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Faculty Focus: Finance Professor Simon Pak

With experience ranging from physics to economics and finance, Dr. Simon Pak, associate professor of finance, brings a wealth of knowledge to teaching online courses at Penn State World Campus. We caught up with him recently to learn about his background (including his stint as a taxi driver), why he decided to teach at Penn State, and what swayed him to value online education after his initial skepticism.

Penn State professor of finance Simon Pak
Dr. Simon Pak, associate professor of finance at Penn State

Tell us about your background, and how you ended up teaching at Penn State.

I actually started out as a physicist. People tend to think finance and physics are very different, but they’re quite similar and use a lot of the same math. And, believe it or not, I used to drive a taxi cab in Manhattan in the summer of 1972.

Do you have any shareable pictures from your time as a taxi driver?

I do, but I don’t think my wife would like if I shared them.

I’m sure she has your best interests at heart. Now, I understand that you have worked for some prestigious organizations in your career. Tell us more about them.

I worked at the World Bank in Washington, DC, for four years before moving to California to pursue my Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. Shortly after, I moved back to New York to begin working at the NYU Stern School of Business. Later, I worked at Florida International University for 17 years, and then 12 years ago I came to Penn State.

I came here to the Great Valley campus because it’s in the middle of the Great Valley Corporate Center, and the campus is part of the corporate park. Within a few minutes’ drive, there are 8 or 9 companies with over $1 billion annual revenue, and more than 150 companies with over $100 million in annual revenue within a 30-minute drive.

Does working in a corporate park help with your teaching?

Yes — the Master of Finance program is focused on practical business fields and finance. I try to make connections with people in the finance area. I’m working closely with the CFA Society of Philadelphia, which is the most prestigious finance organization in the area. As a result, our curriculum is tightly aligned with the CFA’s goals.

How long have you been teaching for World Campus specifically?

In the spring of 2013, we had our first cohort in the Master of Finance program. There are ten courses in the program, and I’m teaching two of them: BUSAD 526 (Current Issues in Corporate Finance) and Finance 513 (Speculative Markets).

I heard you were somewhat skeptical about online education at first. Can you tell us more about that?

Sure. I was mostly skeptical about student engagement in online courses, because there’s no face-to-face interaction. But I realized that our students are great with technology. They get to know each other and communicate with each other.

I also promote engagement through email responses. When someone asks questions, I respond to everyone, which encourages everyone to talk to their classmates. I’ve found that in terms of grasping the understanding of course material, online is as good as, and sometimes even better than, face-to-face classes.

What have you learned from your students?

Our students are highly motivated and hardworking. In one course I teach, students are expected to build a valuation model from a 10K report from a company, which includes financial statements, income flow, balances, and more. When we analyze various companies, there are many issues to consider. My students have come up with fascinating analyses, and have found information that I had never even thought of!

What inspires you as a teacher?

When I see a motivated student — a really passionate student — I try really hard to deliver the knowledge that they are seeking. I always give feedback and reasons why something they’re doing is incorrect, and also encourage and acknowledge what’s right. I consider it my responsibility to give good feedback that they can apply later on.

This is very rewarding for me, when i see students very excited to gain more knowledge, and apply knowledge they learn in their lives.

What about your life outside of the classroom? What do you do for fun?

I like to listen to classical music and take trips.

Favorite food?

Tofu.

What movie could you watch over and over?

An Affair to Remember.

Thanks, Simon! Have more questions for Dr. Pak? Post them in the comments section below.