Count Pam Smith among NIU’s legion of lifelong learners, especially when it concerns effective teaching.
Her goal is to “create a learning environment based on respect, individual accountability, ethics and personal integrity.”
“When I started teaching, I thought if I provided sound technical content and motivated students, they would learn the material. Therefore, much of my energy was focused on crafting the best possible lectures with rigorous technical content,” Smith said.
“While I believe that great lectures inspire a classroom, I have learned, and continue to learn, that being a good teacher is much more than being a good lecturer.”
Students are witness to the KPMG Professor of Accountancy’s fervor for her chosen discipline.
It’s what “compelled me into teaching in the first place: my passion and enthusiasm for the accounting profession and my desire to share that passion with others. It sounds corny, but I think that accounting is ‘way cool,’ ” she said. “I am continuously a learner and teacher. My passion for learning spills over into my desire to share that learning.”
Smith, who came to the NIU Department of Accountancy in 1994, earned her Ph.D. from the University of North Texas.
The current NIU Board of Trustees Professor won her department’s top teaching honors four straight years from 1999 to 2000, the “Golden Apple” teaching award from the Executive MBA class every year since 2006, and received the Illinois CPA Society’s Outstanding Educator of the Year Award in 2008.
Her accolades “come primarily from the innovative approach she takes to teaching the extremely complex and difficult topics in accounting. She is continuously updating, revising and trying new approaches in the classroom,” said Denise Schoenbachler, dean of the NIU College of Business.
“Pam’s students have amazing respect for her knowledge, as well as her ability to translate that knowledge into meaningful content. They excel in her classes because they do not want to let her down or disappoint her,” the dean added. “She instills a strong desire to learn and to succeed in all she does for students.”
Among Smith’s classroom innovations is an assignment for advanced accounting students, who are asked to develop a presentation that creatively illustrate their understanding of complex accounting theory. Accounting professionals then judge the projects.
“The exercise helps students learn content in-depth and to be creative,” Schoenbachler said, “a difficult combination for a numbers-driven accounting student.”
Alumna Amanda Paterimos, a member of the tax staff at Mowery & Schoenfeld, said Smith has “an unmatched ability to inspire her students and to instill in them a passion for the subject matter.”
“In a profession where the emphasis is on technical skills, Dr. Smith also brings in a human element. She provides insight to decisions beyond raw numbers and data,” said Paterimos, adding that Smith raises “awareness of issues that get pushed aside in most accounting classes.”
“She pairs the technical skills of accounting with discussions of the ‘people’ issues in a few notable mergers. The discussions paint a real-life picture of mergers and highlight why they either succeed or fail – the reasons are rarely attributable to the accounting – making the subject come alive for students. She emphasizes how leadership styles and corporate culture impact people and how not adapting to a changing environment can be counter-productive.”
The respect students have for Smith is rooted in their memories of the professional learning environment that she creates in the classroom.
“Someone once said that people may not remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel,” Smith said. “This philosophy governs my classroom.”