of the “negotiators” is an avid golfer, for example, the student might dress the part, complete with golf clubs. For the parts in which the negotiators are based in India, students also might dress in traditional garb and the talks might be conducted over tea and biscuits. “It is very much a team approach … they get a lot out of it,” Klinger said, adding that it helps students get the feeling of getting out of the classroom and incorporate what they have learned into a realistic scenario. “That seems to really resonate.”

Klinger also tries to include as much interactivity as possible for students. “I don’t want to ‘YouTube’ the class to death, but sometimes in the management class, there’s a good three-minute video about leadership and it just gets them thinking.” It’s a long way from when Klinger began her career, where she remembers her preparation consisting of being handed a syllabus and a textbook. “I’ve tried a lot of things over the years. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t. I keep trying.”

Years ago, before blogging became popular, Klinger had students in the introductory business class in a computer lab putting their blogs online. She also arranged for her students to communicate with Russian students via email about business and economic topics.

In class, “I try to be myself. I’m professional but yet I’m approachable. … Sure, it’s nice if students like you but more than that, I want them to get a good takeaway. Maybe somehow in some small way, I help them move to a place where they didn’t know they could go.”

Klinger’s students say that she seems to care about them. “She gets to know you not just as a student, but as a person,” said Sharma Egner, of Waldorf, who has taken upper-level classes with Klinger. “She takes a personal interest in everybody. Not all instructors do that.”

“She shows emotion. She wants you to succeed,” said Richard Watson, of Waldorf, who has also had Klinger for two classes. “She wants you to get interested in the subject, even if you don’t like it … she uses her experiences to show students that this is important, and worth learning … Inspiration, she definitely instills it.”

Over the years, Klinger has settled into her job at CSM. She serves on a variety of college committees as well as the faculty mentoring program. She reviews business and economic textbooks for publishers. She participates in community events, from the robotics competition held yearly at CSM to economic development summits in Charles County. Klinger also helped develop CSM’s international partnership with the Estonian Business School in Tallinn, Estonia, with the help of a state grant, and she has completed her doctorate in organization and management while keeping up with her CSM duties.

When she’s not teaching, Klinger, an animal lover, keeps horses at her home in King George, Va. Horseback riding is “my lifelong learning thing,” she said, which she says has not come easily when she can’t do something that her instructor has done many times. “The horseback riding—dressage—keeps me humble and understanding of what it means to learn. By learning myself, I think I keep the perspective and empathy needed to understand sometimes what my students will go through … it keeps me understanding that we’re all just learning different things.”

Like many instructors at CSM, Klinger has grown to appreciate the diverse experiences of her students. There are the uncertain ones, like the older student who had been emailing Klinger frequently about her worries and concerns before the class even began. There are the working ones, like the night shift employee at Walmart who has trouble getting to class in the morning because he’s been up all night. “You deal with some many different lifestyles, some people are coming from high school, some have been in the workforce for 35 years and are trying to come back… some are trying again, some are changing professions. I like to work with the different variety of students, reaching them in the best way possible depending on what their needs are, where they come from, how much I can give them.”

Klinger says she likes the direction of the college and her colleagues: “What keeps me here is kind of a combination of things—one, I like the connection with the student. Two, CSM is a really nice place to work. People are really nice, the community is really nice. It’s just a nice place to be, and I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to spend so much time here.

“It fits. It fits for me. I found a place where I can be myself. I can feel good about what I do. And I can feel good at the end of the day that I did something that helps somebody and is making the world a better place.”

CSM’s Faculty Excellence Award is presented at the winter and spring graduations, and recognizes outstanding contributions to teaching, curriculum and professional development, the college community, and the community at large. For information on the annual award and previous recipients, visit http://www.csmd.edu/Faculty/