2017 Top 40 Undergraduate Professors: Barry Bryan, SMU (Cox)

Barry Bryan

Professor of Professional Practice in Accounting

Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University 

SMU Cox’s Barry Bryan has a care for his students that is so pure, some say they’ve never come across a professor quite like him. They say his teaching and his mentoring aren’t surpassed by any other and that his enthusiasm for students extends far beyond accounting. With reviews like these, it’s no surprise that Professor Bryan has accumulated a staggering number of awards for his outstanding teaching. At SMU alone, where he’s taught since 2008, he’s received four outstanding teaching awards and two innovation awards. This year, he earned an endowed award for teaching excellence.

A former career in public accounting and a current role as a consultant to KPMG enables Bryan to bring a real-world application to the curriculum that undergraduate students appreciate. His mission as a professor is not just to be recognized as a great teacher in the classroom, but to give students the necessary skills to excel in their careers long after they graduate.

Age: 58

At current institution since: 2008

Education: BSBA, Accounting, 1981, University of Arkansas; MBA, 1983, University of Arkansas; Ph.D., Accounting, 1994, Texas A&M University

List of courses you currently teach: Audit Risks and Controls, Accounting Information Systems, Assurance Methodology, Audit Research

Fun fact about yourself: I have visited six continents!

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I started my career in public accounting and realized that there was a relatively large gap between theoretical, academic preparation and practical application.  I decided to obtain solid experience in the field and then return to the classroom in order to better prepare my students for their entry level positions.  I also wanted to teach them skills that would give them the opportunity to advance and more importantly, to be respected by their superiors, peers, and subordinates.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I would be the host of a luxury travel television show

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Exhilarating

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? I enjoy the experience of that moment when a student’s understanding of business and accounting becomes clear.  Many business school students, especially accounting majors, do not grow up as small children “wanting to be an accountant!”  As a result, many business school courses are often a student’s initial exposure to even the most common of business terms and topics.  Once the students learn to think logically, rather than by memorization of facts, their clarity of understanding becomes evident.

What is the biggest challenge that comes with teaching undergraduate business students? The biggest challenge for me is motivating the students and encouraging them to use their business and accounting skills as tools in helping them to pursue their passions.  Many students believe that they are categorized into only one type of career position based upon their major.  For example, I like to tell students who “love to cook” that they can use the tools they learn in business school to pursue their passion for cooking and start their own business!

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? I am always impressed by a student who is well prepared for every class period, has the confidence to speak when called upon to discuss a topic, is not embarrassed to be wrong and learn from his or her mistakes, and shows respect for everyone in the classroom, including both me and their fellow classmates.

After graduation, I am most impressed when a student is happy with what they have chosen to pursue in life, regardless of what career that might be.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? I am never impressed with a student who does not know my name, who is not prepared for class, or who has a negative attitude about the class and subject.  All three are indicative of a lack of attention to detail and a lack of interest in what they are studying.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Be thoroughly attentive, listen carefully to each class discussion, and follow my instructions!

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” A professor in whose class it is challenging to make an A, but who is fair.

“But I would describe myself as …” Having high, but reasonable, expectations, while being compassionate for what may or may not be occurring in a student’s life outside of the classroom.

What are your hobbies? Travel, theater, film, fitness, and college football.

How did you spend your summer? I traveled to Australia and to Alaska; I taught continuing education for one of the Big Four CPA firms; I taught an introductory graduate class; and I caught up on all of my favorite television shows on DVR!

Favorite place to vacation: Any place where I have not been.  But my favorite place where I have been would be South Africa.

Favorite book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Favorite movie and/or television show: VEEP

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson

Bucket list item #1: To set foot on Antarctica

What professional achievement are you most proud of? To see my former students happy in their lives

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? I taught a young man in several courses during both his undergraduate and graduate years. On graduation day, he brought his family by my office to introduce me to them. We had a very nice visit and both he and his parents thanked me for the influence I had on him.  After they left, I stood in my office reflecting on how much I enjoyed teaching him and how students like him make this career so intrinsically rewarding.  Unexpectedly, he walked back into my office, hugged me without saying a word, and then walked out. I’ll never forget that moment. He’s now a partner with a Big Four CPA firm and the lead partner on one of the firm’s largest clients worldwide. That moment changed my life as a professor because it made me realize how important my role is in a young person’s life.

