Business law – the mere mention of that class is sure to conjure memories for College of Business alumni.
“Whether you took the class from William ‘Wild Bill’ Schrampfer, Larry Curtis, or Mike Bootsma (’02 accounting, finance), you were in good hands,” said Raisbeck Endowed Dean David Spalding. “Those instructors, and that class, are good examples of the high-quality classroom experience students can expect at the College of Business.”
The required class, officially called Accounting 215 Legal Environment of Business, has been taught since 2012 by Bootsma, senior lecturer in accounting and Dean’s Teaching Fellow. Bootsma is among the favorite instructors on campus. Repeatedly, he won “best teacher” awards from his business students (2013–2017 consecutively). “When it comes to his teaching, Mike is at the top. The quality of his teaching is fantastic,” said Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs DannyJohnson. “All you have to do is look at his evaluations.”
Students have the opportunity to fill out surveys about their class experiences and evaluate their instructors. When you look at the scores given to Bootsma, the numbers are impressive. “I know he doesn’t give easy grades, yet students rate him very highly, even though he’s tough,” Johnson said.
Every year, the Iowa State Daily asks the student body which companies and organizations in Ames they think are “the best of the best.” Bootsma was selected “Best Professor” in 2016 and 2017.
“It is humbling to receive this type of recognition from the student body,” Bootsma said. “This makes me want to work even harder. I am very thankful and I can’t think of a place I would rather teach than Iowa State.”
Excellent teaching at the College of Business reaches far beyond just his classes, Bootsma said.
“I see quality teaching happening every day here,” he said. “Watching what other teachers here do really helps me. They go out of their way to help students. This was true even when I was a student here. The College of Business faculty has so much experience and they are so effective at helping students. I hope I can be as capable as my colleagues someday.”
Many of his teaching ideas come from other people, Bootsma said. “I’ve just modified those ideas so they work for me, but I usually get my ideas from others teaching here.”
As a former business student himself, Bootsma said he has a deep appreciation for the professors who taught his classes, many of whom still teach in the Gerdin Business Building. “I always felt like I could talk to my teachers when I was a student. They went out of their way to help me. Here at Iowa State, the doors are always open and people are gracious about helping you,” Bootsma said. “It’s not like that at all universities.”
Based on student surveys, emails, and interviews, Bootsma is having a positive impact on his students.
Alec Mousel, (’17 accounting, finance), recently earned his CPA and now works as an audit associate with Eide Bailly LLP in Des Moines. The business law class gave him a broad overview of the basic legal system, covering topics such as criminal law, contract negotiations, and business organizational structures.
“I had very little legal knowledge before the class. Today, I see or use terminology every day that I learned from that class,” he said.
“Mike’s teaching style is what really separated the class from many other classes,” Mousel said. “He is always willing to help the class and give applicable, easy to understand examples. He goes out of his way to make sure the students have what they need to be successful. The combination of the content covered and Mike’s teaching made this one of my favorite classes while attending Iowa State.”
“I never wanted to miss class, because it was so much easier and more fun to learn it through the lectures,” she said. “Mike was able to take difficult topics or definitions and break them down in an easier way for anyone to understand. He truly has a passion for the class, and a passion for students to understand.”
It became clear early on that Bootsma has the best interest of the students in mind when he teaches, Mueller-Spude said. “He wants students to do well and learn. He wasn’t hiding answers or throwing curve- balls on the test,” she said. “I’m not saying it was easy. I definitely had to study to do well, but it was very clear what I needed to study in order to do well.”
One lasting message she took from the business law class was that anyone can succeed with the right amount of work.
“There are times when I get trapped in the mindset that I’m not smart enough,” she said, sharing that she sometimes loses her motivation when she isn’t doing well in a class.
“Sometimes I feel like everyone else around me is understanding it faster and getting better grades, even when I feel like I’ve tried my best,” she said. “Mike talked about a very similar experience, and it was just nice to hear that a professor struggled with the same thing. It really motivated me to want to work hard and do well in this class, and see how much I could really push myself with studying.”
That’s why Bootsma occasionally uses props. On the first day of class, for example, he enters the lecture hall on crutches.
“I do that to explain mindset theory,” he said.
Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck who has decades of research on achievement and success.
In a “fixed mindset,” people believe their basic qualities, such as their intelligence or talent, are fixed traits. In a “growth mindset” students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can improve their results if they work at it.
“I use the crutches as a visual to show that maybe some of us have a crutch we need to lose. I usually ask a few students to hand out the syllabi for me because of my crutch. I then do something without the crutch so they wonder ‘what’s this guy all about?’ Then, I act like I forgot my crutch and go back to it, claiming I’m in a lot of pain,” Bootsma said.
“At some point, I admit I don’t need the crutch and then I ask them what crutches they need to get rid of for the semester. For example, many students tell me they aren’t good at multiple choice tests. That’s a crutch they rely on. We talk about what they can do to improve their ability to score well on multiple choice questions.”
To explain his point, Bootsma shares some of his own crutches.
“When I was in law school, or in the past when I would apply for a job, I would sometimes make disparaging comments such as ‘I’m just a farm kid’ or ‘I have never known anyone who went to law school.’
I think it was a nervous response meant to explain my perceived deficiencies. However, in reality, it was just a crutch.”
Even though these lessons are not part of business law, Bootsma sprinkles them throughout his lectures to help his students become successful in school and in their careers.
“People teach for a variety of reasons,” Bootsma said. “My job as a teacher is to help students. It’s the best feeling in the world when a student comes back later, or sends you an email, and says you helped them. I love that.”
There are plenty of students who express their gratitude for the help Bootsma has provided.
Jose Rivera, a senior studying marketing, said Bootsma is one of his favorite teachers for a couple of reasons.
“Mr. Bootsma really listens,” Rivera said. “He has a very large lecture course and every student has to take business law. It amazes me that he has the time for everyone.”
Rivera dropped the course, initially, due to difficulties he was going through. “When I signed up again, Mr. Bootsma asked me what he could do to help me be successful, before we even talked about the course material.”
One of the most meaningful messages for Rivera came on the final day of class when Bootsma talked about how valuable an Iowa State University degree is for them. “He explained that your degree doesn’t have to be from Stanford,” Rivera said. “It’s not about where you got your degree, it’s about what you do with it that matters. That was an important message for me. I remember that so vividly and it really stuck with me.”