Faculty Spotlight: Maria Rickling, Accounting

November 07, 2012

Dr. Maria Rickling, far right, poses with her FSEM business students during a field trip that included lunch at the beach.

For Maria Rickling, Assistant Professor of Accounting, teaching at Stetson provides the opportunity to combine two passions–a love of learning and an enthusiasm for accounting. Maria has always felt most at home in academic environments, and she enjoys the opportunity a faculty position offers to be a “perpetual student.”  Learning gives her joy. What’s more, she knew, from the time she began doctoral work at FIU, that she wanted to teach at Stetson: thus, “to be here is truly a blessing.”

While marked by fits and starts–an honors student in high school who found herself on academic probation at the end of a disappointing first year in college–Maria’s interests reflect not only her passion for accounting but a pragmatic orientation toward the world. After that disastrous first year as an undergraduate, she took a year off and worked as an insurance underwriter’s assistant, an experience that opened her eyes to hard realities: “I met individuals in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s without college degrees who were supporting their families on $10/hour.  I thought to myself, `this is insane. I’m a strong student, so what am I doing here?’” She returned to school, declared majors in accounting and management information systems, and made the Dean’s List every semester for the duration of her time as an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati.

Assistant Professor of Accounting Maria Rickling

Joining Stetson as an assistant professor in the fall of 2011, Maria is no stranger to DeLand. (Nor is she a stranger to Stetson: her father attended Stetson.) After participating for a couple of years in the Information Management Leadership Program at General Electric in Ohio, she moved to Florida to be closer to family. Her first job in Florida was as a systems analyst for Volusia County, where she worked just a few blocks from Stetson, supervising the implementation of paperless systems. During this time, she realized MIS work was just “too gray for me” and began to gravitate back to accounting–which appealed to her because “it’s very black and white.”  Thus, at 27, she moved to South Florida, with two goals:  to pursue a master’s degree in accounting and to “live life” more fully.

For a time, “living life” trumped the graduate program. She worked as a bookkeeper for a luxury condominium developer and bought a motorcycle. Not just any motorcycle, but one of those sporty, aerodynamic models that riders hunch over as they ride. She practiced–at night–in the FAU parking lot, until she was confident enough to take it out on the streets and highways. On weekends, she frequently packed up a hammock and charcoal on the back of the motorcycle and went camping in the Keys. On one such trip she met someone who had sold everything to live on his sailboat. Inspired by a desire to live more simply and closer to nature, she, along with a partner, bought a sailboat and lived on it for a couple of years. While attuned to the charms of such a life, Maria also knew that she wasn’t ready, at 29, to settle permanently into its rhythms. She sold her share of the boat, and–because she was offered a promotion with new opportunities she couldn’t refuse–moved to the Keys and further postponed graduate study in accounting.

Within a few years, however, she did find her way back to school, and completed the master’s at FIU. One professor was so impressed with her work (an elaborate Excel spreadsheet, complete with color graphs, submitted well in advance of the deadline), that he urged her to continue in FIU’s re-established doctoral program in business administration, accounting track. Given his sense of her outgoing personality, and her obvious enjoyment of people, he also suggested that she consider becoming a professor.

When Maria started discussing this new possibility with her mother (who lives in Port Orange), her mother got on the phone and called the Accounting Department at Stetson to find out more about a faculty member’s life.  She reached Jud Stryker–now one of Maria’s colleagues in the Accounting Department–who, Maria reports, was extremely generous with his time: “we spoke twice, for about an hour each time, and he was very honest. He gave me the good, the bad, and the ugly…but mostly the good. I went into the doctoral program at FIU knowing that I wanted to teach at Stetson.” Although her graduate mentor urged her to consider teaching at a school more oriented towards research, Maria knew that she wanted to be somewhere that values teaching as much as it values research. Stetson fit the bill.

In addition to accounting courses, Maria teaches a First Year Seminar titled “The Secret Law of Attraction.” It explores the power of positive thinking and the link between mind and body. She wanted to “design a course with the intention of empowering students from the very beginning of their Stetson experience” and to impart on them an “I-can-do-anything-I-put-my-mind-to” mentality. Recently, she took students (pictured above with Maria, who is at the far right) in the FSEM class on a field trip, which began with yoga instruction and concluded with lunch at the beach.

A central theme in Maria’s research is how various dimensions of corporate culture relate to fraudulent financial reporting. She is currently at work on a project that looks at how people who are paid with company stocks and stock options are statistically more likely to “cook the books.” Indeed, her research and teaching interests are linked by a strong ethical dimension. She notes that ethical questions have structured accounting from the beginning: “The ledger originated because it was believed people could not engage in business without sinning.  People engaged in trade would bring ledgers to the Church, to show why the prices they charged were justified, relative to their expenses.” Thus, “an important take-away from accounting courses, especially courses taken by students in any major, is an understanding of accounting’s intended role in society.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Maria is meticulous in her personal accounting systems: “You should see my personal budget spreadsheet. It’s a work of art. When I wake in the morning, the first thing I do (after coffee) is open my spreadsheet and track the previous day’s expenditures. I enjoy accounting and appreciate its ability to tell a story; to convey information necessary to make informed decisions.” Indeed, unlike most of us, Maria can almost always find her receipts. You can read Faculty Spotlight on the Academic Affairs website.

 

Karen Kaivola

November 2012

 

 


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