Nearly 35 years into his career and two months from retirement, Dr. Les Carlson discovered his old way of teaching all had to change. Carlson’s commitment to be first in teaching, research and service added one more challenge with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic – trying to be the best possible at remote learning.
“I had a teaching system that worked well for almost 35 years, and now during my last semester that’s all gone with the need for social distancing,” said Carlson, professor of marketing and Nathan J. Gold Distinguished Professorship. “I sat down with Jillian Manzer (instructional design tech specialist) to learn how to migrate my class online. I told her I didn’t even know what questions to ask. She helped show me how to create learning modules and links to communicate with students.”
Although the entire remote learning transition had to be started from scratch, Carlson had a couple weeks to prepare while the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business retooled student learning environments. Carlson converted his class lectures to video presentations with the help of IT personnel, and by the time classes ramped up his new system was in place.
“I’ve been able to release a couple videos per week that have assignments my undergraduate students can view. During my Ph.D. seminars, we’ve been able to bring in speakers from out-of-state to have discussions about papers we’re analyzing. It’s actually creating opportunities for us we might not have had now that we’re getting more familiar with the technology. It’s showing a lot of people how we can create relationships outside of face-to-face meetings,” he said.
Manzer, who started working at Nebraska last year, likely never would have worked closely with Carlson if not for the drastic changes caused by the pandemic. She quickly realized Carlson’s strengths through his eagerness to look at the daunting situation as an opportunity.
“I was shocked when he told me he was retiring because a lot of people wouldn’t be putting in this level of work right at the end of their career,” Manzer said. “He was passionate about mimicking his regular classroom presentations as closely as possible to support students. He walked through his examples in the videos just like he would in class, and he transitioned his office hours online through Zoom. His entire goal was to help students.”
Carlson received his Ph.D. from Nebraska, grew up in Oakland, Nebraska, and attended high school in Fremont, Nebraska. He spent his professional career teaching at multiple institutions and returned to Lincoln about 15 years ago.
“The reason I wanted to come back to Nebraska is the undergraduate students here are hard working. They show a high sense of responsibility. I also got to work with Ph.D. students when I returned here and that was important to me. There’s nothing better than to have a great Ph.D. student because you can see the impact you have on their research. I’ve seen them build their careers and impact the entire marketing field in a positive way,” said Carlson.
Abby Nappier-Cherup, who plans on receiving her Ph.D. later this summer, learned from Carlson while he served as her advisor. She cites him as a major reason she chose to attend Nebraska.
“He’s a fellow at the American Academy of Advertising (AAA), so he’s kind of a big deal. When Les walks in the room, everybody notices. I didn’t know at the time but he came to my presentation and thought I would be a good fit here,” Nappier-Cherup said.
Carlson received the distinction of being named an AAA fellow in 2017. The selection process involved more than 600 individuals voting on the honor.
“Being named a fellow reflects a recognition of research accomplishment I take pride in receiving,” he said. “I started out as a consumer behavior researcher and navigated over to advertising because it fit with what I was already working on. Even with that, I never wanted to just be good at research or just be good at teaching or just be good at providing service. I wanted to be good and at all three. That's been my overriding goal.”
In addition to service positions in the AAA and being an editor for major publications such as the Journal of Advertising and the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Carlson also served as department chair during his time at Nebraska. Dr. Ravi Sohi, professor, Robert D. Hays Distinguished Chair of Sales Excellence and Department Chair of Marketing, believes Carlson’s contributions benefited everyone at the college and throughout the world.
“Les has always been a proponent of marketing playing an important role in impacting society and public policy,” said Sohi. “At Nebraska, he developed and taught a Ph.D. seminar on marketing and public policy that impacted our doctoral students. He is equally popular with undergraduates who love his interactive style of teaching. Moving to online classes a couple months before retirement was a significant challenge, but he handled it very well.”
Manzer summed up her interactions with Carlson by pointing to his own commitment to learning.
“He’s a life-long learner and he’s adaptable and flexible, which models those concepts we’re all trying to convey to students. When they see him being adaptable, they’re more likely to do the same. He’s a great communicator and cares about being present for his students even from a distance,” she said.
Although he would have preferred to finish his career teaching students in the classroom, Carlson says his students supported him just as much as he has supported them.
“I was communicating with students about the assignments I had recorded on the videos. One of them wrote me and said he was sorry we weren’t able to continue the connections in person because he really enjoyed learning from me in the classroom. That was really special and I appreciate having had the opportunity to work with so many great students in my career,” he said.
To learn more about the Department of Marketing, visit: https://business.unl.edu/marketing