Montana State University

Spring 2011

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Mountains and Minds

Accounting prof Anne Christensen works for students' best interests

Anne Christensen April 25, 2011 by Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter • Published 04/25/11

Accounting prof works for students' best interests
If the term "triple threat" is reserved for theater performers who can sing, dance and act with equal skill, perhaps academia needs to come up with its own term for professors such as Anne Christensen.

A professor of accounting at Montana State University since 2002, Christensen has distinguished herself as an exceptionally well-rounded faculty member--the university equivalent of the triple threat--according to the dean of the College of Business, Dan Moshavi.

"Anne takes the three major roles of a faculty member very seriously," Moshavi said. "She's an excellent teacher and an outstanding researcher, and she is dedicated to serving our students. There are many people who are superstars in one area, but she is the whole package."

Christensen teaches both undergraduate and graduate tax courses in the accounting program and has published well-regarded research that ranges from taxpayer compliance issues to accounting ethics. And her work doesn't stop at the doors of Reid Hall. As director of the College of Business' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program--an IRS program that assists low-income individuals in preparing tax returns--Christensen supervises some 50 MSU accounting students per year as they help more than 400 local people file their taxes each tax season.

"VITA is one of the most important aspects of my job," Christensen said. "I think any time you can help students get real-world experience in the area they're studying and create a service for the community, it's a win-win for everybody."

The winning doesn't come without serious work. All VITA volunteers must be thoroughly prepared and tested, and then 10 three-hour clinics are held during tax season. Volunteers must commit to attending at least half of those, but Christensen is present for all of them.

"We know that VITA has positively impacted the reputation of the College of Business," Moshavi said, pointing to 2010 survey data showing more than half of those who used the VITA program said it had improved their perception of the College of Business and MSU as a whole.

In addition to helping low-income taxpayers, Christensen's VITA volunteers also help international students and researchers file their U.S. taxes. A program inaugurated in 2008 sends four VITA volunteers a year to Alaska during spring break to assist in remote villages.

"The Alaska Business Development Council sends someone with each group of students who go out, but conditions are very basic," Christensen said. "They have to bring their own food and sleeping bags, and they know they might be sleeping on the floor of a school. But it's a great service for the people in the villages, and the students say it is a wonderful experience. They come back and rave about it."

While Christensen reports enthusiastic reviews for the Alaska program, the dean of the College of Business said that Christensen's students rave about her abilities as a teacher. "Anne has consistently been one of our highest-ranked instructors," Moshavi said.

As a testament to that, Christensen won the 2009 President's Excellence in Teaching Award. It is just one of many awards--including community service honors such as the President's Award for Excellence in Service Learning in 2005 and multiple awards supporting her research--won at MSU that attest to Christensen's dedication to students and achievements in her chosen field.

"Anne unselfishly puts a tremendous amount of time and effort into this program to provide us with a place to polish what we have learned and outreach to the community as well," accounting graduate student Dan Tracey explained. "Her patience and understanding allowed me to focus on learning, not embarrassment for not memorizing the entire U.S. Tax Code. VITA could certainly have been an overwhelming experience, but Anne gave us the tools and support to succeed."

That she came to accounting after getting a graduate degree and working in an entirely different discipline--school counseling--only makes her story more interesting.

"It's true that counseling and accounting don't have much in common," Christensen said with a laugh. "But I eventually decided to return to school just to take a few classes and then decided I would go for an MBA."

She completed her Master's of Business Administration at the University of Utah in 1983 and worked part-time in retail and then real estate but discovered that she couldn't stay away from the classroom.

"I went back to take a few accounting classes and found that I really liked it," Christensen said.

One of her professors encouraged her to think about it as a career--but not as an accountant.

"He told me that there were a lot of jobs out there for people who wanted to be accounting professors. Since I seemed to keep going back to school, it seemed like a good idea to get paid to be there," she joked.

She finished her Ph.D. in 1989 and began work as an assistant professor in accounting at Portland State University the same year. She was a full professor at that university when she decided to move to MSU in 2002, a rare move for a tenured professor.

"We wanted to live in a small college town in the Mountain West, away from the big cities," Christensen said of the decision she and her husband, an electrical engineer, made to leave Portland. "We both like outdoor activities like cross-country skiing and hiking, and MSU had a very well-respected accounting program. It was very important for me to work in an environment that had a solid program."

Moshavi is quick to add that the college is also glad to
have Christensen.

"Anne is always thinking about students' best interest and about what she can do to enhance students' professional development," he said.

For her part, Christensen says simply that working with students and the community makes her profession rewarding.

"I feel fortunate to have a job where I can work with so many students and watch them move forward in their careers."