Every school hopes to have at least one teacher who transcends the meaning of the word. Someone who transforms students’ minds in how they view the world, uncovers new dimensions, and imparts the course material using more effective means than the status quo of teaching that discipline. The Graziadio Business School is blessed to have more than one such educator, and today we focus our spotlight on Dr. Samuel Seaman, professor of Decision Sciences and Applied Statistics. In short, the field of making better (business) decisions by using data and one’s mind to think deeply.
How is Dr. Seaman such an effective educator? He’s an artist in academia. He sees romance in math and more. One element is that he bases his teaching on past case studies drawn from his consulting practice. Not only does this make the course content come alive and relevant to real-world business decisions, but its also effective at bridging the gap between theory and practice.
“Grades don’t really matter” is not something you frequently hear in an educational setting. But for Dr. Seaman, he is more interested in preparing scholars to solve problems in life, rather than for them to be consumed to obtain a high score on a standardized test.
Each week’s class session, in which each student learns “live” by performing the operations on their computer, is cemented by an assigned case the following week in which teams work to complete and compete to present their findings in an executive-style presentation at the beginning of the next class. However, as much as the use of statistical tools is a necessity, Dr. Seaman’s primary emphasis is for students to think deeply about how the multidimensional nature of the world impacts a given problem. This is an area that artificial intelligence or other technologies will never be able to do the way humans do.
Even if students over time were to slip in their memory on, for example, how to run a multiple regression model or build a decision tree, he hopes the curiosity he imparts will stay with them for the rest of their lives. One of his favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein, who said, “I’m not smart, but I’m very curious.” Indeed, one of Dr. Seaman’s recent students attributed the excelling performance in his internship at Amazon due to the confidence he gained in Dr. Seaman’s class that he would be able to conquer any challenge set before him.
Dr. Seaman’s decision to come to Pepperdine was cemented when it became clear the institution shared so many of his values, notably, honesty—in-part considering how much manipulation happens with statistics to please superiors in business, malpractice of statistics in journalism, and other realms—and how education flourishes when the truth is pursued. Then-president Andrew Benton unknowingly appealed to this motivation during the hiring process interview when he underscored one of the institution’s tenets by saying, “truth, having nothing to fear from investigation, should be pursued relentlessly in all disciplines.”
Not only is Dr. Seaman an avid outdoorsman and a regular to Malibu’s beaches—for which he built a statistical model to inform him whether a day will be good for surfing—one of his passions is integrating faith with statistics. An in-depth conversation with him is bound to touch on how almost all in the world can be related to maths, and how one’s view of God’s glory in creation is greatly enhanced from a logical/mathematical perspective.
Another trait that applies to Dr. Seaman is that he is a visionary. For example, he has a superior “smart” version of the NPV method traditionally used in corporate America to evaluate business projects. Also, regarding the Graziadio program, his position is that students’ understanding would be even deeper if the course content between economics, finance, and decision intelligence had an integrated session. This could take the form of coordinating a case study near the end of each term across the three disciplines so that the professor of each subject can draw lessons from their perspective.
What can educators learn from Dr. Seaman? He arouses curiosity and creates a “gap” in students’ minds by presenting a business case and then proceeds to show how it can be addressed. In addition to a textbook, he recommends supplemental materials such as podcasts and for students to follow leading personalities in the decision science industry. The totality of this format works well for the various learning styles different people have, including for those who learn by doing.
Pepperdine Graziadio Business School administration would be prudent to let his voice and innovative vision influence the program in even greater ways so that GBS will continue to rise to become a top business school in the country. “I really care about this place,” Dr. Seaman tells me in an earnest conversation from the Drescher Graduate Campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The beautiful thing is that we, the students, feel the same way towards him.