Michael Ozlanski, recipient of the 2012 Outstanding Graduate Student Teacher Award from the Pamplin College of Business, says the educational impact of faculty members goes beyond teaching their courses to “helping students reach their fullest potential in life.”
Ozlanski credits his professors at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting, with inspiring his teaching philosophy. His professors in accounting, philosophy, and music, for example, taught their courses “with an appreciation for assimilating material across disciplines within the university and college core curriculums” and sought to relate course material to ethical decision-making and social responsibility, he said.
Because of those teachers, Ozlanski left his alma mater a better person and strives to play a similar role in his students’ growth and development.
“Higher education gives students opportunities to prepare for their careers, as well as to intellectually mature,” said Ozlanski, who earned a master’s degree in accounting and information systems from Virginia Tech in 2012 and expects to receive his doctorate in May 2013. “This means that students need to challenge their beliefs about the world. Some of their existing worldviews will remain, and some of their beliefs will change. It is our job as teachers to ensure that our students simultaneously learn skills for success in their career paths and in making the world a better place.”
Ozlanski, who worked on the audit staff at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Philadelphia for four years, said he loves his discipline and wants to make studying it fun and relevant. “When I teach Introduction to Accounting, I try to explain abstract accounting concepts by making reference to things that students already know,” he said, citing such examples as the accelerators on the Toyota Prius, the BP oil spill, defective Nike running shoes, and outings to local restaurants and night spots.
In upper-division auditing classes, he uses metaphors from daily life to illustrate ideas.
“For example, companies need to maintain internal controls to prevent or catch accounting errors,” he said. Showing a picture of his golden retrievers, Ozlanski explained that a safety sensor on his garage door prevents accidents by automatically reversing the door if his dogs run out while the door is lowering. A discussion on safety mechanisms in accounting and auditing follows. “A few months after I taught the class, a student stopped by my office to tell me that she remembered this concept in subsequent classes by recalling my garage door analogy,” he said.
Ozlanski also uses research findings from social psychology in his classes to help students understand how “good, everyday people can perpetrate financial frauds.”
An important teaching strategy is creating an “open and inviting classroom, where students feel comfortable asking questions and talking with me or their peers.” He encourages his students to call him “Mike” to promote an informal classroom environment, something he said has not compromised his role as instructor.
He also likes to chat with his students before class to learn something about their lives, interests, and struggles. One student worked part-time managing the kitchen at a local steakhouse, “so we discussed how our accounting lessons applied to his job.” Another student who shared Ozlanski’s passion for indie rock helped him discover some new artists.
The informal talks are enjoyable and support the teaching and learning process, Ozlanski said. Developing a good rapport with students can make them less shy about asking for help, he said. “These impromptu conversations are just as important to student success as my planned lectures. I’ve explained complex accounting problems, critiqued resumes, given dating and fashion advice, and counseled students on career decisions.”
His professors were always available to help him and his classmates, and research suggests that the quality of student-faculty interactions affects academic performance and personal and social development, Ozlanski said.
In nominating him for the Pamplin teaching award, Professor Reza Barkhi, accounting and information systems department head, wrote that Ozlanski has made “extraordinary efforts to help students learn difficult material” and that hard work was evident in the “outstanding” teaching evaluations he received.
“Mike has been an excellent teacher for the department,” Barhki said.
The Department of Accounting and Information Systems (ACIS) offers undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs.
Three undergraduate options prepare students to enter the accounting and information systems professions with the skills and knowledge of business, information systems, and accounting concepts and practices. ACIS majors are among the most highly recruited students on campus and are consistently in the top three majors in the number of employment interviews received per student.
The master's program helps equip students for professional careers with specializations in taxation, information systems, and professional accounting. The doctoral program prepares students for academic careers in research and teaching.
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