World outside the window

by Maggie Tang

Academia at its best – HKUST best 10 lecturers series

Neville Lee, associate head
Department of Industrial Engineering and Logistics Management
Photo: Courtesy of HKUST

Dedicated educators open the door to the outside world for students. They facilitate the mastery of connecting academic knowledge with real life experiences so learners become better equipped to face future challenges.

Neville Lee, associate head of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Logistics Management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), has again received the Best 10 Lecturers Award which was the result of a ballot conducted by HKUST's undergraduates.

"Teaching is both interesting and stimulating. I worked in the corporate world before entering the teaching profession and still maintain my strong business connections to date. Sharing knowledge gained through university study and illustrating how it can be effectively applied in the workplace is a rewarding experience."

Professor Lee currently teaches an engineer management programme, which supports students ready to launch their career. "Students should possess a certain worldliness once they graduate. However, studying is quite an individual activity — follow the given framework and get good results. In the outside world though, possibilities are unlimited and the framework all but disappears," he notes. "Due to this lack of overarching structure, high performing students may not be able to excel in the workplace to the level they did in school. In addition, students are evaluated individually at school but it takes teamwork to succeed in the corporate world."

According to Professor Lee the business world is constantly on the outlook for competent leaders. His goal as an educator is to instill students with the leader's mindset. "They need to become inspirational and bring out the best in those around them with motivational actions and words. Such management techniques shorten the transition period between school life and professional life," he says.

The rules of the game at school and in the workplace also differ. "Efficiency is the key issue in the corporate world whereas attention to detail is appreciated at university. To succeed in business, an ability to evaluate from the macro perspective is indispensable," he stresses.

Despite his experience, Professor Lee still finds it challenging to translate his wide-ranging knowledge and corporate experience into a language comprehensible by students. "This is especially true when the target audience comprises undergraduates. Students with no in-depth professional experience often have difficulty understanding the work environment conceptually," he notes. Initially, this posed a problem for Professor Lee, so he took proactive steps and after interacting with a cross section of undergraduates he found he could better grasp their perspective and capture their interest.

International educational and professional exposure has given Professor Lee a clear insight into the relative merits of Hong Kong students, "The rigidity of the Hong Kong education system produces graduates who are often inflexible in the first few years of their professional career. Gradually however, their creativity surfaces to match that of their overseas counterparts and this fits perfectly with Hong Kong's fast changing environment."

Taking an interest in every one of his students, Professor Lee adds that seeing positive results and feedback from his students makes him feel good. "It is also an important source of motivation," he notes.

Unique approach

Professor Lee has overcome the challenge of distilling years of corporate experience and extensive knowledge into lectures and discussions which benefit the entire student body by using an interrogative pedagogical approach. In essence, he expands the core content of each forum with stimulating questions which require students to think both laterally and critically.

Although management problems rarely have a single absolute answer, Professor Lee is looking for evidence of analytical theorising. If students struggle to reflect and evaluate, he encourages continuous brainstorming. "Learners have ample opportunities to interact with both their peers and lecturers using this approach," he points out.

As for teaching tools, multimedia solutions such as videos are regularly used. "Few undergraduates have real professional experience so visualising the work environment is often problematic. Videos are ideal for illustrating a management situation," he remarks.

Taken from Career Times 04 April 2008
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