Get to know Foster’s Professor of Accounting and Marguerite Reimers Endowed Faculty Fellow Elizabeth Blankespoor, who teaches the core accounting course for first year MBA students.
Please tell us a bit about your background.
I moved around often as a kid (even living in the Dominican Republic for a few years), but I claim the U.S. West/Midwest as home. My home is kept busy by my husband Adam, two elementary/middle school kids – Henry and Emma, a cat, and a golden retriever. I love being outdoors, hiking and enjoying natural scenery. I am continually stunned by the beauty here in the Pacific Northwest. In school and work, I have always straddled accounting and computer science: a dual-major bachelor, an accounting masters with information science emphasis, time at Ernst & Young as a financial and IT auditor, and finally an accounting PhD where I do research often focused on how technology affects the flow of information in capital markets.
What excites you about accounting and what are some of your research interests?
Accounting is woven through all of business – you can’t begin to assess the implications of a given decision without using accounting concepts and language. I am very interested in the communication of information – the frictions that can make it difficult, like poor word choices, having a ton of numbers, inconsistent formatting, etc. and the fact that information is conveyed in many ways – traditional filings, but also social media, nonverbal communication, etc.
What do you find meaningful about your time thus far at Foster?
The people at Foster truly care about others – in their immediate community and the broader world. I’m always impressed by the culture here of wanting to be aware of potential issues and then finding solutions together.
Any favorite memories from your experience with Full-Time MBAs/Evening MBAs?
I have several! I remember when the Evening MBAs convinced me to take my first quiz to determine what Hogwarts House I’m part of. This was during the online learning year of COVID, and I had been reading the Harry Potter books to my kids during the quarter, updating students on our progress through the books before the start of each class, and celebrating the exciting moments. It was so much fun sharing that world/story and the house I was sorted into with the class, and hearing what they loved about it too.
For Full-Time MBAs, over the years, I have had several students come to my house for a ”Wine and Welding” event my husband and I host as a donation to the annual Challenge for Charity (C4C) auction – he welds, I drink wine. It is always great to see the progress made in a single evening from students having no welding knowledge to creating a wine rack. The conversation, food, and occasional kitten time has been a meaningful way to unwind and learn more about students’ lives and what is important to them.
How have you worked to make your classroom/course curriculum inclusive?
I take several approaches. First, I try to make the classroom feel safe for everyone – all questions and points of view are welcome, as long as they are respectful and engage with the topic at hand. We’re in this together! Second, I try to incorporate cases and examples that include people with diverse backgrounds and experiences so we can all see pieces of ourselves in these stories. Third, I have us discuss diversity and equity issues as they come up in class topics so we can all practice thinking and talking about difficult, meaningful issues that you all will deal with in your careers – things like board diversity, lending discrimination, sustainability reporting, and more.
How do you maximize learning and keep students engaged?
A knowledge of accounting is critical to succeeding in a business career. My goal in class is to keep showing the value of that knowledge, connecting it to current events and real-world issues so you can all exercise your accounting muscles. If the value is clear, it’s hard not to be interested!
How have your relationships with industry experts influenced what happens in your class?
I have interacted with accounting standard setters, analysts, managers, bankers, and consultants, and I’m always listening to what they think is important and what questions they want answers to. I highlight the areas where standard setters are currently struggling to make decisions around accounting practices, and the arguments made by everyone else. I ask you all to think through the advantages and disadvantages of different issues from managers’ and investors’ perspectives, and I supplement the conversation with things I’ve heard from those people.
How will students apply the knowledge and skills they gain in your classroom in their careers?
No matter what jobs and industries you end up working in, you’ll need to assess the value of past or future actions and use that to inform your or others’ decisions. This is where accounting comes in. If you’re in marketing, it might be knowing the implications of an ad campaign for your company’s earnings. If you’re in operations, it might be assessing whether to buy or lease a new machine and understanding the cash flow and earnings implications. If you’re in finance, it might be understanding the financial statement implications of raising capital with debt or equity. If you’re a product manager, it might be building out future financial statement implications for a potential new product. If you’re an analyst, it means being able to read financial statements and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a competitor, supplier, or potential acquisition target. Hopefully at the end of the quarter, you can pick up a financial statement and understand the company’s performance and what questions to ask. You’ll have more authority in any room you’re in because you can read and discuss the core information on company performance.
Any tips for incoming MBAs on how they can brush up on skills/knowledge?
- Look back on any courses or experience with math, accounting, and economics concepts you (used to!) know, refresh yourself in these areas. For math, we don’t use complicated math (just add/subtract/multiply/divide), but we often spend time thinking about how best to adjust numbers to show things differently. For accounting, I assume you don’t know any coming in, but we jump in quickly. For economics, we talk about the economic incentives of transactions before we get into accounting: what is really happening, what motivates firms and managers to take certain actions, etc. (Incoming students do some foundational work in the above areas as part of the month-long orientation program preceding the start of the MBA.)
- Practice reading financial articles. You will learn many new financial words in class, so the more you’ve heard them in different contexts, the easier it will be. You’ll also get to practice identifying what you do understand even if you don’t get it all; that way you’re not overwhelmed by new terminology and you feel accustomed to asking questions to fill in the unknowns.