Northern Illinois University

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Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-4299

November 16, 2009

NIU Accountancy faculty sweep innovation awards

Pam Smith, Rebecca Shortridge and Linda Matuszewski

DeKalb, Ill. — When it comes to innovations in teaching accountancy, the NIU College of Business’ Department of Accountancy cornered the market this year with a trio of professors sweeping the major honors.


Accountancy professors Linda Matuszewski, Rebecca Shortridge and Pam Smith all were honored for the unique approaches they have brought to the classroom. Such a sweep is unprecedented, says Jim Young, chair of NIU Accountancy.


“We are so proud of each of these individuals and the honors they have received,” Young says. “Academics across the country consider these the premier awards for innovation in accountancy education. To be able to claim the winner of any one of these awards would be an accomplishment; to win them all is amazing.”


College of Business Dean Denise Schoenbachler shares Young’s excitement, pointing out that creativity in the classroom has always been a hallmark of a program that long has ranked among the best.


“Innovative teaching is one reason that NIU Accountancy always comes up in any discussion of the top accountancy programs in the country,” Schoenbachler says. “Classes like those developed by Rebecca, Linda and Pam not only keep us on the cutting edge, but also ensure that we graduate students who are ready to tackle the tasks expected of accountants in today’s fast changing business world.”


Linda Matuszewski
The Bea Sanders/AICPA Innovation in Teaching Award


Celebrities from Air Bud to Bono to Lady Gaga have made cameo appearances in Linda Matuszewski’s classes – sort of. Those celebs and many others are at the center of fictitious charity events that her students organize as part of the UCare component of Matuszewski’s class in managerial accounting.


Her undergraduate students must organize the event from start to finish, including a business plan that includes marketing and operations, budgeting, a cost-volume profit analysis and other components. The project culminates with a presentation in front of the class.


“The goal,” says Matuszewski, “is to help students understand the relevance of accounting information in real-world settings and to learn how accounting integrates with other business disciplines like marketing and operations management.”


The project also compels them to evaluate unstructured situations, recognize the importance of documenting the assumptions underlying their accounting estimates and to apply managerial accounting concepts.


UCare was developed by Matuszewski and her collaborator, Fabienne Miller, an assistant professor of accountancy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It caught the eye of judges at a poster session sponsored by the American Accounting Association, which ultimately led to this award.


The duo will have an opportunity to share their project with other accounting educators at the Conference on Teaching and Learning in Accounting next July in San Francisco. They will attend as guests of the AIPCA.


Rebecca Shortridge, Gaylen and Joanne Larson Professor of Accountancy 
The Federation of Schools of Accountancy Innovation in Graduate Education Award


The days when accountancy students could devote themselves solely to poring over columns of numbers have gone the way of the green visor and arm garters, Shortridge says.


To prepare them for a business world that requires a much broader view, she has revamped the capstone class for students seeking master’s degrees in accounting – essentially a requirement for those wishing to pursue a CPA. The course focuses on business valuation and how different facets of business influence that concept.


“It’s easy for accountancy students to get caught up in memorizing rules and learning formulas and to lose sight of the bigger picture. In this class I try to get them to ask skeptical questions about how the markets work, and where accounting fits into the big picture. I prod them to question the assumptions that go into financial reports and challenge them to think critically.”


The approach means less time spent on lectures and more on team activities, guest speakers and case studies to demonstrate how various aspects of business interconnect.


Students occasionally object that the subject matter strays too far into finance or other areas. However, Shortridge says, they often report back after graduation that the perspective gained and methods learned in the class are invaluable at their jobs or in getting them through their CPA exams.


The approach is fairly common in MBA classes, Shortridge says, but she is unaware of any accountancy programs that offer anything comparable at this level.


She has been part of a group working to change that, and will get a chance to share her ideas on the topic at the Conference on Teaching and Learning in Accounting next July in San Francisco, where she also will be a guest of the AIPCA.


Pam Smith, KPMG Endowed Professor of Accountancy
American Accounting Association Innovation in Accounting Education Award


Businesses have been using derivative financial instruments as a way to mitigate risk for as long as anyone can remember, but it’s a topic that many accounting teachers won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.


“It’s a very intimidating topic. It crosses the line into finance, and the accounting is very complex,” acknowledges Pam Smith, who modestly claims that her personal mastery of the subject does not extend far beyond the basics.


However, that last point might be disputed by the thousands of NIU advanced accounting students (and the thousands of professional accountants she presents to each summer) whom she has schooled in the matter over the last decade.


In fact, her reputation is such that attorneys representing Enron officials in one of the great financial scandals of the century recruited her to be an expert witness. They wanted someone who could break down the complexities of the Enron transactions so the judge and jury could understand the complex derivatives that were entangled in the case.


That ability to break down such a complex topic is the foundation of Smith’s approach, which she has carefully honed and tweaked over the last decade. The result has become what many consider to be the most comprehensive approach available for teaching the topic – the Innovation in Accounting Education award is recognition of this contribution to accounting education.


Smith has been asked countless times when she is going to write a book of her own on the topic, but she has no interest in doing so. “I don’t believe in having a monopoly on knowledge,” she says. “I make my materials available to any instructor that asks for them.”


Smith received her award at the August meeting of the American Accounting Education Association.


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