Fairfield University associate professor Joan L. Van Hise, of the Charles F. Dolan School of Business, selected Teacher of the Year by Alpha Sigma Nu


Joan Van Hise was born to teach. "There wasn't a time in my life when I can remember not wanting to be a teacher," said Dr. Van Hise, associate professor of accounting at Fairfield University. "When I was a kid, I would spend days off from school working with kindergartners at the public school where my mother taught. I just fell in love with it."

It's no surprise to those who know her that she was recently named Teacher of the Year at Fairfield, where she teaches at the Charles F. Dolan School of Business. It was her calling, a vocation to put it in her words, and left little wonder that her life's path would center on education.

The Teacher of the Year Award is an honor bestowed by Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit honor society, which solicits student nominations based on a professor's effectiveness in the classroom, availability outside the classroom and contact with student groups. The award was presented to Dr. Van Hise at the annual Senior Brunch May 14.

There's something special about teaching at a Jesuit university, and that is what drew me to Fairfield, said Dr. Van Hise. "My sense is that, yes, you should be there for students in the classroom, but also outside of it."

While pursuing her doctorate in accounting at New York University, she served as both an instructor and assistant dean at Fordham University's College of Business Administration, her alma mater. Both positions further helped her realize how Jesuit values resonated with her personal values. "The Ignatian pedagogy finds its way into the classrooms of Jesuit schools. Those who teach at them are a different breed. We are truly educating the whole student, and encouraging them to reflect on their lives, to be aware of the community in need around them."

She said that being a mother to four children, ages 13 to 22, who have learning challenges, has made her a better teacher, and that being a teacher has made her a better mother. She realized people learn in different ways.

"I know my kids do. Some students learn better visually, others pick up things better through hearing. You just have to be patient and listen to them."

Katie Bakarich, a 2008 graduate, said that Dr. Van Hise served as a mentor to her throughout her Fairfield years. "She is a professor whose teaching and guidance goes beyond the walls of the classroom ... Balancing family life as well as her commitments to the University, Dr. Van Hise truly encompasses what it means to be a professor at a Jesuit institution. Through her guidance and support she has developed students into being men and women for others, a Jesuit ideal she exemplifies through all her actions."

If you ask other Fairfield students why Dr. Van Hise was named Teacher of the Year, they'll also tell you it isn't all about the classroom. They talk of long lines outside her office door seeking her advice on courses to take, majors to declare, and dreams to pursue. Recent graduate Erin Hickey described her as both a mentor and a friend. "If you walk by her office during registration, there is always a line down the hall because students know that she truly is there to help them."

Dawn W. Massey, Ph. D., chair of the accounting department, has found her to be an inspiration to colleagues and students. "The lessons Joan shares with her students transcend the classroom. She spends a great deal of time getting to know her students and their dreams, hopes and plans, so that she can advise them accordingly."

Norm Solomon, Ph. D., dean of Dolan School, said, "Joan is a selfless teacher who always puts her students first and embodies the Jesuit value of 'Women and men for others.' She takes a strong interest in her students both inside and outside of the classroom. She is a very highly valued colleague."

Many students use a word not usually associated with descriptions of accounting courses to describe Dr. Van Hise's classes: fun. For example, one of her accounting lessons centered on how to budget for a spring break trip. A lesson in manufacturing focused on making a pizza. Students noted that theoretical constructs and formulas from textbooks are not missing from her lessons, but there's so much more. Current events, up-to-date business practices, her real life experience in the business world, and guest speakers from both the Fairfield community and outside are commonplace.

William Sonnemann, a junior majoring in finance and economics, said Dr. Van Hise's classes have at times led him to change his perception on hot issues, or simply just captivated him. "For me, her classroom has always represented a fair learning environment where students are encouraged to have differing opinions, as long as they are able to concretely support their ideas from classroom material and outside information."

Her contributions extend elsewhere on campus. Dr. Van Hise serves as the club advisor to both Fairfield's Women's and Men's Club Ice Hockey teams. Hickey said, "She helped me start the women's Ice Hockey program here at Fairfield and we would not have a team if it were not for her."

Other highlights of her career are her involvement in Fairfield's Ignatian Residential College, of which she is associate academic co-chair, and for which she spearheaded, with associate professor David Schmidt, Ph. D., development of a special topics course to include an Ignatian perspective on Business Ethics. She and Dr. Massey received the American Accounting Association's Award for Innovation in Accounting Education in 2001 for curriculum development in advanced accounting, an honor Dr. Van Hise especially savors because it is usually given to faculty from larger universities.

She has numerous published works and presentations to her credit, which focused on such topics as moral development, integrating Catholic social thought into accounting classes, Jesuit business education, and cutting edge accounting courses.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 28, 2008

Vol. 40, No. 273