A pendant in the shape of Africa hangs from a chain around Dr. Molly Rapert’s neck. For Rapert, it’s more than just a piece of jewelry. It symbolizes a country within Africa’s borders.
That was where she, and her husband, Jimmy, traveled in 2001 to pick up their adopted daughter, Marie, who was abandoned by her biological mother. The visit not only changed Rapert’s worldview, it also changed the way she taught.
Rapert, an associate professor in marketing at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, says she prepared for the journey in a scholarly manner by poring over statistical information, literacy rates and other government-issued demographics.
They arrived at night, and the country looked “sparkling,” Rapert recalls. The exhilaration didn’t last long.
“When we got up the next morning, you could smell Ethiopia and see the poverty,” she says. “Everything changed.”
Young boys were wearing dresses because they were the only things available in the local donation box. Very few wore shoes. Disease was rampant. Sanitary drinking water was seldom accessible. “That, I wasn’t prepared for,” Rapert says.
When she returned to teach at the University of Arkansas, she quit using textbooks. Instead, her required reading reflects how human conditions affect the business world.
“I think that’s why my students connect with the class,” she says.
She also created a class called The Global Consumer, which she teaches each summer as a University of Arkansas representative with the Consortium Institute of Management and Business Analysis (CIMBA) study-abroad program in Italy.
As an adviser with Walton Honors Program, she says she strives to provide a positive, yet challenging, experience to her students, who were eligible to attend any school on a scholarship, yet chose Walton College.
For Rapert, it provides a variety in the curricula where she works on topics she would otherwise never get to explore. “My approach is simply I provide the framework,“ she says.
The topics are left only to the students’ imaginations and can range from how people shop in Spain to the carbon footprint of plastic bags retailers use.
Rapert says that the most recent calculations indicate that 67 percent of her thesis students receive grant funding, which includes State Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), and is the highest percentage of students from a Walton College professor.
“It’s exciting to see how everyone is pushing forward,” she says.
Her recent accolades include being the first Walton College faculty chosen for the Honors College Distinguished Faculty Award last fall and, this spring, receiving the Sam M. Walton College’s Excellence in Teaching Award. The Marketing Department also recently received the Gold Medal Department Award, which goes to the department that’s most active in student awards. (Rapert was the only Walton College professor this year to have more than one student receiving SURF grants.) The Arkansas Alumni Association also bestowed Rapert the 2012 Charles and Nadine Baum Faculty Teaching Award.
Rapert grew up in Tulsa, Okla., earning her bachelor’s degree in marketing and master’s in business administration at the University of Arkansas before moving to Harrisonburg, Va., to teach statistics at James Madison University. She earned her doctorate at Memphis State University.
When a teaching position opened at University of Arkansas, Rapert says she couldn’t resist. She applied and got the job.
She shared office space with professors who once lectured her classes, graded her papers and gave her tests.
“The first year I was here, it was awkward,” she says. “I was too aware of having been their student.”
Now, she says those insecurities are long gone.
In 1994, she married her husband, Jimmy, whom she dated after moving back to Fayetteville. In addition to Marie, they have three sons: Jase, Luke and Jonah.
And, for the past 20 years, there’s also her Walton College family.
“I get up every morning telling people I have the world’s greatest job,” she says.