Ryan Ball never planned to be a local celebrity, let alone the star of viral TikTok videos.
Yet that’s exactly what happened when the clinical assistant professor of business administration at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business turned his Zoom profile to a potato in a recent review session.
A student in the review session captured images of “Professor Po Tato” and shared them on TikTok that night. There were a few modest tastes and views when she went to bed.
The next day it had 2 million views.
The student was so concerned about the reaction that she withdrew it, but at Ball’s insistence she reposted it – along with a second video – which, as of September 17, had racked up 49 million views. . It caught the attention of NBC’s “Today” show, which featured a story on its website.
“I taught the entire two and a half hour review session like the potato,” Ball said. “The point is, people were paying attention and that’s all that matters to me. It’s hard to capture people’s attention on Zoom.
The filter is a potato with googly eyes and a mouth. He tells the student during the review session, “Once you’re the potato you can’t take it off without leaving Zoom, so you’re stuck with me.” “
He then said, “Let me check my family first.” Its background changes from a photo of the exterior of Ross School to four butter-coated baked potatoes, which Ball looks mockingly horrified.
“Every student I met the next day was keen to say that it had gone viral, and I didn’t even know what that meant,” Ball said.
During a recent visit to a local restaurant, Ball said he was sitting at the bar eating a steak and checking out the views of the TikTok videos.
“The bartender saw this and asked me, ‘Oh my God, have you seen that potato?’ “, he said. “I told him that not only have I seen him, it’s me. Next thing I know, I’m having my picture taken with the staff.
It wasn’t actually the first time Ball had used the Potato Filter on Zoom, but it was certainly the most impactful. The first time was April 1, 2020, shortly after the university switched to a virtual teaching format.
He hadn’t realized it was April Fool’s Day until a student pointed it out during virtual office hours and said that Ball must have something fun planned for class that starts in one. half an hour.
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He quickly scoured the internet and a search for “how to prank Zoom” yielded an article about an executive who attended virtual meetings like Potato after his kids used the Snap filter on his desk.
“So I fixed the bugs, I showed up to class five minutes late like potato, no music, no hype,” he said. “My wife to this day said to me, ‘I thought you were going to die of a heart attack, you were laughing so hard.'”
Ball said that despite the potato filter and his sense of humor, he is quite professional when it comes to teaching, knowing how important information and materials are to students. students, especially for Masters of Business Administration and Masters of Management students who are unlikely to research accounting. as a profession.
“A lot of times you sit in that elective class and ask yourself ‘What am I doing?’,” He said. “Well, I know what you’re doing. You try to prepare for the fact that you don’t want to be a deer caught in the headlights when this stuff happens. It’s not that you’ll know exactly what to do, but I’m trying to give you confidence so that you can say, “I did it once, I can do it again. “
Questions and answers
What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?
Winning the Golden Apple Award in 2016 was a moment to remember for at least two reasons. First of all, it was a great honor that the MBA students took the time, despite their busy teaching / recruiting schedules, to recognize me in this way. Second, the ‘last talk’ I gave as part of the award reception provided a rare opportunity to reflect on my journey from a shy undergraduate engineering student who turned into an accounting professor. energetic and exaggerated who enjoys learning about / new people.
Without what can’t you live?
My wife, Sarah, and my two children, Alex and Ivy. The four of us have very different personalities and aspirations, so there is a lot of scope for incorporating new ideas and inspirations.
Name your favorite place on campus.
I can’t really call my place a favorite place because it’s no longer there. However, the place on campus that I have fondest memories of is the student union billiard room / billiard room before its recent refurbishment. … I taught my son, Alex, to play pool there when I was 9 years old.
What inspires you?
The people, especially the students. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to meet over 400 new students each year who have interesting and diverse backgrounds and most importantly who will accomplish great things in life.
What are you reading now?
I hate to admit it, but I’ve read way too much of TikTok lately for two reasons. First, users have left so many positive reviews on the two potato videos that there just isn’t enough time to read them, let alone respond to them. Second, TikTok is like a train wreck because you really want to look away in horror, but you just can’t because you want to see what happens next.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career path?
My father, a politician when I was young, taught me the value of looking people in the eye for even a moment and having a firm handshake to forge lasting bonds with people. people. Robert Bushman, professor of accounting at the University of North Carolina, is someone I consider a second father because he taught me to be myself in teaching and research by living what ‘he was preaching. Eric Ghysels, Professor of Economics and Finance at UNC, showed me the value of balancing knowledge and insightful research with a great work ethic and an attitude that catches the interest of other colleagues. , especially myself.