David Folsom: Enthusiasm, Curiosity Help Students Build Stronger Connections with Course Materials
David Folsom, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at the College of Business Administration. He currently teaches courses in Contemporary Accounting Issues, Principles of Accounting, and Undergraduate Research, among graduate and doctoral-level courses.
An enthusiastic educator, Folsom’s research interests include how characteristics of accounting standards affect financial reporting outcomes and how markets interpret financial information, particularly when firms face competitive pressures.
Of the courses you teach, which electives do you recommend for students?
Perhaps my favorite class to teach is ACCT 5310 in the Master’s of Accounting Program. In this class, we learn about the theory behind financial reporting. The class is very focused on why we have certain standards, how investors use accounting information, and how accounting standards have evolved through time. We also examine issues where firms have incentives to provide “better” or “worse” financial information to investors and lenders. We also discuss what constitutes “better” or “worse” information to different users of financial information. I enjoy this class because we are focused on why we do accounting rather just learning the rules and techniques of applying accounting standards.
Can you describe some of your current research?
One of my recent publications examines how the structure of accounting standards (U.S. GAAP) affects the decision usefulness of financial reports. Specifically, my coauthors and I classify each U.S. accounting standard on a continuum of how principles-based or rules-based the standard each standard is. We then measure each individual firm exposure to these standards to calculate if individual firms are more subject to principles-or rules-based standards.
We find that firms more subject to principled-based standards (where managers have more discretion in reporting) provide more decision-useful financial reports, suggesting managers use this discretion to provide better information to markets. However, we also find that when under pressure to meet market expectations, firm managers sometimes use this discretion opportunistically to report better than expected firm performance.
Our findings suggest managers, on average, use discretion in accounting improve communication with investors, but do not always use this discretion appropriately. Hopefully standard setters use this information to better understand the costs and benefits of giving managers more reporting discretion in principles-based standards.
When you were in college, what strategies did you use to be successful?
I tried to not only work hard (a must), but also to work smart. Early on in each class, I tried to understand what each professor wanted students to learn. I remember often asking myself, “if I were the professor, what questions would I ask on the upcoming exam?” I also challenged myself to either respond to a professor’s question or ask a question in every class I attended. This helped me better understand what the instructor wanted and kept me engaged in each class.
I also got to know many of my professors personally, often outside of class. Most professors chose an academic career because they genuinely want to help students! We are here to help.
However, I recognized faculty time is limited, so I came prepared for any meeting with a faculty member. I still consider the professors I had as an undergraduate and graduate student mentors and friends.
Last, I found other students with similar academic goals and learning styles as I had to form study groups. Teaching another student a difficult concept is the best way to master a concept! These colleagues pushed me to do better and we often had some friendly competitions. These study partners continue to be friends (and great contacts) today.
What do you look for in an exceptional student?
I think the most important qualities in an exceptional student are enthusiasm, curiosity, and work ethic. Good students enjoy learning and want to know more about their chosen field of study. They are open to new ideas, but are unafraid to respectfully challenge current dogma and ways of doing things. Their enthusiasm and curiosity lead them to work hard and to master materials in their chosen field, not just memorize a method to get through a class. Exceptional students are able to see a concept or idea from multiple viewpoints and can apply a concept to multiple settings.
What resources do you recommend that will help students in their professional careers?
Be involved in something you are passionate about! To add value in the current business environment, students need to develop communication and leadership skills. Although many of these skills are gained in the course curriculum at UTEP, students need practice in extracurricular activities such as taking part in clubs, community service organizations, or a job or internship that uses these skills. UTEP offers many opportunities – job fairs, free mock interview training, the Accounting Society, Beta Alpha Psi, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, to name just a few.