If you live, work or attend college in Morgantown, West Virginia, you immediately think of the Mountaineers when you hear someone mention “football.”
You think of West Virginia University’s old gold and blue uniforms, pepperoni rolls in the Blue Lot, a cold, refreshing drink, and the pride of every fan – young and old.
For others, when they hear “football” they think of a round ball, cleats, biscuits and a warm cup of tea.
From East to West
Born outside of Plymouth in southern England, Peace spent time between his native country, Canada and the United States. Having lived in the U.S. for a few years when it came time for college, he stayed and attended Michigan State University for both his bachelor’s degree in computer science and master’s of business administration.
Peace would move again – this time about 400 miles east – to Pennsylvania where he earned his Ph.D. in management information systems from the University of Pittsburgh.
“It was during my time at Michigan State that I really started to like computers,” Peace said. “I knew then that I wanted to go back into academia because I enjoyed the teaching process.”
After working as a systems engineer at IBM and as an assistant professor at Duquesne University, country roads brought Peace to West Virginia for the first time in 2001.
What he thought was a presentation turned into a job interview to create an MIS program at WVU’s business college, and he never looked back.
“I fell in love with the college town and family atmosphere that was WVU, and the people here who cared about students as well as research,” he said. “Helping students was a big factor in my decision. I liked the mission of helping first-generation students, all students, from the state of West Virginia get a good education, land a good job and go on to have a great life.”
WVU was not only a great land-grant to work for with a fun sports following and all-around feel-good college environment, but Morgantown eventually offered Peace a football coaching job, too – the English way, that is.
Along with following his passions for academia, he was able to take his love of soccer even further.
“I was never going to be one of those people who coached their children, but once mine started playing club soccer they needed a girls’ soccer coach, and a few parents knew that I had coached before and one thing led to another.”
Peace is no average Joe. He’s your average Ted Lasso.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
For those that have not seen it, Ted Lasso is a popular AppleTV+ series that follows an American football coach to England to manage a British soccer team. He may need to learn the rules of the game rather quickly, but he teaches his team what he does know – hard work and kindness.
Peace may not have had to learn the sport, but he embraced every new opportunity that came his way.
I think that’s what it’s all about. Embracing change.
- Ted Lasso
“When my family first moved over here, there was no way to get the British soccer scores,” he said. “Calls were ridiculously expensive. We limited them to once a month, so people would have to mail us newspaper clippings of the scores.”
Peace first coached soccer as a high schooler new to the States, but admits he wasn’t “coach” material as he was just a kid himself.
However, as an adult, club soccer and University High School allowed Peace to revisit the English game after his 9-to-5 job.
We very much view ourselves as coaches as opposed to just teachers in the classroom. We’re helping these kids not just learn the material, but also grow and become better people and understand how the world works.- Graham Peace
“When we moved to West Virginia, I quickly became part of the soccer community,” he said. “I have been coaching club, rec and high school soccer in West Virginia for the past 20 years, and I’ve been coaching for UHS for nine years. I’ve also served on the WV Soccer Association board, the West Virginia High School Soccer Coaches Association board, as well as the director of coaching and president of a couple clubs.”
Unlike what you may see on the hit TV show, UHS takes everyone who wants to play and gives them the opportunity to do so.
“At UHS, we do it a little differently than some other programs,” Peace said. “We don't cut people. It’s anyone who wants to play and will be a good teammate. I think in high school sports there should be a place for that kid on the team. We run a JV team and we've got some players who will never play varsity soccer, but that's not their goal. They just want an environment where they've got a team. We also have players who've never played soccer and have never been on a team before.
"I think our team culture is very family-oriented, which is similar to what we do here at WVU. It’s a family on the field and in the locker room. Everyone looks out for one another.”
Aside from his soccer side hustle, Peace has been working at WVU for the past 21 years.
