Rao fights accounting stereotypes by encouraging students

All smiles: Rao has been known to greet her students at the beginning of each class with a smile and warm welcome. Her aim is to encourage students in the accounting field through creating a positive classroom atmosphere.

Assistant professor of accounting Sunita Rao has been at Washburn University for the past three and a half years. After trying her hand at banking in New Deli, India and getting her Master of Business Administration and Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Kansas, she sought a teaching position to transfer her knowledge of the field to students at the university level.

“I stayed in Lawrence [after graduating], where my family is,” said Rao. “I didn’t even look outside a 15-mile radius for employment; and this is the most perfect. It’s such a good environment; I feel like I’m a part of the community and they have so much to offer. I feel obligated to maintain the success of Washburn School of Business and the welling of the community.”

Rao spent three years working in one of the biggest banks in New Deli after her undergraduate studies. She soon realized that working in the accounting industry wasn’t for her. She needed to be in academics. Her knowledge of and passion for the field as a result of this experience has driven her to be a better educator.

“Teaching is a noble pursuit,” said Rao. “It is exciting and fulfilling for me to teach because the idea of the education that is imparted to me that I’m imparting to someone else is an emotional experience, not just an academic one. It’s a continuum, and that’s what I would like to do. I want to see students succeed and see smiles on their faces.”

Outside of class, Rao takes interest in campus events and CTEL, the Center for Teaching Excellence. She is also actively engaged in the research community on campus. As a result of her research, Rao developed a class called Contemporary Issues in Accounting: Sustainability Reassurance and Reporting.

Coming from India, Rao has a personal view on how to encourage diversity and kindness on campus.

“I was worried about not fitting in, but I need not have worried about that at all,” said Rao. “Washburn, in general, does not make any student, and there are so many international students here. I, myself, came as somebody from outside the country, someone who didn’t grow up here. They do not let anyone feel outside of the fabric. They are included in all aspects of Washburn. They do not feel like strangers.”

In her classroom, Rao uses this perspective to shape how she interacts with students. Furthermore, her specific subject of accounting is often associated with being boring or monotonous for students, whether or not they are working towards a career in the field. Rao hopes to change the way students feel about accounting in a way that dually promotes kindness and encouragement.

“Professor Rao honestly cares for her students and their understanding of the course material,” said Steven Cornwell, junior history major. “She made accounting bearable because she has an honest love of accounting that is clear in the way she teaches.”

Rao mentioned that she has noticed that some students in her class have a fear that accounting is boring.

“It is my pleasure to let them know that the concepts associated with accounting are very much relevant outside of the class and in any kind of employment. [Creating a positive classroom atmosphere] helps with learning so much. I try to alleviate students’ fears coming into class. It is my duty and pleasure. Just be a kind and encouraging person, just be nice to each other.”