Johnson Accounting Professor Wins National Teaching Award
Mark Nelson, “personal trainer” of
accounting, stood out in national pool for excellence in teaching graduate business
Nelson, the Eleanora and George Landew Professor of Accounting at Johnson
at Cornell University, was named the first winner of The Cook Prize for
excellence in teaching accounting at the graduate level.
Accounting Association (AAA) announced three inaugural winners of the prize
for the categories of graduate, undergraduate, and two-year accounting degree
programs on August, 10, 2015, at its annual meeting in Chicago. Each winner
received a medal, a certificate, and a $25,000 award.
“The selection committee
enthusiastically felt Mark stood out among a significant list of very
well-deserving candidates, based on the criteria set forth,” said Michael A.
Diamond, professor emeritus of the University of Southern California and
convener of the AAA committee that selected the winners.
The award is named after J. Michael Cook, the former Chairman and CEO of Deloitte & Touche, LLP, who funded the prize with a $1 million endowment. It
recognizes individuals who consistently demonstrate the
attributes of a superior teacher in the discipline of accounting. Nelson,
who has taught at Johnson for 25 years, was nominated for the honor
by a group of accounting professors appointed by the AAA.
“I was surprised to be nominated, and then I
was surprised that I won,” Nelson said. “I think this highlights that the
approach we take to teaching here at Johnson is a good one.”
Coauthor of Intermediate
Accounting (McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2016), Nelson has been recognized with
numerous teaching awards at Johnson. He has received the MBA Apple Award for
Teaching Excellence, conferred by the graduating two-year MBA class, five times.
He is a three-time winner of the Russell Distinguished Teaching Award, given by
the five-year reunion class to honor the professor who has had the greatest
impact on their post-MBA careers. His primary
course, Intermediate Accounting, is highly rated by students, even though it is
considered one of the most difficult classes in the MBA program.
“My teaching metaphor is that I’m a personal
trainer,” Nelson said. “My students hire me because of my expertise, so they
aren’t in charge. Rather, they need to follow my program of somewhat painful
exercises in order to get stronger and achieve their objectives. But we still
have fun along the way."
Nelson teaches complex accounting
principles, such as revenue recognition, deferred taxes, and pension reporting,
by having students work through cases he develops from real-world financial
statements. While discussing pension reporting, for example, he helps students
understand accounting at Pitney Bowes, 3M, and Verizon at a level high enough to
be able to reconstruct what companies must have done to create the financial
statements included in published reports.
“The goal is for students to not only
understand the technical accounting, but also to be aware of how that can get
distorted when companies choose to report aggressively,” Nelson said. “That
perspective is very relevant as our students start their careers.”
Nelson credits several colleagues—
Elliott, former accounting professor, and Professor Emeritus of Accounting Thomas
Dyckman — with helping him develop his own teaching style when he first
came to Cornell. He also co-taught for several years with Professor Emeritus of
“To the extent that I’m an
effective teacher, I owe a big debt to my colleagues here at Johnson, because
they taught me a lot,” Nelson said. “It’s part of the culture here. It’s very
A native of Des Moines, Iowa,
Nelson earned a bachelor's degree in accounting at Iowa State University and a
doctorate in accounting at Ohio State University. He served as Johnson's
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and also won several awards for his
research. These include the AAA Notable Contributions Award and the AAA-Deloitte