“Coaching has definitely made me a better teacher,” he said. “I think the patience I’ve learned in coaching has certainly helped me become a better teacher and things I’ve learned as a teacher have helped me coach.
“We very much view ourselves as coaches as opposed to just teachers in the classroom. We’re helping these kids not just learn the material, but also grow and become better people and understand how the world works.”
Much like Ted Lasso’s “Believe” sign in the locker room, Peace has a motto he chooses to live by on the field and in the classroom.
“We have a motto that my team lives by on the wall of our locker room that reads, ‘The person is greater than the player,’“ he said.
The same goes for WVU – the person is greater than the student.
“We really try to look after our students as people, not just numbers,” he said. “I think that teachers and coaches who can do that will be successful.”
Getting Down to Business
Being a part of a team allows you to learn from your teammates about different aspects of life.
Peace has seen this in coaching the girls’ soccer team and educating business students. He has even seen this himself with his teaching career.
“I’ve had a really winding administrative career,” said Peace. “I started out as a regular MIS faculty member, got tenure fairly quickly, became the assistant chair and then chair of the business administration department before the MIS department, then became the associate dean for academic affairs and undergraduate programs.”
We really try to look after our students as people, not just numbers. I think that teachers and coaches who can do that will be successful.- Graham Peace
Today, in his role as the Chambers College MIS department chair and associate professor, Peace sees many similarities between coaching and teaching.
Although, he admits that the title that comes after his name is just a title and that he would still be doing everything he’s doing today no matter what it read.
“You’re teaching a skill but it’s really about getting the people motivated,” he said. “In teaching, it’s making it fun for the students and getting them to have a passion for whatever is it that you’re doing. It’s the same with soccer.
"The game of soccer is constantly changing on the field. Players are moving in different places, the ball is moving, the conditions are always different,” Peace said. “It’s a constant problem-solving exercise whether you have the ball or not, and that’s what we try to teach the players. You’ve got to be able to solve the problem on the field in real time without your coach talking to you. You have to make the best decision for yourself and your team. It’s the same with MIS. MIS is an art, not a science. There are multiple ways to solve each problem and you have to be very creative in how you solve that problem.”
Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing.
- Ted Lasso
And that’s the great thing about MIS – it’s a lot of new technologies and problem-solving skills, but there is always something new to teach.
“I think that’s where we’ve done a great job with our program. We’ve focused on teaching the students how to learn, adapt and problem-solve as opposed to just learning a technology. It’s allowed our students to really succeed.
“If students like technology, they’re good with computers, and they like solving puzzles, then they’re going to do well in the MIS program.”
Because unlike computer scientists who are creating the next technology, MIS professionals are using that technology to solve problems for an organization.
With MIS here at the Chambers College, students learn both hard and soft skills needed to succeed in the program and out in the real world.
“We have a dedicated set of faculty and alumni that allow us to go above and beyond in our program,” Peace said. “It has never been the normal classroom experience because students can’t learn everything they need in the typical classroom. Instead, it’s participating in real-world projects and extracurricular activities, and interacting with professionals.”
Many MIS students have found jobs at Big Four firms like Ernst & Young and Deloitte, as well as well-known companies such as Microsoft, IBM, KPMG, PPG, Highmark, Fidelity, KeyLogic, UPMC, WVU Medicine and more.
“Everyone needs MIS majors,” Peace said. “We have been known to have the highest average starting salary in the college and 100 percent placement.”
Like a team sport, hard work pays off.
“The kids who play are the ones who put in the effort and work hard, and it’s great to see that in action,” Peace said. “Same goes for business students. It’s not how you come in, but it’s who you are when you leave here.”
Some students opt to continue their education with graduate school. Peace said several enter the data analytics or cybersecurity master’s programs. Some work for a few years and then return for an MBA.
“The MIS undergraduate major gives students the base foundation, then our graduate programs provide core skills in distinct areas of interest.”
There is no right or wrong choice. It’s a matter of figuring out what is right for you.
