Making an Impact
Jenny Bem Johnson, assistant professor and coordinator of the accounting program at Wofford, has a clear idea of what makes a good teacher.
“The key is to know every student as a whole person and learn what motivates each individual. It’s different every semester,” Johnson says. “That’s one reason I make it a point to spend as much time as I can with students outside of class, and why I do most of my grading and preparation at home at night.”
That professional concept aligns well with that of the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (SCICU) consortium, which since 1953 has supported this kind of teaching on each of its 20 campuses.
“Teachers who come to our liberal arts institutions work one-on-one with students whom they also serve as advisers, mentors and friends… they are value-centered, passionate, creative and caring,” says SCICU President and CEO Mike LeFever.
This year during South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Week, SCICU honored Johnson as one of 20 winners of an Excellence in Teaching Award. The award, which includes a $3,000 professional development stipend, goes to one nominee from each of the state’s independent colleges.
“The idea of being perceived as making an impact on students is exciting,” Johnson says. “Also, I have great respect for previous winners and to be included in their company is a tremendous honor.
“It meant a great deal to have my parents travel several hundred miles to attend the awards banquet,” she says. “My father hates to put on a suit as much as anyone I know.”
Johnson attended Appalachian State University to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. After standing successfully for her C.P.A. credentials, she worked for eight years in large accounting firms in the Charlotte, N.C. area.
“I always loved the idea of preparing the next generation of accountants,” she says. She took elective courses in teacher education to be prepared, and she taught basic accounting as an adjunct professor on different campuses in the Charlotte area.
When a retirement opened a position in the Department of Accounting and Finance at Wofford, Johnson applied and was chosen.
“Jenny Johnson quickly became known as a wonderful teacher, campus citizen and colleague,” says Lillian Gonzalez ’91, head of the department. “She’s extraordinarily dedicated to the idea of finding connections in accounting and finance to the liberal learning experience.”
For example, Johnson welcomes students from government and history into her courses, not only because of the value of basic accounting skills to almost any profession, but also because they help others in the class explore answers to the key background questions.
“The business model all good students can learn in accounting courses is applicable to personal finance and many other aspects of life,” Johnson says.
An example of Johnson’s approach is the United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, where she is a site coordinator at Wofford. For several years now, Wofford students have prepared almost 300 individual tax returns for low and moderate-income visitors from the community at no charge.
“From the student perspective, it’s an incredibly valuable experience in dealing with unusual problems with care and sensitivity,” Johnson says. “Two years ago a client came in for help because the IRS had notified him that he had not filed a return in 10 years! He had to bring his status up to date. Our students often are better at such things than typical volunteers because they have actually completed tax courses and know some of the latest changes.
“Beyond that, of course, is the satisfaction we share in doing good for individuals, families and communities, such as the college’s neighbors on Spartanburg’s Northside.” Johnson says. “It means a lot to us when one of last year’s clients comes back and asks how the student who worked with her then is doing.”
After Johnson had been at Wofford for a year, another opening in the department attracted her husband, Dr. Ryan Johnson, whose academic specialty is in auditing. Now they are both members of the Wofford faculty and are raising their children on the campus. Their annual Halloween Party, where they host Wofford students, is one of the highlights of the year for majors in their department.
“We strive to be a student-centered department anchored in the liberal arts,” Johnson says. “Ryan and I feel very lucky to be here.”
By Doyle Boggs ’70