Commonly seen adorning a Dave Matthews Band hat on top of his long grey hair, Andrew Hanna, ’09 & ’16, never pretended to be anything other than himself while attending the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business. Whether doing research, teaching or graduating with a Ph.D. in management, Hanna accomplishes it the only way he knows how – by just being Andrew.
“There’s too much focus from a lot of people on their infallibility and that they have to come across as collected as possible. I just don't worry about that,” said Hanna, a Lincoln, Nebraska native. “I teach what I’m interested in, I teach what I know about and I just try to be authentic about it. It's really no different in my research.”
As a two-time graduate of Nebraska, with a degree in international business and an MBA, Hanna connected early on in his undergraduate career at the university with Dr. Sam Nelson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and associate professor of practice in management, through a class Nelson taught as a Ph.D. student.
“I had some people I really loved as an undergrad as a professor, but nobody held a candle to Sam,” said Hanna. “The thing I appreciated about Sam was he sounded like a human being, and he impressed upon me that I need to just come in here and be authentically myself.”
During Hanna’s time in the MBA program, Nelson pushed for him to pursue a Ph.D. Knowing what the doctoral path entailed, Nelson advised Hanna that while he may face challenges, he had what it takes to earn the degree.
“I knew Andrew had the intellectual capacity and work ethic to strive in any program. However, I also knew that he would have serious research demands in his program that would be very different than the MBA program. I thought the best way for him to handle that would be to just be himself. If he stayed true to why he joined the program in the first place, then it would all work out. His results speak for themselves: multiple publications and fantastic teaching evaluations. I’ve truly been amazed at his accomplishments in the program,” said Nelson.
Following Nelson’s advice, Hanna never wavered his genuine demeanor, a highlight of his approach to teaching — and people noticed. Hanna received both the Graduate Teaching and the Graduate Research awards from the College of Business in 2021, and noted how he created a culture where others felt comfortable being themselves.
“The thing that makes students really apprehensive and stresses them out is that when they go to classes they feel like they can't be themselves or if they are, that it doesn't jive well with this idea of being in business. I tell them, ‘I’m about to have my Ph.D. in business. Do you think I look like a businessperson? Because I don’t think that,’” he said.
For Hanna, teaching goes beyond curriculum or grades and includes connecting and engaging with students. He often shared his own life stories in class to help create a welcoming learning environment.
“I have found if I just go in there and be real with people and humanize with them, they won’t necessarily look at you as just their instructor anymore. I’ve gotten evaluations that said, ‘This was the first class where somebody made me want to do well, not just for my grade,’ and I think that's the best compliment you could ever get as somebody tasked with teaching,” he said.
Apart from his teaching, Hanna’s dissertation also takes a unique approach, focusing on a developing research topic known as emergent leadership, a concept where leadership traits arise in people even when no formal leading roles are granted. He submitted a written review piece about the topic to the Journal of Management and received notice last summer that it was accepted for the annual special edition. This meant a piece of Hanna’s dissertation would publish before he had formally written his full dissertation.
“We found that the whole literature on emergent leadership was disjointed, and a lot of people referred to it differently because nobody had really organized things yet. We took that on and came up with a full-scale conceptual explanation. We finally offered the very first official definition of the construct for people to use and research. My review brought about, in our area of science, the first definition of what this construct is all about,” he explained.
Hanna also found creative methods to research more into the phenomena. He used a board game to help gather data for his dissertation aside from the more traditional methods like surveys or assessments.
“We had four-person teams play Pandemic since it’s a cooperative strategy game all about everybody working toward a common goal, which is a great simulated team task environment. I found a lot of support for my dissertation and that lab went so well. It was a lot of fun,” he said.
First arriving at Nebraska Business in 2005, Hanna earns his third Nebraska degree. Though rare for students and faculty to work together for such an extended period, Nelson noted the benefits.
“Watching Andrew’s development is one of the highlights of my career. It has been a unique gift to have a chance to work with a student as an undergrad, an MBA student and a Ph.D. student. As a professor, you usually just get a glimpse into a very specific part of a student’s academic journey. Whatever Andrew does next will be great,” he said.
To learn more about the Ph.D. programs Nebraska Business offers, visit: https://business.unl.edu/phd.