Professor earns presidential salute for longevity, service

GCU economics professor Dr. Robert Sherman holds a Lifetime Achievement Award and letter from President Joe Biden.

Dr. Robert Sherman carefully removed the Lifetime Achievement Award from an envelope that he received last month from President Joe Biden.

That was the start of a series of documents that Sherman, who teaches in Grand Canyon University's Colangelo College of Business, patiently pulled from his collection that highlighted his involvement in igniting business dealings between Arizona, the United States and his native Liberia for more than three decades.

There were letters of praise from the likes of former Arizona governors Fife Symington and Jane Hull and former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, symbolizing their appreciation with Sherman’s involvement at the local, state and federal levels.

Sherman also served as the first president of the African Association of Arizona.

But those acknowledgements and achievements, while enhancing financial prospects at various levels, take a back seat to what the professor relishes most.

“My satisfaction is what I do for the students, because these are the students who are going to represent us,” said Sherman, who has taught economics at GCU since 2014.

Students have gleaned knowledge from Dr. Robert Sherman, who has taught at GCU since 2014.

“We may be here today and gone tomorrow, but they will carry on our legacy.”

Sherman’s involvement in the international business sector has helped keep his students keep current with financial issues.

Sherman is known for organizing events in Arizona that expose potential business partners to the trade opportunities in Africa.

“He always wrote everything on the white dry erase board during class because he wanted interaction,” said Jason Tussing, who took an intermediate finance class at GCU before earning his bachelor’s degree in 2016 and currently serves as an internal finance advisor for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

“He wanted students’ input. He wanted students to be thinking about what he was doing, what he was talking about, what he was teaching. He didn’t want to just have students or him reading out of a textbook.”

Allison Mason, the business college's senior associate dean, acknowledges the effectiveness of Sherman’s open dialogue with students.

He “integrates his personal experiences into the classroom, as well as current events, so he can equip students with knowledge they can use in their daily lives,” Mason said. “Dr. Sherman is also very passionate about serving the community, and I believe he inspires students to get more involved and lift up others.”

Sherman found his own motivation after leaving Liberia to earn a degree at Arizona State University with the intent to return to his native country.

“But you know when you are single, you mingle,” Sherman said. “So at ASU, I met my wife.”

They got married, but his in-laws insisted their daughter stay in the United States, so Sherman agreed to settle in the Valley.

As he continued to advance his education, he noticed similarities between Arizona and East Africa in terms of trade potential and started to organize events in Arizona that exposed potential business partners to the trade opportunities in Africa.

Sherman said his efforts gained the attention of the U.S. government, which asked him to help organize a conference in Phoenix on behalf of the State Department, the Department of Commerce and the Corporate Council on Africa.

“We brought in folks from all across Africa and the U.S. Department of Commerce,” Sherman said.

Sherman displays one of his many awards for service.

He became emotional talking about Liberia in the late 1980s, when a civil war broke out and citizens fled to neighboring countries and were put into refugee camps.

He worked with the local International Rescue Commission to bring some of the citizens to the U.S. to get settled and received a distinguished award from the city of Miami for his humanitarian work.

Some Liberians wanted to enroll in a Valley community college so they could get acclimated at a pace slower than at a four-year school. Sherman’s role on the Chancellor’s African American Advisory Council enabled him to stress the importance of Africans in Phoenix and get several enrolled in those two-year schools.

“As you can see, I have won many of these awards,” Sherman said while looking at a table covered with his achievements. “But I just want you to know that I'm proud of what I do. But more importantly, my relationship with GCU, it's one that I treasure.”

Sherman particularly likes putting his students into small groups to perform critical thinking that often leads to a “wonderful discussion.” In addition to teaching, he helps develop and revise courses.

Critical thinking enhances the knowledge of students, said Dr. Robert Sherman.

“Dr. Sherman has been there, done that,” said Denny Li, who is completing a master's degree in business administration with an emphasis on project management. “He’s an expert on economics and finance, so his personal experiences and opinions on things really not only add to the textbook, but in my opinion, it’s better than the textbook.”

Sherman’s experiences often allow him to present case studies to his students, usually involving Arizona or Africa. The discussions involve how they operate, what they have done for their country, the challenges they are facing and the result, Li added.

“When I accepted the (lifetime achievement) award, I said I’m not accepting this for what I’ve done,” Sherman said. “There are a tremendous amount of challenges. I went overseas, and this will inspire me to do more. And I truly believe that. God put me here for some reason.”

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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