Climbing a mountain and getting a hand up
December 15, 2016
Lesanne B. Fliehler

Google “mentoring” and you’ll find plenty of research that documents the importance of mentoring, whether it’s through formalized programs or short-term, informal mentoring that is less structured and happens in a spontaneous way.

Daniel Collins, BBA68, PhD73, professor and Henry B. Tippie Research Chair in Accounting, first recognized the importance of mentoring while a graduate student in accounting at Iowa. As a faculty member, he has taken mentoring to heart and has served as a mentor to 36 Ph.D. students during his 47-year (and counting) career.

“As a Ph.D. student here, I had exposure to a great mentor, Bill Kinney (professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business), who became internationally known as one of the top researchers in the country,” he says. “I learned how to do research from him, and today I enjoy sharing that with Ph.D. students here.”

Prior to joining the faculty at Iowa, Collins taught at Michigan State University in the early 1970s. He began teaching at Iowa in 1979, and he’s been here ever since. He headed the department’s doctoral program for more than 20 years. He says guiding doctoral students has a special place in his heart.

“To see people mature and develop a taste and under-standing for research is very rewarding,” Collins says. “To see them launch their academic careers and be successful researchers is the best reward a mentor can have.”

Because of the importance of mentoring, the Financial Accounting and Reporting Section (FARS) of the American Accounting Association recently created the FARS Distinguished Ph.D. Mentoring Award. In recognition of his years of mentoring, Collins was the first faculty member to receive this award in August of this year at the association’s annual meeting held in New York City.

Collins’ hope for his Ph.D. students’ success can be seen many times over, such as S.P. Kothari, PhD86, Edward Maydew, PhD93, and Nicole Thorne Jenkins, PhD02, who attended and spoke at the award presentation in August.

Many of Collins’ former students agree he should be recognized for the role he has played in their success.

“In academia, we judge people as giants of the profession as a function of their academic records, and that’s the right thing to do,” said Jenkins, an associate professor of accounting at the University of Kentucky. “But when we think about a distinguished mentor, we must think about what the person has done to affect the lives of others for the good, not in a small way, but in significant, monumental, life-changing ways….Dan has played a role in each of my career moves and has always been a patient sounding board when I had difficult decisions to make.”

For Maydew, the David E. Hoffman Distinguished Professor of Accounting at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, working with Collins on his dissertation “was like being an apprentice to a Jedi master.”

“Just like in Star Wars, aspiring students would travel to a remote outpost, in this case Iowa City, to study with a renowned Jedi master,” Maydew said. “About 25 years ago, I traveled to Iowa City, although only from Chicago, in the hopes of being Dan’s apprentice.”

Maydew remembers well what it was like to be mentored by Collins, including presenting on research during workshops.

“Dan set the tone at Iowa for tough, rigorous research,” Maydew said. “We learned how to present our research, ask difficult questions, and in the process, became ready to go on the job market upon graduation. Not only that, but we, his former Ph.D. students, now have Ph.D. students that we are mentoring, so Dan has many academic children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.”

Traveling a bit further than Maydew was S.P. Kothari, who came to Iowa from India, and who is now the Gordon Y Billard Professor of Accounting and Finance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

“The accounting department faculty, including Dan, were energetic, industrious, and insightful, and they took great pride in mentoring youngsters like me,” Kothari said. “I was very fortunate in joining Iowa at a time when all of the stars seemed to align themselves there to create an atmosphere most conducive to scholarship.”

And Collins isn’t done yet. Today he serves as the Department of Accounting’s departmental executive officer in addition to serving as mentor to numerous current doctoral students.

“Our philosophy is that we educate the educators, and that’s a strong part of the culture here, one of the strengths of the department,” he says. “It’s important to show future educators what quality research is, help them develop a knack for asking good research questions, and developing appropriate research designs to address those questions. I have a lot of fun working with young people who are eager to learn new things and I enjoy watching them make new discoveries,” he says.

“I look forward to seeing where these students are 10 to 15 years from now,” Collins says. “Knowing they have persevered and are standing on their own to become tremendous scholars is fantastic.”