“There is so much flexibility with an MIS degree,” he said. “One day you may work in the retail industry and the next you may find yourself working in the sports industry. The opportunities are infinite.”
"As the man once said, the harder you work, the luckier you get."
- Ted Lasso
Now at Reynolds Hall, the opportunities are endless.
“In the Cybersecurity Lab, students will be able to have a network they can hack which we’ve never done before,” Peace said. “They are able to do hands-on hacking of computer systems, analysis of viruses, all of those types of things that you would deal with in the real world in the cybersecurity environment. They’re also able to work in the Data Analytics Lab with companies like DataRobot, using high-powered, offsite computers where everything they’re accessing is in the cloud.”
Thanks to these labs in the new building, students can now work on real-world projects for their coursework as well as projects that interest them.
“It’s not just working with external companies for class,” he said. “If a student has an interest in cybersecurity, data analytics or AI, they can come into the labs and we’ll support them with whatever they need to succeed.
“We have students writing computer programs in Python for fun and they’re able to add this to their portfolio to show potential employers that they can solve these technical problems.”
It’s the open-concept space, team-player attitude and family-oriented environment that is Reynolds Hall that allows students to push the envelope further than before.
“That’s exactly what we want,” Peace said. “We want people working together, we want collaboration, we envision it to be open at all times so that students can access it whenever they’re most creative.”
Peace knows a thing or two about collaboration himself. He’s currently working on a project analyzing bias in betting odds with Mark Nigrini, associate accounting professor, and another project looking at the interface between humans and machines with Nanda Surendra, MIS associate professor; Salman Nazir, MIS associate professor; and former Chambers College colleague Virginia Kleist. He will soon begin a project with Vince Dobilas, MIS teaching assistant professor, studying the use of Microsoft certifications during freshmen year.
As far as his own research, Peace’s favorite project is his dissertation, which was published in the Journal of MIS. He developed and tested a predictive model of software piracy, attempting to find the factors that go into a person’s decision to pirate.
He’s found his niche everywhere he roams – from the classroom to the soccer field to the labs.
“The graduation ceremony is always the highlight of my year, especially singing ‘Country Roads,’” he said. “I love seeing our students who have worked so hard finally see the reward of receiving that diploma and getting a great job. On the non-academic side, watching three of my former players (Hannah Abraham, Amanda Saymon, and Macy Stalnaker) play for the NCAA Women’s Soccer national championship was wonderful.”
I believe in hope. I believe in belief.
- Ted Lasso
If a student is wondering why MIS and why the Chambers College, Peace said the answer is always the faculty and the alumni.
“Our faculty and alumni are absolutely some of the best in the world at what they do,” he said. “For instance, all of our faculty – MIS, Cybersecurity, Data Analytics and the rest of our business programs – could work anywhere in the world and they choose to be here working with our students because that’s what they want to do. They buy into what we’re doing with business students at WVU. Our alumni are also invested in the program and are helping the next generation of students. I truly believe that is what separates us from others.”
It’s a never-ending cycle.
I would put our students up against anyone in the world because they work hard, they understand the technology and they’re good with it, and they’re great people who have been nurtured through a great program.- Graham Peace
Once you recruit talented students and faculty, the students become successful alumni and donate their time to the program helping students, and then it starts all over again.
“I would put our students up against anyone in the world because they work hard, they understand the technology and they’re good with it, and they’re great people who have been nurtured through a great program,” Peace said. “That’s the difference of the MIS program at WVU. Anybody can get the technology down, it’s the people that make the difference and we have the best.”
And it’s Peace who has made a difference – is making a difference.
While he could be anywhere, he chooses to stay right here at WVU, in Morgantown, with his family and far from his hometown.
He still may prefer biscuits and a warm cup of tea, and other traditions from across the pond, but he’s a gold-and-blue wearing, “Country Roads”-singing Mountaineer like the rest of us, and he’s here to stay.