By Brett Beasley | Spring 2024

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At Mendoza, a different kind of business research is blossoming that bridges the gap between scholars and practitioners to create benefits for society.

What does a researcher look like?

You might picture a lone genius — someone more likely to be found ruminating among the library stacks or whiling away hours in a basement laboratory than in the company of others, someone who would agree with Henry David Thoreau when he said, “If I were confined to a corner in a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts.”

Illustration of the words Head-Heart-HandsFor Marialena Bevilacqua, a second-year doctoral student in analytics at Mendoza College of Business, the journey to becoming a researcher has not sequestered her in the so-called ivory tower. Rather, it has encouraged her to connect her research with the outside world and its challenges. 

Bevilacqua studies how businesses weigh the ethical issues associated with implementing artificial intelligence systems. Alongside professor Nicholas Berente in Mendoza’s Department of IT, Analytics, and Operations, she works directly with tech leaders around the country in order to understand the ethical challenges they face in the workplace. 

“This close connection with practitioners is exciting,” Bevilacqua says, “because there is often a large gap between the researchers who make a discovery and the practitioners implementing it. But this work was done intentionally with practitioners in mind so that it will translate into practical, and hopefully impactful, changes.”

It is a good thing, too, Bevilacqua says, because the ethics of creating, implementing and deploying AI is an urgent concern for many businesses. “In almost every interview we conduct,” she says, “interviewees ask us to share our findings with them. We’ve even had some admit, ‘Look, we’re lost in figuring this out, and we could benefit from your research.’”

When the Ph.D. program launched in 2022, it was part of a Collegewide effort to build a more cohesive research culture. This new research culture rejects the idea that a researcher needs to be a lone genius. Instead, it embraces connections — not just within the College but also connections to the outside world, linking researchers in closer relationships with people their work can serve.

“We say ‘research culture’ and not just ‘research success’ because we want to remember that research is something we always do with and for others,” says Martijn Cremers, the Martin J. Gillen Dean of Mendoza who has made elevating research the top strategic priority of the College. 

“That means we are investing to elevate several aspects of our research culture — from launching Ph.D. programs and hiring more data scientists to assist our faculty, to building a state-of-the-art behavioral research lab and organizing more research conferences that convene the world’s top scholars on our campus,” Cremers adds. “An elevated research culture will also be key to attracting the very best research scholars to come to Notre Dame.”


A Tale of Two Gaps

The “gap” between researchers and practitioners that Bevilacqua’s work bridges is a well-known but difficult-to-solve problem. Debra L. Shapiro of the University of Maryland and Bradley Kirkman of Texas A&M first lamented the gap nearly 20 years ago, calling it the “translation problem” in business research. In a recent follow-up in the Harvard Business Review, they admit most scholars have done little to close it. 

Shapiro and Kirkman explain that the “translation problem” reflects not just one gap but two. The first is the knowledge transfer gap. In this gap, research gets “lost in translation.” A researcher discovers something important but never shares his or her findings in a way that impacts practices. (Even if the research is published, for example, it may be published only in an academic journal where business leaders are not likely to turn for advice and guidance.) 

There is a related gap that is also about knowledge production. In this gap, research is “lost before translation,” Shapiro and Kirkman say. This gap occurs when researchers design and carry out studies without input or involvement from those who could benefit from their work. Their findings might be brilliant and may answer a question that interests scholars. But it may turn out that the question is not relevant to practitioners.

headshot of dean cremersFor Cremers, the key to bridging both gaps is remembering a simple principle: solidarity. “Solidarity,” he says, “is acknowledging our interconnectedness with others.” For researchers, this means recognizing that “we always do research with and for others.”

To explain, Cremers refers to a recent statement from Pope Francis to a delegation of leaders from Notre Dame in which the pope shared what he called “the secret of education.” Education happens, he said, “with three languages: the head, the heart and the hands.” Education, in other words, is about more than thinking. It is about connecting thinking with feeling and doing. It is about the formation of the whole person within a community.

Cremers notes that the “secret” was not a revelation of hidden information so much as it was a reminder about the crux of the matter. The pope’s own remarks were more of an echo than an original idea. They recalled the famous statement by Notre Dame founder Edward Sorin, C.S.C., that “the mind should not be educated at the expense of the heart.”

