Turner Shows Accountants ‘Can Be Interesting’

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The desire to understand her boyfriend’s career field is what motivated Debby Turner to take her first accounting course. Little did she know that what started as a whim would evolve into a career.

“I had just started dating the man who would become my husband, and he was a CPA,” said Turner, who is the John and Wendi Wells Associate Professor for Teaching Excellence in the College of Business. “I was a math education major at the time but decided to enroll in an accounting course to see what being a CPA was all about.”

Turner’s professor for the class was a charismatic man who shared stories of how he would regularly fly to Las Vegas for gambling trips. He opened Turner’s eyes to something she hadn’t previously been aware of.

“I realized that maybe accountants weren’t all boring, unsocial people,” she said. “This professor made me realize that accountants can be interesting — and that I wanted to be one.”

Over her 28 years as an accounting professor at Tech, Turner has made it her mission to nudge students toward a similar realization.

“Many undergraduate students come into my classroom thinking that accounting is boring,” Turner said. “My goal is for them to leave at the end of the semester either loving it or at least understanding it’s important.”

Recently The Whistle had an opportunity to learn more about Turner and her time at Tech.

What did you want to be when you were a child?           
I always thought I’d grow up to be a schoolteacher. During the summer, I would hold class with the neighborhood kids, and we’d do math and English.

How did you arrive at Georgia Tech?       
I worked in public accounting for about four years and then decided that I wanted to go to law school. But a former professor talked me into pursuing a PhD and becoming a professor. I ended up earning all of my degrees from Georgia State University and my first job was at Tech.

Describe an average day in your job.     
Two nights a week I teach in the evening MBA program. I love this part of my job, because many of the evening students are professionals who have come back to school and are here to get their money’s worth (which means they are really engaged in the coursework). Throughout the week, I also teach courses to undergraduate students and am responsible for encouraging teaching excellence in the college. For example, I teach a seminar to PhD students on best practices in teaching and hold brown bags for faculty members on teaching strategies.  

How do you keep students engaged?
I believe in the value of anecdotes when it comes to helping students personally identify with topics. So I’m always sharing stories that stem from the work I’ve done with companies throughout my career.

What is the most satisfying part of your job?
I love it when students have been offered their first job and are so excited. I also love hearing from them years after they’ve left Tech. I recently had a student, who now works with Home Depot, contact me to say that he was able to apply an example that I’d used in class — which happened to involve Home Depot — in his job years later.  

What do you think about the increasing popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs)?
I like the fact that these courses allow knowledge to be shared widely. However, I worry about the lack of face-to-face contact. But I’d be willing to teach one to see what it’s like.

What is your favorite spot on campus?  
I like the area around the Campanile. When students are sitting around chatting and studying, it’s such a vibrant scene that reminds me I’m on a university campus.

Where is your favorite place to have lunch?  
It would be Moe’s, and I order the Joey Junior burrito.

Tell us something unique about yourself.  
I’ve either been a Girl Scout or Girl Scout Leader for much of my life — 12 years as a scout and 11 years working with my daughter’s troop.



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