Neil Hair is known as the “man in black”—and with his red hair, solid black garb and British accent, he cuts a highly recognizable figure across the RIT campus.
The associate professor of marketing in the E. Philip Saunders College of Business certainly knows a lot about personal branding, but he is equally passionate about teaching students how to market themselves. He calls himself very tough in the classroom, but he “does it with heart” and has a high rate of return for his students, who have assessed his overall teaching effectiveness with averages of 4.8 out of 5.0, and 13 perfect scores.
Hair’s teaching methodology has not gone unnoticed—earning him what he calls RIT’s “Triple Crown.” He was the recipient of the Richard and Virginia Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2006, the RIT Exemplary Online Faculty Award in 2008, and now the prestigious 2011-2012 Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching.
“My greatest pleasure is teaching and I love coming to work every day,” says Hair, who says he has taught more than 1,000 students at RIT since 2004. “I like helping people and that’s what drives me—to see students with different skill sets who struggle a bit and then move from a 2.0 to excellence. The vast majority of my alumni network stays in touch.”
Hair taught the world’s first online course on commercializing virtual worlds and also created an advanced Internet marketing capstone course for new-media marketing students. The cornerstone of Hair’s approach is connecting students with local companies as real-world consultants—which has resulted in the creation of more than 200 marketing plans with an estimated market value in excess of $1.2 million. “The experience and the way their résumé looks at the end of the 11-week course is phenomenal,” he says. “It’s a win-win-win scenario if ever I saw one in the classroom—student, community and RIT.”
Hair and his wife, Rose, who teaches at Nazareth College, are the proud parents of Lillian, 3, who was born in the U.S. but has two passports because her parents are subjects of the United Kingdom. The family owns two cats—Spooky (black, of course), whom Hair adores, and “our white cat, Snowball, who sheds noticeably on my black clothes.”
Many are familiar with his website, neilhair.com, where the professor offers his musings. Hair cryptically writes that he once introduced Winston Churchill in person to five Americans (at Churchill’s gravesite), pulled a man from a wrecked car, waltzed with his grandmother and introduced Johnnie Walker to an ex-KGB agent.
What is he most proud of? His daughter, of course, but also his hobby. “I am a mixologist and hold a professional bartenders certificate in New York. I am a passionate home brewer and can make any cocktail you like; my latest favorite is Bee’s Knees—a combination of gin, honey syrup, lemon juice and lavender bitters.”
After 16 years of teaching, Hair doesn’t regret a minute of it. “Winston Churchill once said, ‘If you find a job you love, you’ll never work again,’ and that’s the way I feel about my role as an educator.
“As an academic, the support at RIT has been second to none. No one’s ever said to me, ‘You can’t do that.’ They’ve always said, ‘Go ahead and do it and we’ll come and give you the support you need for your ideas.’ And that’s something I truly appreciate at RIT.”