2021 Best Undergraduate Professors: Kevin E. Jackson, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Gies College of Business

Kevin E. Jackson

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Gies College of Business

“Kevin Jackson impacts hundreds of students each year partly through his undergraduate Civil Discourse class, which teaches students how to responsibly have difficult conversations with colleagues. He masterfully draws everyone into the conversation with a dynamic teaching style and world view students say is provocative and inspiring.” – Aaron Bennett, associate director of marketing communications at Gies

Kevin E. Jackson, 53, is Associate Dean and Professor of Accountancy at the Gies College of Business at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he has worked since 2004. He currently teaches Gies Dean’s Seminar on Civil Discourse. He has a PhD in accounting from University of Texas at Austin.

Jackson created Gies’ Access and Multicultural Engagement Program to make underrepresented minority communities feel welcome. 

“Jackson believes authentic diversity and inclusion efforts start by listening first. He spearheaded the Gies Community Launch Project, in which small groups discuss polarizing subjects like Black Lives Matter, voting rights and the election. The project, piloted this past spring, has quickly grown to 800 eager participants,” says Aaron Bennett, Gies’ associate director of marketing communications in his nomination. 

“More than ever, business is collaborative and relational,” Jackson says. “The hope is that as we help our students grow in their civility and openness, they will help foster civility in our broader society.”

Jackson has held the PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP Faculty Fellowship, Department of Accountancy, since 2008. In 2018, the Illinois CPA Society gave him the Lester H. McKeever Jr. Outstanding Leader in Advancing Diversity Award. He has been named to the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students every year from 2005 to 2018.


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was working at a large accounting firm and was asked to lead staff training. After the first training session I led, I marveled at how natural it felt to teach. I made several inquiries with former professors and frankly, some of them tried to talk me out of pursuing academia. Finally, I reached my former Business Law professor, Robert Prentice, and he was encouraging. My desire was solidified when I connected with a program called the PhD Project; the program continues to present professionals from underrepresented populations with the information and the support to pursue a PhD in a business field. Professor Prentice planted the seed, and the PhD Project supported my pursuit.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I’m currently working with two co-authors on a series of studies that explore individuals that we classify as “connectors.” Connectors are “individuals with an identifiable blend of innate traits and skills that predispose them to be personable, willing to relate to others and able to influence relationships.” Our author team developed a survey to identify connectors, and we provide evidence that employee work teams that include one connector can foster employee retention and greater team creativity.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… A basketball coach or a news anchor

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I’m willing to allow students to know me beyond my role as their professor, and I’m genuinely interested in their lives.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Purpose

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: How old I would feel when my students and my own children became the same age.

Professor I most admire and why: Michael Clement is a Professor of Accounting at the University of Texas. When I was a doctoral student, he and I held each other accountable to keep perspective. One thing about academia is that one’s value in the academy is often determined by how others view you. When Michael and I talked, we always reminded each other that what others think about us does not define how we are valued. There were many days when that reminder kept me focused on my faith and my family, and it allowed me to move past the challenges we all face as academics.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I enjoy engaging students about what they feel is most relevant to them.

What is most challenging? I greatly value being in the circle of influence of our future business leaders, but I also feel the challenge of that type of responsibility.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Humble

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Entitled

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…transparent and fair.


What are your hobbies? I enjoy cooking; primarily baking and barbecuing 

How will you spend your summer? My summers are spent working. I have a significant administrative role that keeps me busy year-round. 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Really, anywhere with my whole family. As my children get older, that time together has become even more precious.

Favorite book(s): Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Ibram X. Kendi)

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Doris Kearns Goodwin)

River God (Wilbur Smith)

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I have enjoyed Disney’s “Mandalorian”. The main character is compelling as he allows himself to grow from a zealot who cares more about his tradition than people, to a person willing to compromise on his tradition to accommodate serving others in need.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I’m a fan of the 80s and 90s music. Artists like Prince and Stevie Wonder, whose brilliance stands the test of time.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… 

  1. Diversity. Bringing together a community that reflects many different life experiences benefits everyone. 
  2. Flexibility. Most business schools are designed for students to enroll directly from high school. So many individuals could flourish in business school, but maybe not right away. Giving young people the space to mature a bit before deciding whether to attend a business school (or college, really) has got to be something society and the higher education community considers.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Recognizing the demand of young people to find purpose in their work. At this point in workforce history, workers are willing to trade off a steady corporate job for work that meets their needs for meaning and purpose.

I’m grateful for… My family. They keep me grounded and serve as the impetus for me to nurture my faith and stay true to myself.

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