Set to retire in June, Theresa Meier Conley used her experience to bring key learnings to Daniels students
With a high-level career in technology marketing on her resume, Theresa Meier Conley wasn’t necessarily looking to transition into academia when she landed in a full-time role at the Daniels College of Business in 2001.
She was coming off a busy few years leading marketing and new product development for AT&T Broadband, ushering in the first generation of high-speed broadband products to rabid consumers.
“We were literally a blank sheet of paper putting things together. So, it was super fun and filled with memorable, big-risk moments,” she said.
When the company asked her to move from Denver to Philadelphia for the next stage of its growth, she hesitated. Conley loved her job, the fast-paced nature of emerging technology and the potential for the future, but her children were young, and she was building a family in Denver. Ultimately, she decided to stay and was forced to plot her next move.
She had guest lectured at the University of Denver School of Technology. It was a distinctly different setting to share her knowledge, but Conley felt comfortable teaching and dove in headfirst. She’d land at Daniels as an adjunct faculty member in 2001, quickly gaining the status of lecturer by 2002, a clinical professor in 2006, and completed her Ph.D. in 2012. She then became an associate professor of the practice from 2016 until her upcoming retirement in June.
Despite her affinity for teaching, the transition out of the business world wasn’t easy for Conley.
“Shocking, it was shocking,” she said about the move. “In the university environment you’re kind of a sole practitioner.”
Gone was the traditional team environment she was used to in the technology industry, and in its place was a more structured, siloed workplace. Conley laughed that she’s not sure she’s still used the individualism that follows academia.
I’m used to rolling up my sleeves and working with other people and getting things done,” she said.
Rather than losing that favored part of her work experience, Conley has integrated it into her classroom. Her coursework in marketing strategies, innovation planning, customer experience management and civic engagement melded key concepts with experiential projects. Conley’s office is filled with examples of this, as past student projects dot the walls and tables in her space.
With a passion for product development and design thinking, mixed with a research focus on social awareness and business ethics, Conley found ways to introduce those subjects to her students in an engaging fashion. She shared her passions and tailored them to create a valuable experience in the classroom.
“It is kind of a tapestry of things that once you get to my age, you feel so lucky that you can weave things together and share,” she said.
Conley worked with countless students on career advising. For Kailee Caranta, an MBA student set to graduate in June, Conley’s industry connections set her up for a future she never envisioned.
“She opened my eyes to the world of marketing strategy, product management and product design,” Caranta said. “After one conversation, she connected me with someone at Danone who could give me more details about their role and day-to-day. That conversation turned into an interview, which turned into an internship, and now I have a full-time offer with them after graduation. I am forever grateful to her! I am so excited to start this new journey and career and it all started with Prof. Conley.”
As she reflects on her career, Conley fondly remembers her appointment as resident director of the International Center for Civic Engagement in Bologna, Italy at the University of Bologna. To date, she remains the only Daniels faculty member to have the appointment. Conley also traveled to Denmark and China as part of University programs over the years and ranks those highly among her experiences at Daniels.
“I’ve done a little bit of international work on behalf of the University, and you can’t help but learn and remember those moments. That stands out for me,” she said.
Conley’s commitment to the College and her students has been recognized numerous times in her career at Daniels. She has earned three Daniels Teaching award nominations and was a finalist for the University-wide DU Distinguished Teaching award. She designed and taught 13 different undergraduate courses and seven graduate courses. She earned the DU Faculty Career Champion award five times and has received the Provost Distinction Letter from the alumni survey in 2015 and 2016.
Despite all of that recognition, Conley is quick to shift focus back to her students and the magical experience they created for her. She points around her office at their work on the walls and recalls discussions that will forever stick with her.
She relayed, “After a great class, I am just walking on clouds. I love that feeling.”
Addressing real-world issues in the safe space of a classroom is something she picked up along the way of her academic career. She now realizes the importance of not ignoring the tragedy or hardship going on around us, rather embracing it and discussing it in the class setting.
“That was a big learning for me. So, when really big stuff happens in our world, I give it a minute in class,” she said. “I always thought it was helpful to have a forum just to be there with them, and then of course segue into the content and do what we need to do. But we’re humans, you know?”
As she steps away from teaching in June, Conley will be the part-time Executive Director of the Denver Center for International Studies Foundation and work on a variety of business development projects.
“Fun for me is being busy, being purposeful and contributing. I’m not much of a relax and go to the beach kind of person, I wouldn’t be very happy doing that,” she said. “I like being a part of things.”
Fine summary of Dr. Conley’s important career in business and education.