COLUMBIA, Mo. – University of Missouri Interim Chancellor Hank Foley and Commerce Bank Chairman and CEO Teresa Maledy today awarded one of the 2017 William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence to Billie Cunningham, teaching professor of accountancy in the Trulaske College of Business.
Foley, Maledy and a group of professors, administrators and staff surprised Cunningham by honoring her with the fellowship, which includes a $10,000 check. Kemper Fellowships are awarded to five outstanding teachers at the University of Missouri each year.
This year is the 27th anniversary of the William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence, which were established in 1991 with a $500,000 gift. Kemper, a 1926 MU graduate, was a well-known civic leader in Kansas City until his death in 1989. His 52-year career in banking included top positions at banks in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Commerce Bank manages the trust fund.
As one of the few professors who teaches both business minors and master’s students, Cunningham recognizes that teaching accounting helps students enhance their critical business decision-making skills. Her teaching philosophy is what colleagues and students believe set Cunningham apart as a teacher.
Trulaske College of Business Dean Ajay Vinze says that Cunningham is one of the first teachers who students encounter, and she lays the foundation on which students build their careers. As a teacher of principles of accounting, she recognizes that many of her business students will not go on to become accounting majors; rather, they will become business people use accounting information to make business decisions as managers and investors. Cunningham teaches the role of accounting and ethics in business decisions while teaching her students skills of inquiry, creativity and critical thinking.
“Professor Cunningham has crafted her ability to introduce complex accounting topics in ways that encourage, include and engage her students,” said Madison Gilbert, a former student. “Her curriculum is seamless and well thought out, creating an atmosphere in the classroom that fosters an interest in accounting that lasts the length of a career.”
Cunningham has instilled in her students an interest in accounting for more than 20 years, all while teaching approximately 400 students per class. Her colleague Loren Nikolai praises her passion for teaching, comparing her to the Energizer bunny.
“Billie continues to teach with as much enthusiasm and vigor as she did when she started 22 years ago,” Nikolai said. “I can personally attest to Billie’s creativity, enthusiasm, effectiveness and efficiency with which she fulfills her responsibilities.”
Cunningham’s success as a teacher is due in part to her integration of interactive learning into her teaching style. Cunningham was one of the first teachers to use “clickers,” an audience response system, to motivate student learning, maintain their interest and identify areas where they are weak in their understanding of a topic. In addition, she maintains a high level of energy in the classroom through the use of educational videos, in-class demonstrations of business practices and real-world examples.
“She continually searches the internet for examples of accounting and business issues to reinforce certain topics and illustrate the relevancy of the topical coverage,” Nikolai said.
Outside of the classroom, Cunningham serves as a mentor to organizations and students. She was the faculty advisor for the Association of Accounting Students and faculty advisor for the MU chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, the national honor society of accounting majors. In these roles, Cunningham brought many high-level speakers to campus. In addition, Cunningham served as chair of the Trulaske College of Business Undergraduate Programs Committee and currently is chair of the School of Accountancy 150-Hour Program Committee.
On a personal level, students commend Cunningham for her warm personality.
“She always made a point to ask me how I was doing and what I was up to,” said Emma Worgul, a former student. “As a freshman at a university as large as Mizzou, having someone I knew I could go to if I had a problem or just needed to talk was instrumental to my development not only as a student, but as a person.”
Cunningham received a bachelor’s of business administration, a master’s of business administration and a doctor of philosophy degree from North Texas State University. She is the recipient of numerous awards, most notably, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Accounting Association in 2013. In addition, she was inducted into the American Accounting Association’s Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Hall of Honor in 2011.