Q&A with Project Management Professor Lori Cook

Associate Professor Lori Cook has been living in Chicago and teaching management classes at DePaul University’s Driehaus School of Business for almost 20 years. Yet you can still detect an accent that indicates her Kentucky roots. That’s because Cook grew up in the Bluegrass State and earned her bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in industrial engineering from the University of Louisville. After college, she worked in the engineering and operations departments of several large organizations—including Armco Steel and Kentucky Fried Chicken—but was drawn to teaching business in Chicago. In this Q&A, Cook talks about how her engineering background influences her mission-driven teaching philosophy.

Tell us about your teaching philosophy.

I believe in creating a fun and energetic classroom environment. One of the approaches that I take is an experiential learning approach. In all of my classes, I bring interesting and engaging real-world case studies or activities into the classroom. It gives students something they can relate to and helps them bring their own background and experience into the classroom. Chicago offers so many opportunities to engage with the business community and to have this interactive learning experience.

How do you use your engineering background in the classroom?

It is really interesting because having an engineering background and mentality gives me a different perspective on teaching business. My engineering background is in industrial engineering, so it is very much in line with teaching operations and project management. However, most of my education was about solving problems individually. In the business school I emphasize engaging with others and working in groups to solve problems. My past work history in quality management and process improvement has carried over and influenced my research interests.

What areas of research interest you most?

My research interests have evolved through the years and covered a variety of different areas. Some of my earlier research looked at process improvement initiatives at healthcare companies and hospitals. Recently I have been working with colleagues to explore what organizations report about their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives through their annual report versus what the public is saying about the company. This winter, I will be on research leave to take an in-depth look at intellectual property issues within the pharmaceutical industry.

What is your favorite class to teach?

I will always love my project management course because it combines experiential learning with the Vincentian mission of DePaul. What better way to learn project management than to actually manage a project? Each student is a member of a self-selected team that is responsible for creating, planning and executing a project for a designated charity or non-profit organization. Every student in class has to come up with an idea or some type of fundraiser, awareness or volunteer activity for a nonprofit organization. I give my student teams full control over which legitimate nonprofit and activity they select. During the course there are many project deliverables required to help the teams work through the various stages of the project life cycle. Sometimes large teams with many students struggle, while smaller teams thrive because they are nimble and work harder and quicker. These are important lessons for them to learn.

Providing these kinds of experiences and having that fun, energetic classroom environment creates an incredible learning experience and I am constantly in awe of what my students can do. For many of my students this is the first opportunity to do something charitable. Many students have told me that after that their experience, they have gone on to do more charitable work. Over the last five years, we have raised well over $100,000 for nonprofits from the different student projects, on top of raising awareness and volunteering for the organizations.

Learn more about a major in management and graduate business programs at DePaul.