Professor you most admire and why: Business school: Professor Gary Waters at Auburn University. Although Gary was not my professor, his connection with his students and influence on their lives is unparalleled in the accounting profession. No matter how many years after the student had taken his class, he knows their name, where they were from, and what they are now doing. Even more impressive is that his former students show the same level of respect and admiration for him.

Non-business school: Professor Randall Woods at the University of Arkansas. Professor Woods was my American History professor and his teaching style is the one I emulate today. He made history come to life by lecturing as though he was telling a story, all while maintaining an impeccable level of professionalism.  I hope that I do the same in my classes.

At current institution since: 2008

Education: BSBA, Accounting, 1981, University of Arkansas; MBA, 1983, University of Arkansas; Ph.D., Accounting, 1994, Texas A&M University

List of courses you currently teach: Audit Risks and Controls, Accounting Information Systems, Assurance Methodology, Audit Research

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I’m currently studying the difference between academic grade point averages and performance evaluations for those staff associates who have been identified as “high performers” in Big Four CPA firms.  I am learning that there is sometimes no correlation between the two, but I am still gathering evidence.

Twitter handle: @wanderlust630

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” More interdisciplinary focus between courses outside of business and those within business so that students with interests outside of business can learn to apply the knowledge related to their non-business passion to business.

“And much less of this…” The importance of letter grades so that we as professors can better prepare students for the types of evaluations they may receive at work, such as “meets expectations,” etc.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you. Being happy, healthy, still enjoying my classroom experience and association with students, having traveled to all seven continents, and living every day knowing that it’s a gift would be “success” for me 10 years from now.

Students say…

“Dr. Barry Bryan truly is one of my favorite professors. He genuinely cares about his students, both in the classroom and beyond. He takes the time to know each of his students and help us succeed. He creates an atmosphere of professionalism in his classroom to help us prepare for our careers once we graduate from SMU. Dr. Bryan pushed me out of my comfort zone by nominating me for the Postgraduate Technical Assistant position at the Financial Accounting Standards Board. Without Dr. Bryan’s teaching and influence, I would not have had this amazing opportunity to get involved with the standard setting process for generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).”

“I have not come across another professor with the same level of charm, wit, and enthusiasm for his students as Professor Barry Bryan. His clarion voice is unmistakable on campus, guiding his students through the trials and travails of exams, recruiting, or particularly complex accounting cases. Professor Bryan’s first-hand experience and with his ‘no-reservations’ in-class question and answer sessions really help students cut through the ambiguous presumptions of being in professional practice.”

“Dr. Bryan’s talent for TEACHING and MENTORING is unsurpassed by anyone else I know.  Accounting concepts never fully “clicked” for me until I took his class…and then I signed up for more.  His lessons are engaging, challenging, and memorable.  Without relaxing his expectations of excellence from his students, he still makes the most difficult concepts easy to understand. Largely because of his teaching style, I passed all four sections of the CPA exam on the first attempt!  I am so grateful for both the practical academic foundation and the extra effort he invested in mentoring me. Not only did he help me obtain my first accounting internship, but he also continues to be a trusted advisor for my career and professional growth. He is an influential professor I will never forget and will gladly keep as a friend for life.”

“Dr. Bryan’s enthusiasm for his students extends far beyond accounting. In class, he asks every student what they would do if money were no object, and then he explains how we can leverage our careers in public accounting to realize those dreams. I wanted to study abroad in Paris for a semester, an atypical request for an undergraduate accounting major. He supported my decision to go to Paris for a semester, and it proved to be one of the most influential and formative experiences of my undergrad career. Not only did he support my choice, he helped me secure an internship with KPMG before I even left for Paris. Now that I’ve completed my BBA, I’ll be starting as a KPMG audit associate in October! Dr. Bryan cares deeply about his students finding and pursuing what will make them happy, even if it deviates from the typical accounting path.”


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