insight magazine

IN Play: Q&A With Elizabeth A. Murphy, Ph.D., MBA, CPA

ICPAS' 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner has spent her career building lifelong relationships and has found a genuine passion in volunteering. By Derrick Lilly | Summer 2020

in play murphy“Honey, you’re good with numbers” is a seemingly commonplace compliment from a mother, but she really had her daughter’s number. For more than four decades, Elizabeth (Beth) A. Murphy, Ph.D., MBA, CPA, has dedicated her life to making an impact on the accounting profession, resulting in professor emerita status at DePaul University and a list of institutions and organizations served, accolades achieved, and lives changed that could fill this whole issue. Even in retirement she is still changing lives through volunteerism.

Who would have thought that your mom’s nudge to “try the trusted profession of accounting” would lead to a career like yours?

Right!? What’s interesting is that she also attended DePaul University when they had a secretarial school. I worked in public accounting for a few years after college, but my career path changed when El Strobel—head of DePaul’s accounting department (and an incredible inspiration to students) when I was an undergraduate student and president of Beta Alpha Psi—advised me to return to DePaul for my MBA. I was recruited to continue my degree on a full-time basis as a graduate teaching assistant—it was the first time TAs were used for the principles of accounting courses—and that experience led me to seek a full-time teaching position.

You’ve since dedicated your life to fostering future generations of accounting professionals. Why?

So many students, especially minority students, are first-generation college graduates. I was also a first-generation college graduate, and I believed my role as a faculty member was to not only help students learn accounting but to also help them outside the classroom. I viewed myself as an advocate for the students who didn’t recognize their talents. There is nothing better than helping students who are hungry to learn and are genuinely appreciative of your support.

You’ve inspired hundreds of students to pursue the CPA credential, which is now seeing declining numbers. What can turn this around?

Being a member of the AICPA Council and the AICPA’s FAR CPA Exam Content Subcommittee has kept me engaged in the activities to evolve the CPA credential and attract non-traditional students and professionals to it. If the AICPA continues its forward-thinking approach and incorporates critical technology and analytics skills into the exam, I think the CPA credential will continue to be valued.

But I would like to see more college-level accounting faculty promoting the CPA credential and being more knowledgeable about the CPA exam and the paths for students to achieve the 150 credit hours required to sit for it—like taking more undergraduate courses to get the extra hours, especially technology courses that will unquestionably help them in their accounting careers.

What have you learned from the lifelong relationships you formed with students and peers that can help today’s faculty and business leaders?

My experience has been that honesty and genuine concern are key—and so is practicing what you preach. My relationships are a direct result of the guidance and patience of my lifelong mentors who taught me to take the time to know my mentees. It is not always easy, but a good mentoring relationship evolves with time and feels natural and comfortable—like every good relationship should.

What else has driven your success, and where can we find some of our own?

I’ve been fortunate to have great parents, grandparents, brothers, and lifetime friends that support me outside my accounting career. These caring people were role models for me and made success in my professional life possible.

As many people know, I also have many great stories as a result of my volunteer experiences. Others have always guided me toward activities where there was a need they believed I could help with. Bob Peters, an ICPAS Outstanding Educator, mentored me throughout my career and invited me to succeed him as faculty advisor for DePaul’s Midwest Association of Hispanic Accountants. Also, Debra Hopkins, a former chair of the Illinois CPA Society Board of Directors and former director of Northern Illinois University’s CPA Review, is one of many great professionals that I’ve come to know as an ICPAS volunteer that enhanced my ability to support students inside and outside the classroom. My volunteerism with ICPAS has also led me to volunteer elsewhere. These experiences are incredibly rewarding both professionally and personally.

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