How a new College of Business professor is bringing accounting to life

How a new College of Business professor is bringing accounting to life

In January of 2020, before Dr. Sandria Stephenson began teaching at Georgia College and before the pandemic changed everything, she was in the North Georgia mountains, engaging in a Holistic Educational Learning Partnerships (HELP) retreat amid the fog-covered peaks with a cohort of prospective doctorate students. Stephenson designed this HELP initiative to retreat with prospective students whom she felt were prepared to take the ultimate leap in higher education, pursuing a doctoral degree. She’d been doing this informally since 2008, after discovering that she was one of only 5 percent of minorities who have earned a doctoral degree. The number of Black women with doctorates is even more staggering. 

“Once I completed my doctorate, it was always my mantra to help somebody else along their journey,” Stephenson says. This is the kind of example she uses to translate realistic numeric data into real-world action in her teaching. 

Stephenson wanted to be a meteorologist before an internship in high school introduced her to a love of accounting. She views life as narratives, where every story can be translated into numbers. For example, she was recently on faculty at an emerging research institution, where she was one of 34 faculty members in the School of Accountancy. She is now at GC, a public liberal arts institution, where she is one of eight in her Department. She did the calculations and determined that not only would she be more valued at Georgia College, but she could bring more value to Georgia College. 

“I wanted to be able to teach and talk about accounting in the essence of the liberal arts because accounting is about the socio-economic aspects of life. It is not just debiting and crediting economic activities. It’s about the living experience and the lived experience,” Stephenson said. 

Dr. Sandria Stephenson
Dr. Sandria Stephenson

It was fortuitous that Stephenson began teaching accounting during the fall semester of 2020, as students and faculty were returning with some trepidation after the national shutdown in March. It was a time where the nation, and the world, were receiving a hard lesson in how numbers affect everyday life. 

“So yesterday, the federal government passed the American Rescue Act, a big COVID relief bill,” she said, “Georgia College will get some of that money, as are all colleges around the country. We desperately need those funds to do a lot more for sanitizing, cleaning, and all the different things we’re doing now that we have COVID to deal with. But GC must budget and subsequently account for all those funds and must report on how they were spent.”

 In this regard Stephenson uses aspects of the pandemic to bring accounting to everyday life.

 To drive home the idea that accounting makes up every facet of our lives, Stephenson has given every one of her students their own company to run; albeit an imaginary one. 

“So as we talk about different concepts, we go to that company’s financial statements, and we extract the information!” She told her students a narrative about the way Whole Foods predicted that a “pandemic” might greatly affect their customers and or services. She showed them in class how the company noted this in their risk analysis and outlined it in their 2017 financial statements, so was able to prepare for and mitigate the risks of the pandemic to some degree. 

Once I completed my doctorate, it was always my mantra to help somebody else along their journey.
– Dr. Sandria Stephenson

These techniques are what Stephenson calls, “S.M.A.R.T. Learning” which stands for “Simulate, Maintain, Apply, Reflect, and Teach,” a technique she created for helping students navigate the learning process. The technique has already become popular in and outside of her classes. A resident assistant in Wells Hall developed the context of this concept into a poster and put it around the dorm.

Stephenson’s philosophy is also making an impact outside of GC. She was recently contacted and met virtually with doctoral students from Vanderbilt University for help with developing a program evaluation model for their doctoral program. They contacted Stephenson after reading another of her teaching techniques, the “Accounting Communities of Practice (ACOP)” in an article she published in the international A-ranked journal, Accounting Education. They asked her permission to use this ACOP model in developing their evaluation proposal. As reflected in her mantra and evidenced in her HELP initiative, Stephenson was happy to help. 

Since she began helping students refine their professional aspirations into PhDs, she has been able to formalize her retreats with the help of “The PhD Project” an initiative sponsored by KPMG. 

“During our retreats, we have our own chef, we do holistic activities such as Yoga, dance, counseling, etc., but the core focus is on academics. During the retreats we have various workshops where we discuss the doctoral application process, advancing through the coursework, selecting your committee, and how to navigate the doctoral and dissertation journey.  My objective is to get as many underrepresented students as possible to be able to matriculate and succeed at their graduate and or doctoral endeavors, but any educational endeavor as a matter of fact.” she said.

As her HELP website testimonials outline, the numbers don’t lie. Stephenson has been instrumental in helping many students navigate and or pursue their masters and doctoral degrees. She has worked with honors students in the past and has discussed her vision of working with GC honors students with the Deans for the College of Business and Honors College.

“To be able to take those students and bring them into the world of creativity and research in accounting and help them become creative thinkers; to move forward to become CPAs, but to use that platform to become well-adjusted professionals with a view social justice in every aspect of their professional life,” Stephenson said, “Just like the weather, numbers account for everything around us.”