While the integration of head, heart and hands should guide all of education, Cremers says it matters in a special way for conducting business research that aligns with the College’s Catholic mission and makes a meaningful impact on the world.

“In research, the head matters,” he says. “Research needs to be intellectually rigorous and guided by the latest methods and tools in its field. But when we add the heart to that — what we care about and who we care about — that will affect research by reshaping the questions our research asks. And when we integrate that with the hands — what we do and how we act — we ensure our research will make a difference.”

Cremers notes that many measures of academic success focus on the head only, sometimes to the exclusion of the heart and hands. Scholarly journals, conferences and associations are likely to confer honors on faculty who produce groundbreaking research, but few have a formal way of recognizing research that is engaged in creating benefits for society.

Mendoza has been trying to build a different kind of research culture for a while. Under Cremers’ predecessor, Roger Huang, the College launched an annual celebration for research projects that exemplify the College’s mission to be a force for good in the world. As part of the occasion, the College recognizes faculty who received Mendoza Mission Research Awards for research exemplifying its mission. The most recent installment honored faculty who conducted research on the importance of gender-diverse teams for innovation, the role of proactive personality in managing crisis situations, and the ways that nonprofit organizations can generate donations of time and money. (See list on page 19.)

This academic year, the College also established the University Chair Lecture Series featuring Mendoza faculty who are designated as “University chairs” — Notre Dame’s highest recognition of the impact of a faculty member’s research. Mike Crant, the Notre Dame Professor of Management & Organization, presented the inaugural lecture in fall 2023 reflecting on his personal and professional experiences since joining Notre Dame in 1990. Ahmed Abbasi, the Joe and Jane Giovanini Professor of IT, Analytics, and Operations, presented the second lecture in May. Abbasi joined Notre Dame in 2020 and is the director of the Ph.D. in Analytics Program and co-director of the Human-centered Analytics Lab.

For Cremers, it is crucial to remember that “our research should serve our mission — it should not become our mission.” This reflects a larger transformation that has been building momentum for several decades. Although the University’s passionate and dedicated faculty members have always made advances in their respective fields, the aspiration to be “one of the preeminent research institutions in the world” is relatively recent. University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., gave voice to that aspiration in his inaugural address nearly two decades ago; however, it still occupies a relatively small slice of the University’s 180-year history.

Last year, Notre Dame was accepted into the Association of American Universities (AAU), making it the only religiously affiliated member of this elite group of the nation’s leading research-intensive universities. Notre Dame researchers are still exploring what it means to be “the leading global Catholic research university, on par with but distinct from the world’s best private universities,” as the University’s Strategic Framework describes it.

What exactly that means will not be the same for every researcher and will not look the same in every project. As Cremers puts it, “There is no blueprint — no single correct approach.” It is not a matter of dictating in advance what distinctive, mission-driven research looks like but rather encouraging new ideas and, as the saying goes, “letting a thousand flowers bloom.”


Same Toolkit, New Questions

One way Mendoza faculty members have found to avoid the “lost before translation” problem is to apply their traditional research toolkit to answer urgent questions about health and well-being. 

Yixing Chen is an assistant professor of marketing at Mendoza and an affiliate of Notre Dame’s Harper Cancer Research Institute. His research focuses on the persistent problem of low cancer screening rates. Although regular cancer screenings save lives by detecting cancer early, too few people participate in screenings and screening rates are especially low among marginalized and underserved members of the population. 

Chen uses machine learning combined with large-scale field experiments to develop personalized outreach programs that increase screening rates and lead to better outcomes for patients and decreased costs for health care systems. 

Mitchell Olsen, the Richard J. Huether Associate Teaching Professor of Marketing, worked with Matthew Meng from Utah State University to understand how the traditional marketing idea of market segmentation might help scientists and public health officials communicate with the public more effectively. 

The pair conducted nationally representative surveys of individuals who were hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. They found that vaccine holdouts had an array of different reasons for avoiding the vaccine, many of which were not addressed by the one-size-fits-all messaging from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other health organizations. They concluded that the CDC could improve its response to future health crises by enrolling consumer psychologists and deploying marketing strategies.

