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Jan 24, 2019 2019-01 Accountancy Faculty

Creating an unmatched student experience at Gies Business

Inside Tim Reierson’s third-floor office in the Business Instructional Facility, you won’t find much empty wall space. Seemingly any gap he can find is covered with photos, gifts, mementos from students’ home towns or vacation destinations, and Minions – one of Reierson’s favorite characters. You’ll also find a number of motivational quotes and inspirational books. Ironic, considering Reierson might be the last person at Gies College of Business who needs a pick-me-up.

Reierson1"Every time I'm here on campus, I just feel relaxed and refreshed," said Reierson. "Working with students has always been an escape for me."

It’s a feeling Reierson has enjoyed for many years. The Gies College of Business accountancy graduate spent 33 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers; for more than 20 of those years, he led PwC’s relationship with his alma mater. Reierson spent much of his career as a client service partner; when he retired at age 55, he only took seven months off before coming back to the campus where it all started. 

“I always knew I’d end up back here at Gies,” he said.

Reierson is the director of the Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) program at Gies Business. He says he’s still in the client service business – fulfilling what he calls his “obligation as a leader” to share his experiences and advice with the next generation of business leaders.

At the top of his priority list is ensuring that the nearly 175 MSA students have an unforgettable experience that prepares them for life – not just for a job. He’s proud to work at a place that sets the standard for accountancy education. Gies’ graduate accountancy programs are ranked among the best in the nation. The College is known around the world for its excellent faculty, leading-edge academics, and commitment to data analytics. In Reierson’s mind, though, there’s so much more students can learn from their one-year graduate program.

“It’s about creating a value proposition that goes beyond getting a degree. They work so hard; many come from thousands of miles away, and if all they get is a graduate degree, that’s not enough,” he said. “I want to raise their expectations.”

Reierson’s focus is in the so-called value add that makes the Gies Business experience so special. He wants MSA students to learn how to learn and grow; he works with a mostly international MSA population to bridge cultural gaps and help young adults adapt to new environments; and he devotes much of his energy to soft skills, like communication and teamwork. Expanding one’s personal and professional network, he believes, can truly unleash the power of an MSA from Gies College of Business and make his students as competitive as possible in the recruiting process.

“I trust that our College delivers an unmatched academic product, so what can I do to add as much value as possible?” he said. “For me, that’s simply showing students that we care, giving them personal attention, and showing them that we are accessible.”

That accessibility is the cornerstone of Reierson’s work at Gies. He held more than 400 professional coaching sessions with students during the Summer and Fall 2018 semesters. He had already coached 93% of the MSA class at least once. He also hosts workshops to help students improve their recruiting competitiveness, network, start and continue conversations, and even improve their body language. Reierson organizes monthly social events, like talent shows, game nights, pizza parties, picnics, and ice skating. Combine that with his fall “integration circles” and summer “conversation partners” programs, where students just get together to talk and hang out—it is truly collaboration across disciplines, across cultures, and across borders.

“Every student is different. You can’t reach them all the same way,” he said. “I try to do a lot of different things with the hope that something resonates. My simple goal for all of them is to be better people when they leave Gies College of Business.”

That positivity and encouragement is obvious in something Reierson does every weekday. Every Monday through Friday at sunrise, Reierson sends two notes to his MSA students: a morning random thought and a dose of positivity, which could be something as simple as a motivational quote or a funny photo.

"It takes a lot of work to do that, but it's something I truly love." he said. "For me being here, there's no stress. These students and this campus provide me with an infinite source of positive energy."

It’s his positivity that has become a well-known hallmark of his leadership style. So much so that he now feels a strong obligation to share this energy with his students as often as he can. That positive mindset is something Reierson developed at a young age, and it’s a quality deeply personal to him. Reierson grew up in a broken home. He never knew his biological father, and his mother passed away when he was only seven years old. Reierson spent a couple years in a children’s home before being adopted by his stepfather. He grew up without much money. He remembers running a paper route just so he could afford a haircut.

“I don’t ever remember being unhappy, though,” he smiled.

It’s a spirit he hopes to pass along to his students, who converge every year on this campus from many different countries, including China, South Korea, and Taiwan. In order to help them assimilate, many Chinese students choose traditional American names when they come to campus. This fall Reierson decided to flip the script and pick a Chinese name of his own. He enlisted his Chinese students to brainstorm ideas. He must’ve received 20 or 30 suggestions. Eventually Reierson narrowed it down and chose Tian Mu – which roughly translates to “sky” and “admiration.”

“It represents someone with a level of admiration or adoration from others that is as high as the sky,” he said.

It’s a simple gesture, but one that makes a lasting impact on his students. He recalls anecdote after anecdote of students who have been transformed during their time at Gies Business. Whether they’re finally coming out of their shell and developing the confidence to dance in his talent show – or introducing him to their proud parents for the first time at graduation – they have become his family.

“I tell my students that once you leave, I will be in your network forever. If you ever need me, and I have the capability to respond, I will always be there for you,” he said. “That’s my commitment to them.”

That relationship is obvious with just a quick glance around Reierson’s office. It’s a Minion with his name on it, a key chain from a Chinese student’s home town, or a traditional Chinese fan with his new name “Tian Mu” written on the front. All special keepsakes with too many stories to even recount.

“I tell my students the best gift they can give me is just to pay it forward. Be successful. Take what you’ve learned, and share it with someone else – just as I’ve done.”