To the outside world, Steven Klepper is the recent winner of the prestigious 2011 Global Award for Entrepreneurship Research. To his Carnegie Mellon University students, he's a dedicated teacher and mentor.
Klepper's pioneering research integrates the study of entrepreneurship with mainstream economics. He is particularly focused on industry shakeouts and the role new companies play in innovation.
"I have spent much of my career digging into the evolution of new industries, especially tracing the origins of firms to understand how regions and nations generate great firms and industries," said Klepper. "This is the lifeblood of any economy."
And while dedicated to his research, he is equally devoted to his students, both grad and undergrad.
"To his students, his undergraduate econ class is known as 'Kleppernomics,'" said Sally Sleeper (HS'95, '98), who studied under Klepper while pursuing her master's and Ph.D. at CMU.
From the first day in class, students join a provocative discussion of the minimum wage. They are taught economic theories through scenarios that have them selling imaginary commodities. At the end of the semester, students enter a competition for cash prizes based on how much they've earned in imaginary profits.
"He has a very unique and effective way of teaching econ to freshmen, devoting huge amounts of time every summer to refreshing the material," added Sleeper.
And if students are struggling, Klepper is there to guide them back on path. After each exam, he meets individually with the students scoring in the bottom 20 percent — that's upwards of 70 individual meetings.
He'll coach students on best learning strategies, with an eye not only on performing well in his class but in their future years at CMU and beyond.
And the undergrads clearly appreciate his efforts.
"Professor Klepper is engaging, passionate and challenging," said Ashish Thakrar (HS'11). "He makes the class exciting and worthwhile for students from all disciplines. Furthermore, he is always willing to meet with students."
In fact, Klepper encourages groups of students to have lunch with him, often meeting with two or three different groups each week.
Thakrar says students find his cutting-edge work "an inspiration," and his personal impact invaluable.
"The devotion he showed to teaching was evident in his mentoring, as well," said Sleeper. "As a mentor, he had the patience of a saint. He challenged me to push harder and quickly provided thorough and thoughtful feedback."
Klepper inspired both students' interest in the field.
Sleeper is now the director of research for the RAND Corporation's Gulf States Policy Institute and heads the New Orleans and Jackson offices. Thakrar also hopes to incorporate economics in his future.
"I plan to study health and development economics, either through a Ph.D. in Economics or an M.D.," said Thakrar, now a senior majoring in both economics and music.
"Professor Klepper's class was the main reason I decided to pursue economics."
Klepper, a faculty member since 1980, holds appointments in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Tepper School of Business.