By Ed Brennen
As a senior in the Manning School of Business in 2011, Holly Butler was invited to join the Beta Gamma Sigma international business honor society. Butler wanted to join, but the entrance fee was an obstacle.
That’s when Senior Lecturer Deb Finch stepped in.
“Deb noticed my name wasn’t on the registration list, and she reached out to me and helped me secure funding,” Butler recalls. “Without her concern, I would not have been able to participate.”
Finch’s unfailing concern for her students is a major reason why Butler nominated her for the 2018 Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching – an honor that Finch won this spring.
“She looks at each class and sees individual students, not a group of students, which can make all the difference as they learn,” says Butler, who is now Finch’s colleague as entrepreneurial initiatives project director for the DifferenceMaker program.
Established in 2016 by UMass Lowell alumni Robert ’84 and Donna Manning ’85, ’91, the Manning Prize is awarded annually to one faculty member from each of the five UMass campuses. The honor includes a $10,000 prize.
“I was surprised to win, especially because I knew Steve Pennell and Donald Leitch won it the first two years,” Finch says. “They are both so accomplished, and when you see that you think, ‘OK, I don’t stand a chance.’”
But Finch’s own accomplishments in fostering student success more than qualified her for the award. In addition to teaching in the Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Department, she is Director of First-Year Experience for the Manning School, a mentor for business students in the Honors College, an advisor for the Business Innovation Living and Learning Community and a faculty fellow for the DifferenceMaker program.
In fact, it’s rare to find an undergraduate student in the Manning School who hasn’t been impacted by Finch in some way.
“I think my students know I care,” says Finch, who credits her fellow Manning School faculty members for her development as a lecturer. “I have learned from so many people here. There’s no one in this college that I can’t go knock on their office door and ask for help. There’s a commitment to teaching excellence.”
Finch, who teaches honors sections of the Freshmen DifferenceMaker Seminar and Business 101, also received the 2018 Jacqueline F. Moloney Honors College Founder’s Award this spring.
Beyond Finch’s work in the classroom and engagement with co-curricular activities, Manning School Dean Sandy Richtermeyer says students benefit from her leadership in the Lowell nonprofit community. Finch is director emeritus for the Lowell Association for the Blind, and she incorporates the organization’s annual Dining in the Dark fundraiser into her courses on nonprofit management and marketing.
“She does a great job helping our students become part of the broader community and getting them engaged with nonprofits,” Richtermeyer says. “She’s always looking for ways for students to be involved.”
Triple River Hawk
Originally from Hudson, N.H., Finch is a Triple River Hawk – she earned her bachelor’s in business administration in 2003, her MBA in 2005 and her doctorate of education in 2012. But teaching business wasn’t in her original career plan.
“I was originally a physics major with a concentration in optics,” says Finch, who earned an associate degree from Fisher College and transferred to UMass Lowell in 1978 with plans of eventually applying to an optometry school. She met her future husband, Chris, in the Olney 150 lecture hall (“We’d share Necco Wafers in science labs”) and decided to put her education on pause, instead going to work to help put Chris through school (he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering).
As they started a family, Finch began working in the nonprofit sector while homeschooling their sons Joseph, Sam and Harry and daughter Carter.
“I loved it. I’m very grateful for my time at home,” says Finch, who finds that her homeschooling experience influenced the way she teaches college students. “I always felt I was more of a guide and facilitator than a teacher. I know that if you can get somebody interested enough, they’ll keep going on their own.”
In 2003, Finch lost her husband to cancer after a four-year battle. During that difficult time, Finch had returned to UMass Lowell to finish her degree, this time in business.
“I had spent 20-plus years doing grant-writing and fundraising in the nonprofit world and I thought I might be an executive director at some point,” she says.
But her homeschooling experience sparked an interest in teaching, which led to her Ed.D. in Education Leadership in Schooling. Finch joined the Manning School faculty in 2008 when Prof. Stuart Freedman, chair of the Management Department, let her develop a nonprofit management course.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” says Finch, who credits College of Education faculty like Prof. Michaela Colombo and Assoc. Profs. Judith Davidson, Stacy Szczesiul and James Nehring, along with Manning School lecturer Frank Andrews, for building her foundation as an educator.
Manning, the business school’s namesake and chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, recognized all five award recipients at a recent luncheon at the UMass Club in Boston. Joining Finch were: Linda Isbell (UMass Amherst), Olivia Weisser (UMass Boston), Pamela Karimi (UMass Dartmouth) and Anne Gilroy (UMass Medical School).
“At UMass, we’re blessed with excellent faculty across all five campuses who are harnessing talent, curiosity and ambition to create the leaders of tomorrow,” Manning said. “And it’s very important to Donna and me that we acknowledge them for their efforts.”
Added UMass President Marty Meehan, “We’re so grateful to Rob and Donna Manning for their unparalleled generosity and dedication to the UMass mission of world-class public higher education. As a result of their personal experiences, Rob and Donna recognize and seek to honor the incredible contribution of UMass faculty to student learning and to guiding students on pathways to success.”