Sociology Prof. Joan Zielinski remembered for her passion for life, ‘homey’ classroom environment


Courtesy of the Zielinski family

Prof. Joan Zielinski, who taught marketing and sociology courses, passed away unexpectedly Dec. 13. Her colleagues in the Business Institutions Program are planning a memorial service for sometime during winter quarter.

Jillian Sandler, Campus Editor

In the wake of the death of sociology Prof. Joan Zielinski, her students and colleagues remember her as someone with a personality – and homemade baked goods – that left them wanting to come back to her classroom.

“Joan put her passion for life into everything she did, and each piece of her cake just made us want one more,” wrote economics Prof. Mark Witte in a Dec. 16 email to the Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program email list. Witte worked with Zielinski on BIP for the past seven years.

Zielinski passed away unexpectedly Dec. 13. She served as executive director of the New Jersey Lottery and as a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School before coming to Northwestern.

Weinberg Dean Sarah Mangelsdorf sent a notice regarding Zielinski’s death to faculty members on Dec. 14. An official email has not been sent to the entire NU community.

BIP assistant director Lucy Millman said Zielinski was instrumental in developing a three-course series of Marketing Management, Consumer Behavior and Marketing Ideology for students in the program. Zielinski also taught Sociology of Complex Organizations and marketing classes in Kellogg before joining BIP.

Zielinski was regarded highly by many of her students. She was nominated for Associated Student Government’s Faculty Honor Roll multiple times and was chosen by seniors to give the annual “Last Lecture” at the Cubby Bear in Chicago during Senior Week in 2009, Millman said. Zielinski also coached students in the L’Oreal Brandstorm competition, for which teams devise a product and marketing strategy to pitch to consumers in particular scenarios. She led her teams to national finals in New York the past two years, Millman said.

“She made learning really fun. That’s what you get on all the CTECs, that (her students) learned stuff and they really enjoyed it,” she said. “It didn’t matter what the subject … whatever she taught, she made it really fun.”

Communication senior Corey Moss, who took Zielinski’s Sociology of Complex Organizations course last winter, recalled various “maternal aspects” of her personality. He said she would bring cookies into class and held a nametag-making contest during the first week of the quarter.

“She created such a homey atmosphere,” Moss said. “She was the type of person who closely resembled the teachers I had in high school. She doesn’t fit the mold of your stereotypical college lecturer. She’s someone who really transcended that stereotype and made herself available to her students.”

Kolin Pound (Weinberg ‘10), a BIP graduate and Zielinski’s former student, served as a teaching assistant for her 300-level classes during his senior year and said he took “all the classes she offered.” He said Zielinski lived her life to the fullest.

“I think first and foremost, she loved her daughters, she loved her students and she loved life,” Pound said. “I think she was somebody that I personally looked up to and all her students looked up to, a brilliant compassionate woman that made the most out of every moment.”

Zielinski’s husband, Dr. Peter Alsberg, explained how she resonated with students, saying that she sought to make her classes “a real experience” and that she thrived most when speaking in front of others.

“When you create a real experience, the discussion is more firmly stuck in the mind of the people involved. And when she walked into a classroom, for her it was theater, and out of the theater would come understanding,” Alsberg said.

When not in the classroom, Zielinski made time to serve as a mentor to colleagues. BIP lecturer Robin Soffer said she reached out to Zielinski for advice on becoming a better teacher after hearing how highly students thought of her.

“She … really gave me a lot of advice and was very kind to me and very generous with her time,” said Soffer, who also recalled Zielinski stressing the use of humor in the classroom as a teaching strategy.

Even with all of the fun she brought to class, Zielinski still showed her students and colleagues that she knew her stuff.

“She was very direct, very open with people … you knew what she said was true,” Witte said.

BIP faculty members are currently planning a memorial service for Zielinski to be held sometime during Winter Quarter.