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Academic Excel-lence

Siaw-Peng Wan loves teaching Microsoft Excel. But when it comes to learning, he advises the long view over shortcuts.

A portrait photograph of Siaw-Peng Wan, an Elmhurst College professor of business administration.

It’s safe to assume that most college faculty enjoy the subject they’re teaching—they might even have a passion for it. But it’s hard to top how Siaw-Peng Wan feels about the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program.

“I’m obsessed with Excel,” says Wan, a professor of business administration and associate director of the MBA program at Elmhurst. “My bedtime reading is all Excel books and manuals—I have a stack of books about Excel that’s taller than I am. I read Excel blogs, get Excel newsletters, watch Excel videos on YouTube, and I feel like there’s still so much I don’t know. I’m an Excel geek.”

He brings a similar enthusiasm into the classroom, where for 25 years he has taught finance, investment theory, statistics, quantitative methods and other courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

And, of course, Wan teaches Excel classes. And workshops and training sessions—not only to Elmhurst University students but also to University administrators and staff, local residents, and business people. His accessible approach makes him one of the University’s most popular faculty members.

“My classes are very hands-on,” he says. “They’re also more about trying to help students understand what’s going on and how to think things through, rather than having them memorize a lot of information.”

He particularly enjoys teaching Excel to graduate students, most of whom are working professionals, because he’s not only adding to their skills and knowledge but also inspiring a lot of “OMG moments.”

“Our grad students typically are working with Excel day in and day out,” he says, “so when I show them how to do something faster, I see their eyes light up. They’ll say, ‘I can’t believe I’ve been doing it the long way all this time!’ I can teach them things that immediately make their work lives easier.”

But as big a fan as he is of Excel, he recognizes that it’s simply a tool, and that students should view college and graduate school not only as a place to acquire tools, but also as the ideal time to challenge themselves and to grow—in a supportive environment.

“If there’s an opportunity for students to better themselves through some activity or a talk, even if it means taking a class that meets on Saturday or Sunday mornings, they should do it. Once they graduate it won’t be as easy,” he says. “In the real world, if they fail, they’re fired. Here they can fail but learn from it. While they’re here, they should take advantage of everything they can.”

Posted Feb. 6, 2020

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