Straight from the Classroom: Creating Your Own Speaker Series

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Creating an engaging and thriving classroom environment can be a challenge, especially for classes that may not be prone to excitement. While improv class gets the laughs rolling easily, painting and ceramics consume students in exploring their ideas naturally, and physics can lean into hands-on experiments like rocket building and egg-drops, many of us can agree that traditional economics classes do not necessarily contain this type of energy and could benefit from a little infusion.

Keon Burns, a mathematics faculty member, found success in student engagement through guest speakers. Speakers often offer real-world lessons in how the skills they learned in class apply to their daily lives and drive them forward to succeed in their careers. Burns shares, “A major part of the Financial Modeling class is career development. How can you position yourself in college to have the career you want? We had speakers from a variety of industries highlight the journeys of their respective careers and the skills they utilize on a daily basis.”

Furthermore, leaning into experts in their fields can also engage students in conversations that cater specifically to their interests or ignite a new passion. Burns makes a point to include speakers in his curriculum, and this past semester there were seven guest speakers from data scientists to entrepreneurs and many in between.

Meet the speakers

Max Kirsch, Financial Analyst, Apple

Max discussed not only Excel files and how to use advanced commands to organize large quantities of data, but he also discussed the rigors of being a student-athlete in college. Students learned a lot, especially in how to deal with a mass amount of information. Rory ’21 notes, “It was really cool seeing how Excel actually works and how company’s use it.”

Davon Robertson, Summer Associate, McKinsey & Company Consulting

Davon presented the different sectors and industries in business, what happens in the world of consulting, and his experience being a student-athlete. The class appreciated his views and how there are many opportunities and different career paths to explore. Keith ’21 says, “I really liked hearing about consulting from Davon Robertson because I’m interested in that field.  I learned a lot from hearing about his path.”

Duncan Robinson, NBA Player, Miami Heat

Duncan presented on a few key areas of his professional career—both on and off the court. Students learned why and how he launched a podcast, how he works to improve consistently, and his brand in the NBA. He also discussed a topic close to New Hampton’s own lessons in mindfulness—meditation and journaling. The class’s biggest takeaway was learning not to underestimate how much better you can become if you work consistently. Evan ’21 shares, “It was really cool hearing Duncan Robinson’s story and trying to use that knowledge to help my own career as I enter college.”

Exploring paths

The creation of the speaker series as it applies to Financial Modeling works to highlight the different career paths they can take while also reinforcing what they need to do within their education to set themselves up to be successful in their field. They also gain advice and guidance from young professionals. Burns notes, “Getting guest speakers in front of students has proven to be one of the most valuable things I’ve done in the classroom. It helps answer the age-old question, ‘Why are we learning this?’, that students often have.”

Creating your own speaker series may seem daunting, but Burns advises to begin small. Utilize your own network with college friends and colleagues from over the years, and also lean into your school’s network—the alumni. Set them up to visit the class in person or virtually; a Zoom call helps bridge great distances and the time constraints that many professionals may have. And in terms of time, be clear about your expectations; 15-20 minutes is the perfect amount of time.

About Keon Burns

Keon Burns was a faculty member in the mathematics department from 2018 through 2021 and also served as an assistant coach on the men’s varsity basketball team. Keon grew up in Beaverton, Oregon, where he graduated from Westview High School. He attended prep school at Phillips Exeter Academy for a postgraduate year. He holds an MBA and a BS in Business Management from the University of New Hampshire. At UNH, Keon played basketball and captained the team his senior year.

Keon enjoys teaching applicable math topics and seeing students form connections to the material. He strives to make the classroom environment productive and have students drive learning. He enjoys teaching at prep school for the many ways he can impact and help students. 

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