Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
The power of precision in accounting is serious stuff. But to help Grand Canyon University students better grasp its intricacies, Dr. Kelly Damron has them play games and gets serious results.
Damon turns the mundane into Monopoly. She answers their accounting questions with rounds of Jeopardy. There are word searches, crossword puzzles and tic-tac-toe. She even has adapted a favorite game of her twin daughters, Kaley and Ashley, to her classes.
Does it work? Two of her former students call it a winner.
“Her style and method of teaching was what compelled me to get into tax accounting,” said Mark Young, who got his first internship based on Damron’s recommendation and now is working toward his master’s in accounting.
“Her teaching methods really put it in practical terms for me,” said Jarrod May, who alongside Young, his roommate, in two of Damron’s classes, also is getting his master’s in accounting and admits to normally preferring a more technically oriented approach. “It made more sense, like, ‘Oh, this is why we do this, because of this and this.’”
Winning awards isn’t why Damron does this – she just loves teaching, that’s all. But her success was recognized recently when she was selected to receive the 2018 Region 7 Teaching Excellence Award for baccalaureate/graduate member institutions from the Accreditation Council of Business Schools & Programs (ACBSP).
Damron and other regional award recipients will be honored on June 10 in Kansas City, Mo., where the two overall winners – one for baccalaureate/graduate, one for associate degree institutions – will be announced. Each recipient will receive $250 and a crystal medallion.
The Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) received a 10-year accreditation from the ACBSP last year. “We are so proud of Kelly that she is being recognized for her outstanding work as a teacher,” said Dr. Randy Gibb, the college’s dean. “She is exceptional in engaging students, bringing to life accounting concepts and connecting students with businesses for job opportunities.”
Like so many CCOB instructors, Damron worked in the field first. She fell in love with accounting in high school because “I thought it was super fun that everything had to balance. That’s part of my personality, so it kind of just fit.”
But then she took a break to raise her daughters, caught on as an online instructor at GCU for 2½ years, was an adjunct for another year and a half and is completing her fifth year on the full-time faculty.
Now, she can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I actually like accounting more as a professor than I did working in that profession,” she said. “I think that there are ways that I’ve found to teach some of the topics that I wish somebody would have taught me that way.”
Those ways include Monopoly, but not quite the game we all know. In her classroom version, students prepare accounting journal entries when they land on a property.
“It’s still very educational,” she said. “They’re not just playing Monopoly for fun. I think that the students, one, they like it because it’s not out of a textbook. Two, it is kind of fun because they’re interacting with their classmates. And then three, it’s more real world because they’re actually buying something and they’re having to pay somebody something and they see the exchange of cash.”
Jeopardy is used for exam review, and then there’s the “Totally Gross!” game her daughters like so much. Rather than some of the, shall we say, creative penalties in the actual game for getting a question wrong, Damron has students sing the alphabet or jump on one foot for 10 seconds.
If that sounds silly, don’t forget that the lack of math skills among students nationwide is a major concern. Accounting students are no different, Damron said:
“The first day of class I always ask them, ‘Who wants to be here?’ and of course nobody does. I say, ‘Why are you intimidated?’ and it’s math. I try to do things different and break that up so it’s not so intimidating and it’s a little bit more fun.”
Young and May took Damron’s Taxation and Intermediate Accounting II classes together.
“A lot of business students aren’t necessarily pushing to become number-crunchers,” Young said. “While a little more straightforward, black-and-white mindset lends itself to accounting, Kelly does a good job of creating an environment where someone who feels a little bit more creatively minded can find themselves equipped to do accounting well. She nurtures that.
“I might not understand a concept and can go to discuss it with her. She tries to break it down and will say, ‘But once you get past this and once we figure this out now, I want to explain what this will mean going forward.’”
The help doesn’t stop there. Damron has been influential in guiding her former students through internships, both by mentoring them and through recommendations to industry professionals.
“Getting my internship, I attribute a lot of that to her, and I’ve told her that many times,” Young said. “For someone who can take someone like me who’s more creative minded, a little more outside the social norm of accountants, and all of a sudden make them super excited about one of the most black-and-white facets of accounting, I think that was pretty incredible.
“I have since moved into auditing, but even there, Kelly has been very helpful in terms of the knowledge and what to expect and think about going into those environments.”
May said, “There have been many times when I’ve texted her and asked her, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’”
In addition to her latest honor, Damron was named to GCU’s first All-Star Team of employees and two years earlier won an influential faculty award. She earned her doctoral degree from Northcentral University in San Diego in December.
Asked what she likes best about teaching, she responded:
“I don’t know because there are so many things I love about it. I love the student interaction, that mentor relationship – helping my students find jobs and helping them become accountants. I think that is super fun. I like having fun in the classroom and making accounting not so bad. I love interacting with professionals and connecting my students with them.”
Damron likes the “Lopes First” culture in CCOB so much, her husband, Dave, jokes that when she makes brownies, it’s for her students, not her family. She also brings a bag filled with candy to the last class meeting each week.
But a few extra sweets aren’t why her students are so appreciative of her. They like the fact that she’s not just playing around.
“She’s made coming to GCU worthwhile in a lot of ways just because of the way she has guided us but also pushed us to the next level,” May said.
“If you show the engagement and show the input,” Young said, “she’s happy to facilitate that and reward that engagement.”
It’s a different but effective way to get your game face on. Now … who’s going first?
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.