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Debby Turner is associate professor of accounting and holds the John and Wendi Wells Professor for Teaching Excellence in the Scheller College of Business.
Debby Turner is associate professor of accounting and holds the John and Wendi Wells Professor for Teaching Excellence in the Scheller College of Business.

Faculty Profile: Accounting Professor Deborah Turner's Teaching helps Students at Tech and Beyond

For accounting Professor Debby Turner, it was always teaching. Turner held her first class in the basement of her parents’ home in Atlanta. Equipped with a chalkboard and lesson plans, she would teach her neighborhood playmates day after day. “Believe it or not, I even got them to do homework in the summer,” Turner remembered.

Since then, the Georgia native has become a legend in the classroom during her 31 years at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. Turner’s work is truly celebrated at Tech. Just last month, she received an award for teaching excellence at the Scheller College Honors Day Awards Luncheon. She has taught in every degree program in the College – Undergraduate, Evening MBA, Executive MBA, and Ph.D. – as well as several non-degree programs. “I love to teach and I love to learn. I feel like I learn every day - I learn from my students and build off their energy. I love my students.”

“I like to be the first exposure students have to accounting.

I march to the beat of a different drummer and sometimes that is surprising. It's not what they are expecting.
— Debby Turner

She wants her students to go from “Why would I ever need this’ to ‘I can’t learn it quickly enough.’

Turner shared, “My teaching philosophy is very simple. Although most of the students whom I teach will not concentrate their studies in accounting, I want every student who takes a course with me to recognize the value of learning financial and managerial accounting and to be able to begin using this knowledge in their work lives immediately.”

“Debby’s name is synonymous with teaching excellence,” said Scheller College Dean Maryam Alavi. “She is a role model and mentor for so many of our students. Debby’s achievements in accounting education are exemplary at Scheller College and in the greater business community.”

Making a Career out of it

While Turner first considered law school, during a visit with a former accounting professor for a recommendation letter, he suggested work in another area. “He was happy to do the letter, but he asked if I had thought about a career in academia. He sold me on it, but he lied,” Turner laughed. “He said I would have my summers off. 31 years later, I have always worked through the summer. The flexibility is great though.”

Turner, who holds the John and Wendi Wells Professorship for Teaching Excellence, recounted, “As a young woman, our horizons were pretty limited. Education made me see all the possibilities. As soon as I started the Ph.D. program, I knew I had made the right decision.”

Accounting even played a part in the way Turner met her husband, Jim. “I was joint-enrolled in high school and he was a junior majoring in accounting. I thought accounting must be really boring, but I took an accounting class to see what it was about – and I was hooked! I soon changed my major from math to accounting,” Turner said. “Our 40th wedding anniversary is this August and we rarely talk about accounting at home.”

Both of their children are graduates of Georgia Tech. Their son, Hanson, graduated in 2006 from what was then called College of Management with a concentration in marketing and works as a senior IT controls analyst for Voya. Their daughter, Kathleen, graduated in 2007 with a double major in international affairs and modern languages (Spanish). Through her work as advocate coordinator for the DeKalb County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), she helps abused and neglected children who are under the protection of the juvenile court system.

The Impact

According to a faculty colleague, a significant impact of Turner’s teaching is how many students have gone on to have very successful careers in the accounting field after Georgia Tech.

Dan Reardon, IMGT 1986, chief executive officer at North Highland Consulting Worldwide and Scheller College Advisory Board member said, “I had no intention of studying accounting more than the required classes until I took my second accounting class and had Dr. Debby Turner. She made everything interesting and showed us how accounting can answer so many questions about business success and failure. I took every class she offered and then some and graduated with a minor in accounting. That led me to public accounting and then on to consulting. ”

I owe my current success in a large part to Dr. Turner putting me on this path.
— Dan Reardon

Turner estimated that she has taught over 15,000 students since she became a professor at Georgia Tech in 1985. “I always learn their names. It’s frustrating to some of them that I do learn their names. They’re not anonymous,” she said, adding she likes to learn something about each student. “I try to interweave something I know they like to do, or where they work, with something we are discussing in class.”

Brent Zelnak, MGT 1994, president of ZP Enterprises, LLC, and Scheller College Advisory Board member said, “To this day, I look back with fondness to my time in Professor Turner’s classroom, back in the early 1990’s. Her enthusiasm for accounting was infectious, and she let students know that expectations were high. I was inspired, and those lessons in the classroom have been invaluable to my career. I am not a bit surprised that 24 years later Professor Turner continues to be recognized for her impact in the classroom, and for her contributions to Georgia Tech.”

