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Faculty Spotlight: Mary Beth Goodrich

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Q and A with Mary Beth Goodrich, Senior Lecturer in Accounting

JSOM's much loved senior lecturer Mary Beth Goodrich shares her experience teaching Accounting and engaging with her students outside of the classroom.

JSOM: There seems to be a perception among many people that accounting and internal auditing are boring careers. Can you explain why this isn't true?

Goodrich: Well, I think accounting is extremely exciting. One of the courses I teach is Accounting Communications. In accounting communications, one of the exercises I get the students to do when we first start out is to do a professional development plan. And one of the things they do is go to a site called This Way to CPA, and I think a lot of them are shocked to see that there are over 2,200 different types of jobs that accountants can do. I think accounting is far from boring! You can do anything from audit to tax to internal audit.

I personally think internal audit is one of the more exciting careers because it lends itself to students being able to go travel. That’s an area that I was part of in my earlier career — internal audit. I traveled to Scotland; I traveled to England; I audited processes and procedures; and I've actually visited over 47 of the 50 states — and a lot of those were because of internal audits that I did. I would have not necessarily chosen to go to Des Moines, Iowa, or Omaha, Nebraska, but I went there as part of my job and audited different processes and procedures for my companies there. So it gave me a great opportunity not just to see accounting in the nation but to also just see these different parts of America and different parts of the world.

So I think accounting is extremely exciting. And if you're going into business, I feel like accounting is really the heartbeat of the business. If you don't understand accounting, it's hard for you to be successful in business.

Let’s talk about your career and industry. Can you tell me what led you into that and also what made you transition into academia?

Now one of the things that really molded where I ended up getting, ultimately, was internships. So I strongly encourage students to do internships. I actually did three different accounting internships, and I think that the process of doing those really kind of directed me to what was the best career for me.

The first internship I did was in tax. So internships do several things. One is to let you know if you love a certain area, but it can also let you know whether that area is not a perfect fit. For me, tax wasn't a great fit. I did tax returns in a CPA firm, a small regional firm in the area, and it just wasn't a great fit. I didn't feel excited about it, so I knew that wasn't something I wanted to pursue ideally once I graduated.

The next job I did was as a cost accountant at Greenwoods Metals, which is a division of Reynolds Metals. And I was able to work on a construction project and looking at the costs and whatnot, and that one was a lot better of a fit for me. So that was kind of what I wanted to go into with maybe cost accounting or working in a company seemed like a better fit for me.

Once I graduated I did go into working for an oil and gas company, in accounting, but then unfortunately lost my job in the oil downturn in the ‘90s.

I kept thinking in semesters, which was kind of an interesting thing, so I knew I probably needed to get back to school because I'd be at work and I'd be like, “Oh, this semester. No, it’s this month! It’s not in school anymore!”

So I decided to pursue my MBA, and I remember sitting in one of my MBA classes and a professor came in and talked about internal audit — that they were kicking off an internal audit program at the graduate level, and he asked questions like, “Do you like to ask questions? Do you like to see how things work? Do you like to make things better? If those sound good to you then internal audit might be a great career.” And I was like “Yeah, I ask a lot of questions, so this might work for me.” So I talked to the professor, and I got into that program. That's really where I felt was a great mix of being able to apply accounting but then also look at business at a higher level.

My third internship was in internal audit in a Vulcan Materials company. So I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and actually audited rocks. Rock processes, getting rocks to where they needed to go and looking at all kinds of different things. I traveled to New Orleans and all over the U.S. with that job and loved it. That was a much better fit for me.

Once I graduated with my MBA, I actually took a job here in Dallas with EDS, which is now part of HP, and I worked there as a financial accountant.

But I kind of moved into doing a little bit more on the technology side, and then I ended up moving to The Associates. When I was at The Associates, I started auditing a lot of systems development projects and other things like that. If you look at the certifications I have, I moved from accountant to more on the system side, starting with CPA, CIA - certified internal auditor - and then moving into the certified information systems auditor.

Now getting into academia was kind of an interesting thing. I was traveling about 50 percent of the time, and I had my first son, and I really wanted something that was going to get me out of the travel. At my current job that wasn't an option. So I tried out teaching here at UTD —actually in 2001 and loved it, and so I ended up — I wouldn't recommend this to students but — I quit my job, and on that day I got an offer to work at UNT to teach a couple of classes.

I did that as an adjunct at UNT for a year, and then I ended up getting a senior lecturer position here a year later. That's how I moved into teaching.