Mendoza marketing professors John P. Costello, Frank Germann and Bill Wilkie with co-author Aaron Garvey of the University of Kentucky also have begun asking how marketing could improve health. They identified what they call the “uptrend effect,” a form of positive peer pressure that is useful for encouraging healthy behaviors such as exercising and eating healthy foods. Uptrend messaging works by highlighting how the popularity of healthy behaviors is growing over time. The uptrend effect, the researchers say, is an easy-to-implement technique marketers can use to encourage healthy habits without alienating consumers.


Changing Where Research Happens

Some Mendoza professors are avoiding the “lost in translation” problem by changing where their research happens.

Frank Germann, the Viola D. Hank Associate Professor of Marketing, recently conducted a field experiment in Uganda. Along with colleagues at the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, Germann studied an initiative in which professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds volunteered time to help entrepreneurs in Uganda grow their businesses. 

an illustration of the jesus statue on the main quad of the University of Notre DameAs they observed the program over several years, they saw that Ugandan entrepreneurs steadily improved the growth of their businesses and also that the marketing professionals had an especially positive effect by helping entrepreneurs refine their product lines and differentiate their businesses from competitors. The study directly improved the lives of the Ugandan entrepreneurs who took part in the study. It also answered Germann and his collaborators’ questions about how and why marketers matter in entrepreneurial ventures in emerging markets.

Drew Marcantonio, an assistant teaching professor in Management & Organization also conducts fieldwork. For one research project with Catherine Bolten, a Notre Dame anthropology professor, Marcantonio lived and worked in Tonkolili district, Sierra Leone, for three months. The pair’s work eventually illuminated a devastating poverty trap affecting the lives of the country’s rice farmers. They found that many rice farmers accept loans because rice is the only crop that will allow them to earn enough to pay their children’s school fees. This forces them to continue growing rice to pay their debts even though most children fail to gain a better life through education.

Dean Shepherd, often ranked the world’s leading scholar of entrepreneurship, also has turned his attention to fieldwork with people in adversity. The Ray and Milann Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship, Shepherd has had his work cited nearly 85,000 times by other scholars. His theories about entrepreneurial decision making helped define the field of entrepreneurship studies. In 2009, Shepherd’s scholarship developed a new focus. The Black Saturday bushfires struck in his home country of Australia, burning more than a million acres and leaving thousands of people homeless. Shepherd became interested in the individuals who engaged in what he calls “compassionate venturing” in the wake of the crisis to help their communities get the products and support they needed. 

Since then, Shepherd has studied a wide array of entrepreneurs facing adversity, including refugees in Germany, Indian entrepreneurs living in the slums of Mumbai and Delhi, women entrepreneurs living below the poverty line in rural areas, and disaster survivors whose startups emerged in response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. A recent paper examined human trafficking in Mumbai, identifying how girls and women from impoverished villages were systematically targeted and exploited for their labor. These findings provide a better understanding of the cycle of exploitation that entraps vulnerable people.

A significant development in field research at Mendoza is the arrival of Alfonso Pedraza-Martinez, who joined the College in 2023 as the Greg and Patty Fox Collegiate Professor of IT, Analytics, and Operations. Pedraza-Martinez is a leading expert in determining how large humanitarian organizations can operate effectively in the field. It is fitting, then, that his journey toward becoming a researcher began in the field — or fields, rather. 

An illustration of the heart on the ND jesus statue, wrapped in thorn vines and with a cross over itHis first job was with the government of his native country, Colombia. He worked with farmers in remote regions who were growing illegal crops for the production of drugs. He helped farmers find alternatives so they could make a living with dignity while moving away from producing illegal substances. Later, he worked as an emergency response planner for Bogotá, a sprawling city of more than seven million. He observed that during the dry season, many Bogotanos built near rivers where the land was flat and construction was simpler. But each year, the arrival of the rainy season brought devastation.

“The rivers rose, and people lost everything and in some cases died,” Pedraza-Martinez recalls. Most disturbing was that the process repeated anew each year. Pedraza-Martinez began to grow curious about what a better approach might look like.

