This article by John Chacona appeared in Gannon Magazine, Summer 2012

Passion and accounting are terms that coexist uneasily, but Jiangxia “Renee” Liu, Ph.D., assistant professor of accounting in Gannon University’s Dahlkemper School of Business Administration, has no problem reconciling the two.

“Teaching is where my passion lies,” she readily admits, adding that, “What I enjoy most is the journey and experience of exploring effective methods to deliver course materials and motivate student learning.”

The journey is an apt metaphor for Liu. That journey is more than one of distance, though; as a native of China, Liu came halfway around the world to find her passion.

It is also the journey of her native land, which during her lifetime, has become an economic dynamo, a fate she could scarcely have imagined in the China of her birth. Accountancy was, like all aspects of the Chinese command economy, strictly controlled by the Communist Party of China, and the profession in China had little contact with—or application to—the rest of the world.

All that changed in 1992 when a new accounting framework was needed for China’s exploding socialist market economy. Six years later, Liu received her Bachelor of Science degree from Chongqing University in Chongqing, China. Located in the far inland province of Sichuan, Chongqing is perhaps the least-known large city (29 million people) on the globe.

The Chinese economic miracle was founded on world trade, and often that trade is in minds as well as goods. Liu came to another inland city, Dallas, where she quickly earned her Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Texas. She was a teaching assistant there, the beginning of her academic career, a career that, after a stop at Western Carolina University, led to Erie and to Gannon.

Accounting is not usually thought of as a “high-touch” profession, but Liu uses tactile imagery to describe her classroom approach. “There are some students who are not very comfortable or interested in accounting,” she says. “My aim is to help these students see, feel and learn accounting.”

Like any esoteric discipline, the mysteries—and the beauties—of the orderliness represented by the notion of balancing books don’t come easily to all students. But, when the moment of understanding arrives, Liu can sense it, too.

“I feel great satisfaction when they say things like, ‘Aha! I got it.’ These moments are really my ‘aha’ moments also. I tell myself, ‘Aha! I got you interested and made you understand accounting,’” she says, adding, “their smile and the feelings of achievement are my best gifts.”

Liu’s classes encompass a spectrum of complexity, with introductory and advanced classes in Financial Accounting and Managerial Accounting.

In 2009, a paper Liu wrote with three colleagues received the KPMG Best Paper Award at the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association in New York. The title of the paper was “The Gender Pay Gap in the Boardroom: Are Women Executives Underpaid?” It’s a topic that would have been unthinkable in the China of Liu’s childhood.

A long journey, indeed, and one that would have been impossible without a certain amount of passion. Inspiring that sort of passion is Liu’s goal, and when she achieves it, she finds that it is returned, though in unusual ways and in unusual places.
“Among other places, while shopping for groceries in Wegmans, strolling around downtown and at a ball game. When I’m in places like this, I find my students and they tell me, ‘Renee, you are the best.’ That is just the best thing a teacher could hear.”

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