In the Classroom with Deborah Phillips

In the Classroom with Deborah Phillips

At an early age, Deborah Phillips had a front row seat to witness the lasting impact educators can make. Her mom taught home economics, and her dad taught vocational agriculture — both at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia.

“There were students all around my parents,” Phillips said. “I saw what a difference my parents made in the lives of others, but I also saw that the students made a difference in my parents’ lives. It was interesting because even at my mom’s funeral there were a lot of her friends, but the majority of the people were her students.”

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The experience had a profound impact on Phillips, leading her to work as director of education, and governmental liaison for a not-for-profit organization. She has also served as a governmental liaison for a not-for-profit organization, then as director of training and marketing for a national real estate company. But, as her career progressed, she held on to an interest in teaching because she had strong mentors, and she believed she could make an impact.

“I always say it’s easy to make impressions on people, but when you make an impact on someone, it’s definable,” she said. “It’s something you can measure. I measure a person’s success by what kind of impact have they made.”

Today, Phillips is a certified property manager and president of an international consulting firm, The Quadrillion.

She also is a lecturer and industry liaison in the College of Design’s School of Building Construction, where she enjoys helping others discover their gifts and abilities.

“There is nothing that brings me greater satisfaction than to see a student in his or her genius zone making a contribution to a greater good,” she said. “Whether it is a college student or someone looking to change careers, when I see a spark or something that ignites inside of a person to move beyond where they are, that gets me excited!”

Phillips says she sees teaching as more of her pastime. “I’m also president of the Georgia Apartment Industry Education Foundation, and teaching is my hobby job,” she said. “Nobody goes into teaching because they’re going to get rich. They go into teaching because they want to make a difference in somebody’s life. I look at my job as loving, investing, and growing,” she said. “I look at my job as seeing students as not who they are, but who they can be.”

photo - Deborah Phillips and students in class

Deborah Phillips, who teaches Real Estate Asset and Income Property Management (BC 6500),
gives many practical experiences in her class in order to expose students to real situations and case studies.
Photo: Fitrah Hamid.


Students are just like working professionals, according to Phillips.

“They have a lot on their minds, and I can tell instantly when they are distracted, tired, and emotionally drained” she said. “I realize I have to change things up and get their focus. It’s like that old adage, it’s hard to add anything new when something is already full. I try to get them to hit the ‘refresh’ button of their minds and be open to possibility.”

Phillips teaches Real Estate Asset and Income Property Management (BC 6500). At the beginning of each semester, she sets the tone for the class regarding expectations.

“I’m a big believer in: You have to meet your deadlines, you have to show up, follow up, and dress up,” she said. “I give them every opportunity to get prepared for the real world. If I let students leave class unprepared, not only have I failed them, but I have diminished the Georgia Tech brand. Every day that I walk into the classroom, I have a huge responsibility to get it right,” said Phillips, who has undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech.

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“I try to remember that not everyone learns the same way,” Phillips said. “Without getting too technical, there are three basic learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.” She explained that visual learning is by seeing and reading; auditory learning is by listening and speaking; and kinesthetic learning is by touching and doing.

She said she gives many practical experiences in her class because she likes it when students are exposed to real situations and case studies.

“Anyone can memorize something, but the real assessment is when a student can truly demonstrate a particular concept and apply that to an actual problem,” said Phillips, recipient of the 2013 Apartment Career and Education Award from the National Apartment Association, and the 2012-13 Outstanding Educator Award from the University of Georgia’s Department of Housing and Consumer Economics.

photo - Deborah Phillips and students in class

Deborah Phillips said, "There is nothing that brings me greater satisfaction than to see a
student in his or her genius zone making a contribution to a greater good." 
Photo: Fitrah Hamid.


So, what’s the best guidance Phillips can offer new faculty?

“Don’t be afraid to go off script!” she said. “Sometimes I come in with a lesson plan thinking ‘this is what I’m going to cover today.’ But that doesn’t happen. You must be aware of the vibe in the classroom. There’s energy there, and you must be sensitive to that.”

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Phillips says that learning has become more experiential.

“Students can learn concepts without even leaving the dorm room,” she said. “But they need to come together to share new ideas, to hear experiences from industry experts, and to learn to communicate and apply what they have learned so they can solve real and complex problems. The world needs problem-solvers and people who can communicate, inspire, and pass on their knowledge to those coming behind them.”

“In the Classroom” is a series showcasing some of Georgia Tech’s award-winning teachers, delving into what they teach, how they do it, and what motivates them.

More In the Classroom Stories - click here

Writer: Victor Rogers
Photographer: Fitrah Hamid
Digital Designer: Melanie Goux