Of the top 10 private universities in the nation, DePaul University is the only one that makes teaching its No. 1 priority. So when a professor wins one of DePaul’s annual Excellence in Teaching awards, it’s truly a special honor. This year, Hui Lin, an associate professor of accountancy, was among faculty members who earned this recognition for her strong commitment to high-quality instruction. 

Below, Lin discusses her passion for teaching, how she helps students succeed and a favorite pastime that helps her keep a competitive edge.

Why did you choose to become an accountancy professor?

Hui Lin: My curiosity and passion for accounting began to develop when I took an accounting class in high school. I was instantly drawn to the world of debits and credits, t-accounts and journal entries. I was fascinated to learn the steps to record business transactions and create financial statements. This introductory accounting class marked my first step in pursuing academic excellence and professional success in the field of accounting and information systems. It is the very same passion that I carry with me today.

My aspiration to become a career academic developed while I was teaching introductory accounting courses as a master’s student at Virginia Tech. I immediately discovered a new personal enthusiasm for teaching, and I found great joy in the classroom interacting with students. It was then that I formulated a plan to pursue a Ph.D. in accounting and become a professor.

What is your teaching philosophy?

As an educator, I believe that I not only have a responsibility to convey knowledge to students and evaluate their mastery of course material, but also to inspire them to actively pursue learning and become independent thinkers. I describe myself as a caring, challenging and collaborative professor.

Simply put, I care deeply about my students’ learning. I am considerate of their needs and the challenges they face. I demonstrate respect and professionalism to my students in and out of the classroom. I put forth great effort to get to know my students on an individual basis. I familiarize myself with the class roster before the quarter begins so I will know students’ names by the first week of class.

As a first assignment, I request that students write a business letter to introduce themselves to me. This assignment has been well received by my students because it shows my interest in them and provides them with an opportunity to tell me anything they deem relevant to our learning experience together. It is also good practice for their future careers after graduation.

I am also enthusiastic and attentive in the classroom. I listen to my students’ input and contribution. Financial Reporting III is one of the most difficult and challenging courses in accounting. When demonstrating problems in this class, I analyze each one in great detail, ask stimulating questions, and encourage interactions. I remind them of the “big picture” by integrating multiple concepts into a single problem, linking each technical area to the Conceptual Framework for Financial Reporting and motivating them by using current and interesting examples. As a result, students are often more open to discussing their ideas and are more likely to seek help when they need it, thus improving their overall learning experience and performance.

I make myself easily accessible to my students. I encourage students to visit me during office hours and support them when they do. For example, to better prepare students for the exams, every quarter I conduct extra review sessions in the evenings outside of class time to go through additional problems and answer questions. These review sessions usually last between two and three hours and have been positively received by students.

Tell us more about how you challenge students.

I believe that students enjoy being challenged in the classroom. More specifically, students enjoy achievable challenges. I set high expectations for my students, but at the same time, it is my responsibility to provide them with the knowledge and guidance to meet and exceed those expectations.

To illustrate, in my Financial Reporting III class, I use Certified Public Accountant exam review questions on the tests. To better prepare students for the challenge of passing the CPA exam, I examine the CPA review books and select questions to review for the exam that directly correspond to the material we have covered in class. We go through all the problems in class to help them prepare for the format and presentation style of the questions.

Initially students are anxious and intimidated by the difficulty level and depth of the problems. After extensive review and preparation, when they grasp the problem solving process and successfully answer the questions on the exam, it boosts their confidence and enhances their overall understanding of the material. 

To further challenge my students, I assign a team research project that provides the students with an opportunity to examine current issues facing the profession. This challenges them to think critically about accounting and the business environment and to exercise professional judgment and independent thinking. The project requires the students to delve into the technical accounting standards, interpret the standards on their own and develop solutions to challenging and sometimes ambiguous accounting issues. To prepare students for the team project, I review the case material and issues in the classroom, demonstrate the research process and encourage students to ask questions. The outcome of the team project is that students become more familiar with reading professional pronouncements, more proficient in research and analysis and more prepared for the complex and challenging business transactions and environment. 

How do you use collaboration to enhance learning?

I strive to make my classroom collaboratively engaging. I encourage collaboration among students and between students and myself. To ensure an effective and productive learning process, every quarter I solicit feedback from the students regarding my teaching effectiveness after the first exam. This anonymous mid-quarter evaluation survey offers students a chance to provide me with feedback regarding the course. It also helps the students and me identify potential disconnects and manage expectations for the rest of the course. I want the students to get the most out of the course and doing this survey early in the quarter allows me to adjust to their needs quickly.

In addition to mastering the technical accounting knowledge, one of the most important skills for students to learn during their college education is teamwork. The team project in my course addresses collaboration among the students. During the course of the team project, each team member may interpret the issues and the professional literature differently and develop contrasting solutions for the issues. The team members have to collaborate to resolve the differences and agree to a mutual resolution. I am accessible to answer questions and provide feedback while students work on the project. With this project, the students develop both technical knowledge and soft skills.

What innovations have you incorporated into your teaching to help students succeed?

I incorporate current and interesting examples to keep students enthusiastic and engaged during class. For example, I use pension benefits of professional athletes to illustrate accounting for pensions. I compare the retirement benefits of different professional sports, such as NBA, NFL, and NHL, to explain pensions and 401(k) plans. The innovation in my classroom stems from the links between the class material and the real-world impact of those concepts. By placing a real-world context around the material, I help the students map new material to real-world events with which they are already familiar.

That said, I recognize the value of traditional learning strategies in accounting, too. I mainly teach ACC306 (Intermediate Accounting III). It is a content-heavy course filled with complex technical accounting concepts. One of the best ways to learn this type of material is to practice, practice, practice by hand each problem. Though technology aids our processing of transactions, it should not replace our ability to interpret the meaning and impact of the transactions. The class is highly structured and filled with opportunities to practice by hand each concept. I believe this equips my students with the ability to understand the process and the transaction captured by the accounting information system.

Outside of the classroom, you are an avid table tennis player. What attracts you to this sport?

I started playing table tennis while an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech and have been playing ever since. Table tennis is a game about spin and speed. Just as any other sport, not only does it require technical skills, it is also a game that demands total concentration and mental clarity. It keeps me physically active and mentally focused.

When I am playing, I am totally focused on the game and nothing else. I am able to block out everything else that I constantly think about, such as an ongoing research project or what I will be covering in class tomorrow. In addition, table tennis allows me to release my competitive edge– I love going to tournaments and trying my best to beat my opponents!