Melissa Hickey

Research School of Management

ANU College of Business and Economics


If you asked me five years ago if I could picture myself teaching undergraduate business school students as a tutor, I would have thought you were crazy. I didn’t even know what a tutor was! Five years ago, I was living in Washington DC and commuting to San Francisco working my way up through leadership positions at a tech startup that was growing like gangbusters. It was fast-paced and exhilarating, and I could never imagine leaving that environment. Teaching certainly wasn’t on the radar, though I really liked people management, mentoring, running workshops and leading continuous learning programs at work.

Fast-forward a few years and I found myself in Canberra on account of my spouse’s diplomatic posting here. I enrolled in the Master of Business Administration program at ANU and started getting involved on campus. I wanted to find somewhere that I could apply what skills I had honed during my career to stay engaged in my field and discipline. I connected with a lecturer who was creating a new course called ‘Design Thinking: Human-Centred Innovation’. If I could sum up my career in a course, this would be it.

The lecturer and I spent a few weeks designing the course together and really tried to approach it as a training program for the real world. The course involved a live brief from a client in Week 1 and a final pitch back to the client in Week 12. The lecturer and I ran the course as if we were managing principals at a consulting firm specialising in design strategy and our students were our consultants.

To cover course material, I ran activities and exercises in tutorials to apply what the students were learning in their seminars to their projects. I also tried to run my tutorials like weekly team meetings where my students updated me on their work progress, and I gave them feedback and direction as I would to any team of direct reports. I used consultation time as I would use a 1:1 meeting with my team members at work. Students came to my consultation nearly every week and I would give them individual feedback on their projects as well other topics they were keen to improve like professionalism and communication.

Given the level of engagement and participation in both my tutorials and consultation hours, I would consider this teaching approach a success! I felt the students grow and mature over the length of the course and felt moved almost to tears watching them present back to the client in Week 12. It was a fantastic experience for me as a new teacher and I know the students derived significant value from the non-traditional, but highly preparatory approach to learning. I’m confident they are more equipped for future work in their respective industries from this class and I am honoured to have a part in their journey.


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