An interesting thing about teaching is I was always that person in my department that they'd say, “Hey will you — you had the United Way campaign — explain it and get people excited about it,” or “Will you put this training program together?” So I think always in the back of my head, I've always enjoyed sharing concepts and ideas and really helping people get excited about content that they're learning. I think where I am now is the perfect place for me - teaching accounting.

You're well known for your engagement with JSOM students. Tell me how do you maintain such a high level of student engagement outside the classroom?

When I was a student, I always tried to be active in organizations, and I felt like that was a huge part of who I was. It helped to develop my leadership skills and my soft skills. I want to challenge students now at UTD to do the same. I feel like if I'm active and involved, hopefully they'll take the lead to see that. That's something I see as important. I'm not just saying this is a good thing to do, I'm doing it along with you guys. So try to push yourself, get involved in organizations and make the most of your time here.

I teach mostly at the graduate level, and most of our students are here only two years at the most usually. Maybe a year. That's not a lot of time; so you want to make the most of your time here. The best way to do that is by taking advantage of the career center, getting involved in organizations such as Ascend, ALA (Accounting Leadership Association) or becoming a part of the Dean’s Council. All of these are examples of places that students can get plugged in, but I feel like if you don't, you're missing out on a rich part of the experience here.

You’re actively involved in outside organizations that are part of the industry. How does that benefit your career and how it benefits students?

Ascend is a good example. I am the faculty advisor of Ascend here at UTD. I'm also part of the professional Ascend chapter, and so that is a great example of being in the professional organization helps the students, but then it also helped the professional organization to be plugged in with UTD when they have job needs or if they have needs even for space.

We've been able to have a lot of the professional organization meetings here on campus, and it's been great visibility for the University as well as helping out with these organizations to get a part of it.

I've been involved in other organizations like the Institute of Internal Auditors and whatnot, and I can tell you that being involved in those types of organizations are extremely beneficial to you professionally. You just never know. For me, I'll call on people I met years ago in the internal audit organization to come and be guest speakers here at UTD, and it's fantastic. I think that's an important part.

When students graduate, I encourage them get involved — “Now that you've graduated, it's just as important to be involved.” If you're scared of public speaking, stay in Toastmasters. You want to continue that once you graduate. I've done Toastmasters in the past earlier in my career to help me with stage fright or whatever, and a lot of students have that.

I think that professional organizations are really the way to go. You need to stay involved and network. There are so many reasons for that, but I think from a career standpoint, once you get out in your first job, the next job you get it's probably going to come from your network. What's your network? Those organizations you are a part of it.

So I understand you’re learning Mandarin Chinese. Tell me a little bit about that.

An interesting part of my journey is I actually lived in China for two-and-a-half years. Several years ago. While I was there, I wanted to learn the language, and I knew that it was going to be difficult because the languages are so different. Mandarin Chinese is very different from English. I've actually been studying it for over eight and a half years, and the fun thing is that I did go to China and actually went there for my husband's career, but it's ended up benefiting me greatly and benefiting the University greatly because we have so many international students.

It helps me connect with a lot of the students on a different level, and I also feel like I have a little bit more of an appreciation for the challenges that our international students go through by coming here to study in the U.S. And what the challenges are that maybe other folks that haven't lived in other very different cultures, if they haven't been exposed to that, they probably have no idea how difficult that is.

I am continuing to study Chinese, and my students help me along the way, and I'm always asking them for fun slang term so I can shock them.

That's great! So tell us about your favorite memory so far of your time at UT Dallas and the Jindal School.

I mean that's really difficult. I'm going to share a couple of them.

One was really early in my time here at UTD — probably in like my second year of being here — in 2003. I taught not in our fancy building here; I taught in one of the temporary buildings and whatnot, while we were growing. I came to class one day, and my students surprised me with a cake and basically a baby shower. I was pregnant. It was the summer semester, and I mean I think they were just afraid I was going to have the baby in class or something, but they showered me with just having a cake.

I was like, “This isn't just a job. This is a family.” I couldn't believe that the students all talked outside of class, made this happen and just did something fun for me as their professor. It was really fantastic, and that was many years ago.

There's been so many other great memories here. UTD — and especially JSOM — is like a family. It’s a community.

I remember talking with my Ascend students, saying, “You know, it would be fun if we did a little video to help our students relax with the stress of finals.” The song I was thinking would be Shake it Off by Taylor Swift — it was really popular at the time. So my students just took that and ran. They did a video and went all around the campus and even had me in the video. I thought that was a really fun memory that just shows that the students want to be there for each other even in the most difficult times like final exams.

