Thamhain an "ironman" in, out of the classroom
From the pages of the Bottom Line, Bentley College's faculty/staff newsletter

Bentley College Professor Hans Thamhain competed in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

By Joe O'Shea

Associate Professor of Management Hans Thamhain is leading a dual life. By day, he's an enterprising educator. On weekends and in the early morning, he's a world-class triathlete.

Thamhain, who just returned from the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, brings the same vigor and tenacity to the classroom as he does to his avocation.

At the world championships in Kailua-Kona in October, Thamhain completed a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon (26.2 miles). The competition to qualify for the world championships is fierce. Each year, almost 20,000 triathletes from 50 countries compete to nail down one of 1,500 slots.

A triathlon veteran, Thamhain has competed in more than 60 events, including 15 Boston Marathons. He qualified for this year's world championships by winning the 60-and-over age category at the New England Triathlon Festival on August 23 in Sunapee, N.H. "I believe in a balance of activities," says Thamhain. "There is a lot of intellectual activity on campus, and I try to balance that with physical activity in my spare time."

Thamhain is also on the final leg of an academic triathlon of sorts, one that began with an exchange program in 1995. During the spring semester of 1995, Thamhain taught two graduate-level courses, "Project Management" (PM) and "Management of Innovation" (MOI), at the University of Siegen in Germany. Thamhain then spent the last academic year on sabbatical, conducting field studies in India, Singapore, Germany and Japan. The third and final leg is a Fulbright Grant-funded research
project, which currently occupies much of Thamhain's spare time. It was born out of both his affiliation with the University of Siegen and his sabbatical research.

This research enhanced the three courses he handles each semester: the aforementioned two plus "Management of Technology" (MOT). He teaches PM and MOT at the undergraduate and graduate levels, while MOI is offered only to graduate students. "The research has lead to more case studies and more vignettes to discuss with the students," says Thamhain, who has also taught in an exchange program at the University of Tallinn in Estonia. "Future classes will have more focus on participatory learning."

The first leg of Thamhain's academic triathlon took place in Germany two years ago. According to Thamhain, Professor of English George Ellenbogen and he "spearheaded the effort" to partner with the University of Siegen. During trips to Germany, Thamhain met with Siegen officials to discuss ways to create a student/faculty exchange program. "Both George and I were driving toward a more formal partnership," said Thamhain, noting that a big step was taken in that direction when Siegen Chancellor Peter Schaefer visited Bentley in 1996.

As a German native, Thamhain was the natural choice to be Bentley's first exchange faculty member at Siegen. Ellenbogen also taught at Siegen, while Siegen professor Wolfgang Lippke has taught at Bentley three times, including a course in commercial filmmaking.

Assistant Professor of Management Andrew Zacharakis was the most recent Bentley faculty member to teach at Siegen, which is located about 45 minutes east of Cologne. Zacharakis taught an intensive course after wrapping up his Bentley duties last spring. "I thought it was a fantastic experience," he says. "I was teaching within the equivalent of our MBA program. My intensive was a slimmed-down version of "Competing in the Global Marketplace: Strategy and
Implementation." We focused on the hyper-competitive global environment and how companies gain competitive advantages while recognizing that these advantages are temporary."

The most glaring difference between the American business education model and the German model, according to both men, was teaching methodology. "Their instruction is more lecture-based," says Thamhain, while Zacharakis noted that it wasn't unusual for students in a class of 600 to have little interaction with their instructor. "Our method is more based on case studies and discussion groups, and relies more on experiential learning. The German students who take our classes love them. They like the more dynamic way of interacting and sharing."

Thamhain spent the 1996-1997 academic year on sabbatical. He conducted field studies in Denver, India, Singapore, Japan and Germany, generating new research insight and fresh teaching material for PM, MOT and MOI.

"As a result of my field work," says Thamhain, "we've made changes in the Bentley curricula. I talked to practitioners and asked, 'What would you like to see in our students upon graduation?'"

The reply, in most cases, was that entry-level professionals should have more sophisticated people skills. "In other words," Thamhain muses, "What does it take for workers and managers to create an environment conducive to risk-taking and innovation?" Also, he adds, practitioners would like to see colleges provide students with better overall people skills.

The changes made in his three courses include an emphasis on the best professional practices; the application of modern tools and techniques; an emphasis on integrated business processes; the utilization of information technology; and a focus on people issues, challenges and skills. Thamhain also expects to incorporate more case studies, vignettes, videos, field excursions, participatory learning and experience sharing into these classes.

In addition to better preparing his students for the "real world," Thamhain's sabbatical activity included two field surveys on technical project management practices; developing and submitting five journal articles; writing three reference chapters in three professional handbooks; participating in 13 professional conferences, including 13 paper presentations, three panel chairs, sessions chairs and one track chair; preparing a book manuscript, "Technology-Based Project Management;" writing another book, "Managing Technology-Intensive Projects;" and developing a Fulbright Grant proposal.

Thamhain's Fulbright Grant proposal, submitted in conjunction with Eberhard Seidel, was accepted and he has begun work on the project on a part-time basis. This project will culminate with a trip to the University of Seigen this summer, where Thamhain will work side-by-side with Seidel, who is a professor of organizational studies and environmental economics at Siegen.

"We're applying project management techniques to environmental recycling processes," says Thamhain. "It combines project management, technology management and information technology."

So, while this final leg of Thamhain's academic triathlon will be demanding, at least it doesn't demand a jaunt through lava fields. "We ran through lava fields where temperatures climb as high as 130 degrees," laughs Thamhain, recalling the world championships in Hawaii. "That's why they call it 'The Ironman.' It's tough."

Copyright 1990-present Joe O'Shea, Jr.
O'Shea Communications