Matthew Buell, ’17, professor Stephen Buell and Emily Buell, ’19 sit together on campus. Professor Buell is a specialist in corporation finance. (Lexie McGowan/B&W Staff)

Honey, I taught the kids: Professors and their children talk about sharing Lehigh’s campus

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For Matt Buell, ’17, the 4 o’clocks season isn’t just defined by hours of studying, marathon sessions at Fairchild-Martindale Library and a lack of sleep.

It also means a lot of texts and more than a few bribes.

“I’ve been offered lots of money for copies of my dad’s exams,” Buell said. “But I have way too much respect for him to do that.”

Matt’s father, Stephen Buell, is a professor of finance and the co-director of the IBE program at Lehigh. Throughout his tenure at Lehigh, he estimates he’s taught between 25,000 and 26,000 students. Next semester, Stephen Buell faces a challenge: teaching his Introduction to Finance course with his son Matt Buell and his daughter Emily Buell, ’19, as students.

Both the Buell children are used to being associated with their father, in and out of the classroom.

“Sometimes people will be like, ‘Oh your dad’s tests are too hard,’” Matt Buell said. “But he has 25 years of review questions online.”

Emily Buell agreed with her brother and added that all the students enrolled in the business school will likely have a class with her father during their time at Lehigh.

“All my friends are like, ‘Oh I’ll take the class when you take it,’ but it won’t help,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any question of academic integrity. But definitely, people hear my name and think of my dad right away.”

Not all student-parent relationships are as intrinsically linked at Lehigh. For professor Vassie Ware of the biological sciences department, independence is key in her relationship with her daughter. Ware says she wants to ensure her daughter is able to thrive and succeed in her Lehigh experience on her own terms.

“I want to be respectful of her space and her ability to be herself,” Ware said. “I want to give advice to any student, and I’d always be there to offer her support, but I’m clearly not the helicopter type.”

Ware said knowing several of the faculty members who teach and advise her daughter can at times present “an interesting challenge,” but it’s one that has helped to define her own experience as an educator.

James Ricles, a professor of structural engineering and director of the RTMD NHERI Experimental Facility echoed this sentiment, saying that having a child as a student offered him an interesting perspective as a professor. He said he recognizes it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate what students are going through, and this often helps with that.

Ricles has already had two children graduate from Lehigh, and his daughter Victoria Ricles, ’19, is a biochemistry major. He also spoke to the idea of allowing students to succeed independently at Lehigh, saying he encouraged his children to live on or off campus during their time as students instead of commuting from home.

“As a parent and a professor, you want (your children) to thrive, but it has to be on their own accord,” James Ricles said. “And one thing you really want is for them to be able to take advantage of all the resources on campus.”

Victoria Ricles said although she doesn’t see her father all that much at Lehigh, as his office is on the Mountaintop Campus, she still appreciates having a friendly face close by.

“It’s just nice to know you have someone to support you who’s so close,” Victoria Ricles said.

Both the Buell children and Ricles said they looked up reviews of their parents on RateMyProfessor.com, a site often frequented by students choosing their classes for the upcoming semester. They all said they found the reviews to be fairly accurate, with Matt Buell saying some of the comments about their father’s teaching style also applied to his father outside the classroom.

“The reviews would say things like ‘he strokes his beard a lot,’ which he does all the time at home,” Matt Buell said. “Another one is he repeats things 19 times. That’s definitely true.”

Matt Buell said he’s heard comments from friends about their grades in his father’s class, but he’s generally unaffected by the stray complaint he may get from a classmate.

“It’s only annoying if kids forget their PIN for registration or don’t go to my dad’s office hours, and they’ll text me like I’m his personal adviser,” Matt Buell said. “At first I was doing it, but now I just say no.”

Despite the extra texts and the occasional grumbling from their peers, the Buells agree that being students at Lehigh has given them a greater understanding and appreciation for their father’s role at the university. For Emily Buell, that moment came at a recent “Meet the Firms” event through the business college.

“Halfway through you realize, ‘Wow, my dad has probably taught all these people at one point,’” Emily Buell said.

Although the business college links the Buells’ academic lives together at Lehigh, they say they don’t see each other frequently on campus.

“A few years ago if I saw (Matt Buell) on campus I might go the other direction because I wouldn’t want to accidentally embarrass him,” Stephen Buell said. “But that’s not the case anymore. Overall I think it’s pretty cool.”

This was immediately met by both Matt and Emily chiming in with “same.”

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