There are so many other memories. I mean just the people I work with are fantastic, and the students will come and tell me great things that are happening when they get jobs; and there are so many memories every day that are made here. It's really hard to pick just one but those are a couple.

What else do we need to know — that your students need to know —about you?

If you take my class, I'm going to push you. I'm going to push you in ways that I feel like you need to be pushed. That's different for different students. A lot of times, the international students just need to push out of their comfort zone and be more assertive, and that may go against the culture that they're used to. For domestic students, I think a lot of times the domestic students tend to just — business, business, business — “I'm going to come to class, I want to get things done” — and they don't always take advantage of the culture of JSOM is what I would say. And so trying to get them more involved in some of the organizations and activities on campus and also to embrace the great culture that we have on campus.

Try to make friends with some of the students from all over the world that we have here. Those are some of the things that I try to also incorporate in the classroom. I try to get students to meet, to network, to become friends with the people in their class and to reach out to each other and just build that community.

I teach very different classes. I teach a communications class, Accounting Communications, which mostly is accounting students, but then I also teach SAP. In that class I have students from all kinds of backgrounds coming in — ITM, accounting, finance, supply chain, etc. So it's really great to get all the different cultures together to work on these challenges. So I mean those would be the main things.

If you're coming in my class, you're not just going to be sitting there, you are going to be really pushing yourself, and if you aren't, I'm going to make sure you know that I know you're not. I think that you want to make the most of not just your courses.

The other thing is I don't like students just saying, “I'm here to make an A.” That's not a good answer in my class. I want you to learn the material. I want you to be able to explain the material. In the communications class, it’s kind of a challenging one. A lot of times, there’s not one right answer. In communication, there are a lot of things that factor into that, and I think that you want to just challenge yourself and really think about what's the best way, the best approach to do whatever you're having to do.

What are you excited about these days?

I'm excited about a lot! I am excited about life. One of the things I'm most excited about these days is in the communications class, the students have the opportunity to work with clients in small to mid-size businesses, and I think that it's just been eye-opening for a lot of the students to work with small and mid-size businesses.

I think the University is doing a great job of getting prepared for the CPA firms, to go work at Texas Instruments, and Fossil, and Linux — at all of our big corporate neighbors. But what are we doing to prepare you to start your own business, or to be a CPA to all these small businesses that come with a shoe boxes and say, “Here, do my taxes, please.” That is the challenging thing, and I think that students don't realize that there's people that really operating like that. They don't understand the basics of internal control.

One of the things that I've found in in these courses is that the students are really able to educate a lot of these entrepreneurs on how to use technology to benefit. That's one of the things that I love about UTD and JSOM, is that we're very technically savvy. The students are very savvy, and so we are able to really help you small to mid-size businesses, which are the lifeblood of America — and also a lot nonprofits.

We work with a lot of nonprofits like the YWCA, which is now called Wings, and a lot of other nonprofit organizations. Another one's called Cause Studio, which goes out and helps other nonprofits get set up.

And we're able to use our accounting expertise to help improve these small businesses and these nonprofits, and I think it's been fantastic, and some students have even gotten jobs through doing that.

The challenging part of that is that there's really no right answer because these are case studies; they're real life, and I don't have the answer, so the students have to kind of come up with what they feel is the best course of action. That's very related to communications as well as related to just applying your accounting, and it's been a fantastic process.

So far we've had over a 110 projects that have been done for small to mid-size businesses, and over 450 students have gone through the program. So it's really exciting. It’s kind of giving what I feel like the vision of JSOM is and what Dean Pirkul really wants students to do, which is getting hands-on application. Getting meaningful experiences is why you're here. These are great examples of meaningful experiences that students are never going to forget doing.

They might forget what was talked about in class and all the details, but they're never going to forget a huge project where they added value to a client. No, those are things that I think are fantastic about being in JSOM. Just having that vision of really trying to do something that not just helps some students but also helps the community. So I'm really excited about that.

*****

Transcribed by Linh P. Nguyen.

Jimmie Markham

Jimmie Markham brings a widely-ranging life and professional experience to his job as a communications manager at JSOM.  As an infantryman in the U.S. Army, he learned to “improvise, adapt and overcome” and that “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  He’s been dealing with the unexpected ever since and, in doing so, has become a skilled and dedicated communications/marketing/customer-service and sales-support professional with nearly 20 years of experience using improvisational, critical-thinking, technical and people skills to advance the interests of external and internal clients. A BA in Art & Performance (creative writing emphasis) from UT Dallas helped polish his natural predilection and passion for the written word. Read more articles

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