In 2019, Jose Olavarria began teaching finance courses as a part-time adjunct professor at Weatherhead School of Management—where he received a Master of Finance degree years earlier—while simultaneously working as a pricing analyst at Farmers Insurance. In the years to follow, he’s realized he has a greater passion for teaching than anything else.
“In the corporate world you have to stay up late to work sometimes and it’s hard doing so when you’re not passionate about it,” he says. “As a professor, I kept finding I would stay up late responding to students in emails or preparing for class and that didn’t feel like work.”
This understanding motivated Olavarria to pursue his passion for teaching full time, an opportunity he was able to seize when a position opened up in 2022 in the Department of Banking and Finance at Weatherhead.
“I really enjoy breaking down complex concepts into easy-to-understand terms. I’m also very passionate about my field, love to stay current with the news and how [it affects] our business environment, and I find it very rewarding to be able to have an impact on other people’s lives,” Olavarria said. “When you combine all these elements it is easy to see that becoming a professor was my dream job.”
Olavarria’s passion is easy to see in his work. Now, it’s led him to being named a recipient of the Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, an honor he will receive during the afternoon undergraduate diploma ceremony Sunday, May 21.
“Receiving this award is a huge honor and in a way is confirmation I made the right decision [with my career],” Olavarria says.
As one of his student nominators commented, “Professor Jose is very clear and does an excellent job indulging his students’ questions. The greatest aspect of his teaching style is his ability to honor and encourage.”
Beyond teaching what is in the textbook, Olavarria finds it important in each of his classes to discuss the latest finance news and events.
“I fully enjoy these interactions with the students,” Olavarria said. “The biggest reward is when my students tell me that the concepts or discussions that we’ve had in class helped them land an interview or even get a job. If I can make an impact, even if small, or if I can help them by giving them an edge during the job-seeking process, this really makes me happy. I enjoy being able to help them grow professionally and achieve their objectives.”
About the award
Created in 1964, the Wittke Award for Undergraduate Teaching is named for Carl Frederick Wittke, who, from 1948 to 1963, was professor of history, chair of the Department of History and vice president of Western Reserve University. Faculty members who teach undergraduates are eligible for the award, which recognizes excellence in their efforts. Undergraduates nominate candidates; a committee of students interviews nominated faculty members and recommends winners. Two faculty members receive the award each year.