“When you are a practitioner, it can be difficult to rethink a system or approach,” Pedraza-Martinez says. “There is little time for reflection; you are always reacting. I wanted to take a step back and reflect on problems in a more holistic way and consider short term as well as long term and ask about both the intended and unintended consequences of interventions.”

Pedraza-Martinez’s quest led him to France, where he studied at the Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (INSEAD) with the world’s leading expert in the field of humanitarian operations management. There he learned and refined a research method that brings data from the field back to the lab in order to discover insights that can lead to better management and operations practices.

The improvements that have developed from Pedraza-Martinez’s work span several continents and many different areas of humanitarian organizations’ operations. In Indonesia, his work with undergraduate students found that even though the alert system in Aceh Province can warn citizens of an incoming tsunami 50% faster than it did 20 years ago, emergency evacuation remains a challenge because the community does not have the means to move fast. Engaging the community could potentially save thousands of lives. In rural Ethiopia, his work with graduate students has helped organizations plan water projects that optimize locations for wells so populations can access water in the most equitable and cost-effective way. (See page 23 to learn more about Pedraza-Martinez’s research.)

Pedraza-Martinez recently launched the Humanitarian Operations (HOPE) Lab to increase the impact of his work. The HOPE Lab will bring graduate and undergraduate students into research projects and expand efforts to translate research into practice. Pedraza-Martinez also hopes to bring leaders from the humanitarian sector to spend time at Notre Dame as executives in residence. “Our goal is to close the gap between researchers and practitioners, and we can do that by bringing them here to spend time with us and inform us about what they do.”


When Students Bridge the Gap

Mendoza’s next step in closing the gap between research and practice is integrating undergraduate students into the College’s research culture in a more intentional way. Hal White, the Vincent and Rose Lizzadro Professor of Accountancy, is leading the effort. Before joining Mendoza in 2019, he spent five years at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and six years at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. This spring, he launched the Undergraduate Business Research Program (UBRP) at Mendoza, which is designed to give undergraduates a thorough grounding in research by the time they graduate.

The program will give students the tools they need to participate alongside faculty in their research. And it will also allow them to stay closer to the cutting edge so that they can apply research in their careers more rapidly or even explore academic research as a career path.

A key feature of students’ experience in UBRP will be designing and conducting an original research project that aligns with their interests.

“We live in a complex world where it is difficult to create change, and it’s easier to accept what you’ve been told or simply quit looking because there is so much information out there,” says White. “This program will help students bring a research mindset to everything they do. When they encounter a problem, they don’t give up. Instead they say, ‘I may not know yet, but I have the tools. I can find out.’”

For Cremers, bringing undergraduates more fully into Mendoza’s research culture is an important step.

“This program makes an important statement that research is not just for faculty or graduate students,” he says. “We have one College and one research culture where every member of the Mendoza community can make an important contribution.”

Illustrations by Jose Saccone 


Responsible Research in Business and Management

Mendoza College of Business is among the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM) network’s founding institutions. RRBM supports responsible research that produces credible knowledge useful for addressing societal problems. 

RRBM co-sponsors awards to recognize outstanding research that focuses on important issues for business and society and exemplifies RRBM’s “Seven Principles of Responsible Research.” Since the awards began, work by Mendoza researchers has received recognition.

2023 Distinguished Winner
AMA-EBSCO-RRBM Award for Responsible Research in Marketing 
Yixing Chen, Assistant Marketing Professor

2022 Finalist
AMA-EBSCO-RRBM Award for Responsible Research in Marketing
Yixing Chen, Assistant Marketing Professor

2022 Winner
Responsible Research in Management Award from the Academy of Management Fellows and RRBM
Katie Wowak, Robert & Sara Lumpkins Associate Professor of Business Analytics; IT, Analytics, and Operations

2020 Winner
IACMR-RRBM Award for Responsible Research in Management 
Dean Shepherd, the Ray and Milann Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship

2019 Finalist
IACMR-RRBM Award for Responsible Research in Management 
Dean Shepherd, the Ray and Milann Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship

2018 Winner 
IACMR-RRBM Award for Responsible Research in Management 
Dean Shepherd, the Ray and Milann Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship


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