“I was blessed to have Debby as a professor when I was an undergraduate student and a graduate student at Georgia Tech,” Jeni Bogdan, MGT 1989, MOT 1996, executive vice president of Primoris Energy Services and Scheller College Advisory Board member said. “She was also my advisor while I was doing my final project for my Masters of Management of Technology degree. At the time, my company was transitioning into much larger contracts. She made an immeasurable impact on my business and helped me formulate a financial business plan. Her guidance was instrumental in managing the fast growth of my company. She was always encouraging and made time for all students. Georgia Tech is very fortunate to have Debby.” 

Kelly Barrett, IM 1986, vice president of internal audit and corporate compliance at The Home Depot and current Scheller College Advisory Board chair, is another former student of Turner’s. "After the first few accounting classes, I just fell completely in love with it…Debby is a very genuine person who knows how to connect with students because she truly cares about them," Barrett said. "She has a passion for accounting that she brings to her teaching, and it makes her students love accounting too. Debby’s influence had a lot to do with me going into public accounting."

“You get to see them as students and then they come back. One of the best things is when my students who have graduated contact me to tell me about their successes. I feel so proud,” Turner said.

Celebrated Work

Turner, who is also an American history buff currently visiting the homes or presidential libraries of the U.S. presidents, says she uses a lot of real-life examples in the classroom and projects where students do financial statement analysis. “It’s very application-oriented,” she said. “I hope that at the end of the semester they don’t say ‘I’m going to hire an accountant’--they should--but that’s not the answer. If you don’t know what to ask them they don’t know what to tell you. Just having good business acumen is one of my teaching goals.”

Current business student Rachel Morrison, BSBA 2018, said, “Out of all the amazing faculty at Tech and within Scheller, Debby Turner has been my favorite teacher by far. She set the standards high and expects greatness of all her students. The first day of class she said she would always claim us as her students no matter how far away we go or successful in life we become. Debby Turner is who I set all other teachers against. I loved how hard to she worked to connect to the students, and how much she cared about our success in class as well as in life.”

Turner has been widely recognized for her teaching and her tireless commitment to the development of the next generation of CPAs. Her vast contributions to the field of accounting include articles and books, and the development of innovative college courses, including the Bridge to Business Program, a joint program between Agnes Scott College and Georgia Tech’s Scheller College. This spring she received the prestigious Brady Family Award for Teaching Excellence, endowed by Charles W. Brady, IM 1957, Chairman Emeritus of INVESCO and Scheller College Advisory Board Member Emeritus, which recognizes faculty who provide inspiration and encouragement to students.

She has been the recipient of the Georgia Affiliate of the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants’ (AWSCPA) Educator of the Year award, the AWSCPA Literary Award for outstanding contributions to accounting literature, the Georgia Society of CPAs’ Accounting Educator of the Year award, the Hesburgh Teaching Fellowship, and the Class of 1940 W. Roane Beard Outstanding Teacher award from Georgia Tech. In addition, she has received multiple teaching awards from every level she has taught, including the Undergraduate Program, Evening MBA Program, and Executive MBA Programs in the Scheller College.

“That’s a big deal for me – being recognized by the students. I take such pride in my students that have graduated. I claim all the credit,” Turner joked. “I warn them as they graduate, ‘Once my student - always my student.’”

Advice for New Faculty

Debby recounted some good advice from retired accounting Professor Gene Comiskey who hired her, “Never tie your course to a book.” She appreciated Comiskey’s encouragement to develop her class her own way. “Gene is my hero,” Turner said. “Every day I hope to be as good as Gene in the classroom. He was amazing.”

To improve teaching in the College, Turner chairs the Teaching Effectiveness Committee and created a course called “Best Practices in Teaching” for all Ph.D. students in their second year. “We invite an undergraduate panel come in – I learn so much about what they think is helpful in learning,” and added, “I believe that this course improves the teaching of our Ph.D. students and benefits many more students than I could reach with my own teaching.”

Turner, whose research interests are in the areas of financial reporting and managerial decision making using cost-based information, likes to tell new faculty to “be organized, be ready, and enjoy yourself.” She said that this is hard for some new faculty because “the classroom can be scary.”

She also reminded that ‘Far and away the best prize that life offers’ to quote Teddy Roosevelt, ‘is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.’

For Turner, the connection is easy. “It’s the way I see my world. When you teach you know that you are doing work worth doing.”  


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Susan Ambrosetti
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