I graduated from college in May, and like many students, felt a twinge of sadness as the leaves changed this fall and our younger peers returned to school. There is something so wonderful about sitting down in a classroom and learning material from the bright minds of professors, collaborating with fellow students, and incorporating what you’ve learned into your other classes and into your life. Certain classes tend to have a lasting impact on us. For me, it was a class called ENGN1010: The Entrepreneurial Process that I took during the first semester of my junior year. Taught by illustrious professor Danny Warshay who had also attended Brown and sold his startup to Apple within a few years of graduating, the class had a richness that was felt every session. Danny’s sheer amount of knowledge and perspective, paired with presentations and group work he has perfected over the years, took my prior love for entrepreneurship to an undeniable level. ENGN1010 completely changed the trajectory of my life.

Many of us have experiences like these in the classroom at one point or another during our college years. So, when Next Gen-er Michael Ioffe posed the discussion question, “What have been your favorite college professors and/or courses?”, the answers were too good not to share.

Many of the courses forever changed how the students thought about the subject matter.

Michael Ioffe who posed the question shared that his favorite professor is Fritz Fleischmann at Babson College. Fleischmann’s course on the Environment gave Michael an understanding of what a sustainable life is, in all aspects, and also helped him appreciate the environment in a way he previously hadn’t. “Like the best professors, Fritz is also a role model for how to be a great human being,” Michael shared.

Christopher Lally shared that for him, it was a course at Babson called ‘Sales in Action’ with Professor Vini O. The class was only one day a week, with five off campus visits throughout the semester. Many of the actual classes were taught by guest speakers who spoke about their sales experience. Even cooler? Students got credit hours for getting certified in Salesforce and Hubspot. Christopher learned that sales is simply the ability to communicate and facilitate exchanges with value not limited to currency, and that in life and business, the ability to sell is dependent upon perseverance and iterating upon previous attempts to sell.

Peiyi Mei, a student at Swarthmore, took a course called “The Meaning of Life.” It was a philosophy course that truthfully left her with more questions than answers – what an amazing course should do. She reflected:

“Philosophy taught me how to be a critical thinker. I learned that 80 percent of philosophy is understanding and dissecting the question; we often jump into a problem without knowing what is being asked of us. And then there is that 20 percent which is asking the right questions to get to the answers. With meaning, one can look at it from a subjective and objective perspective. Personally, I prefer the subjective one because I don’t think there is an objective, universal, one-forall meaning for everyone.”

Michael Hsun: For Michael, it was a class called “Garbage Gone Global.” He reflected that he originally thought it would be a joke of a class, but it turned out to be hugely influential in shaping his understanding beyond the cycle of waste. “Taking this class made me realize how often we take public services for granted, without realizing the complexity and underlying issues that impact all of our lives. Look deeply enough, and you can always find value in garbage.”

Sometimes, we love the course simply because of the students we took it alongside.

Akshay Chalana, a recent graduate of the University of Washington, chose his favorite class with professor James Morrow “because of the community around it.” It was an Analysis Sequence course. He reflected with his friends on the course, and his friend Connor said, “although we learned a lot in the course, I think the best aspects of it was the group sessions we had. I feel like everyone in 33X was working together.”

Then, there are the courses that teach the student more about themselves.

Mir Olantunji is a freshman at Northeastern who has already fallen in love with a class called “Personal Skills Development for Business.” She shared that so far, she’s taken to heart the importance of self awareness, which is relevant regardless of what career or industry one goes into. “It’s very useful to spend time identifying our strengths and leveraging them and also working on improving our weaknesses.”

Perhaps my favorite – much like my own experience – the courses that impact us in the long run, by influencing our career decisions.

Sunny Su is now the principal of Paradigm Innovation, a design studio that consults countless brands (such as IBM and Lowe’s). His favorite class is closely tied to the work he does today – the Product Innovaton Lab at North Carolina State University.

“It gave me the opportunity to collaborate and strategize directly alongside MBA’s and graduate-level engineers. I learned their language and how a multidisciplinary approach early on can make a product, service, company, so much more robust and successful.

It was the first time I had the chance to identify gaps in my education and fill them in, as well as how design (and the other disciplines) ultimately interact and exchange value with one another in a dynamic business ecosystem.”

And for some lucky students, it may be a course they designed on their own.

Zak Slayback

For Zak, it was a class he designed during his time as a research fellow to Adrienne Martin at Penn. The course was focused on reactive attitudes in moral psychology. For a taste of the curriculum, Zak shared: “We often like to divide the world into rational logic and irrational emotions. But there’s a logic to our emotions and our attitudes. They play a role and a purpose that we can use to help ourselves better navigate tricky situations with other people — whether those are situations at work, issues of justice, or just trying to make sense of why we feel frustrated or gracious.”

What were your favorite courses or teachers from your years in school? We’d love to hear them! Tweet them to us at @next_gen_summit. Wishing a happy ‘back to school’ for students all over the world returning to classes – may they all be as influential as these were to our community! And, a big thank you to all the professors out there who work tirelessly to curate incredible courses that forever change our trajectories.


  • Haley Hoffman Smith

    Speaker & Author of Her Big Idea

    Haley Hoffman Smith is the author of Her Big Idea, a book on ideation and women's empowerment which debuted as a Top 3 Bestseller. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Washington Examiner, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown in May 2018. She is the founder of the Her Big Idea Fund in partnership with Brown's Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, which awards grants to women who apply with BIG ideas, and Her Big Lash, a cosmetics company.

    At Brown, she was the President of Women’s Entrepreneurship and started the first-ever women’s entrepreneurship incubator. She speaks on topics such as women's empowerment, innovation, social impact, and personal branding regularly across companies and college campuses, most recently at Harvard, TEDx, SoGal Ventures, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and more.