“Professor Spotlight” aims to familiarize students with their professors by exploring their life history and some of their personal experiences.
Dr. Harshini Siriwardane is an assistant professor of Accounting. Graduates of the Mount St Joseph accounting program leave the University well prepared for a career in accounting and most will pursue a professional certification (CPA or CMA). The Mount accounting program instills technical knowledge based on current accounting principles and regulations in its graduates, but it also enhances their interpersonal and communication skills, fine tunes analytical abilities-especially Excel skills, and emphasizes the importance of ethical behavior in a business environment.
Dr. Siriwardane represents everything the Mount stands for such as high-quality academics, commitment to students’ success, social responsibility, diversity of cultures and beliefs, and service to others. We asked her to share more about herself.
PhD and MSc in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla. Dissertation topic was “A Study of Activity-Based Costing in Small Manufacturing Companies- Quality Function Deployment Framework.” Completed the Charted Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA-England) exams.
Work history (industry experience)… Why did you decide to become a professor?
My mother was a teacher. Whenever she encouraged me to become an educator, my answer was “never.” So, I started my career in an entry-level accounting position and I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. After completing the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) exams, I had the opportunity to work as a financial consultant to Missouri Enterprise, a not-for profit organization providing business assistance to small businesses. I really enjoyed my work there. However, when I taught my first course as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Missouri-Rolla, I knew that being an educator is the career for me; after all, mom was right! Engineering management is a pretty versatile field, so during the early years, I taught Project Management, Financial Management, International Human Resource Management, Leadership, etc. However, accounting, especially managerial accounting is where my heart is. As I got the opportunity to teach in different states and countries, I became more and more interested in accounting education-identifying the knowledge and skill gaps in accounting graduates and finding ways to address these. All my recent research publications are related to accounting education.
Why did you pursue accounting?
My undergraduate degree was in engineering and during my internships I was not very enthusiastic about what I was doing; instead I became very curious about the cost management aspect. So I completed the CIMA exams and shifted my career focus from engineering to accounting. I pursued my MSc and PhD in Engineering Management with a concentration in cost management. Perhaps, I was not brave enough to completely abandon the engineering discipline at that time. So, really, I pursued accounting because I enjoyed it.
What brought you to MSJ?
In 2008 we moved to Singapore. There, I joined the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) as a senior teaching fellow. NTU students are among the top five percent of the high school graduates. I had 650-700 students in a lecture. It took my teaching experience to a new level; however since I was on a teaching track, I didn’t have time for research. So I left NTU and joined the James Cook University - Singapore campus of an Australian University. There, every semester, I had students from at least 15 different countries (even an exchange student from OH one semester), and most were first-generation college students; they all had different learning styles. Academically they were not as strong as the NTU students. So my contribution really made a difference to them. I kept challenging them and they rose up to the challenge. Watching their progress was very rewarding. After we returned to the US, I taught at UC for one year; but I had my eyes on a smaller university where I can replicate my JCU experience and I found it at the Mount. The students that I first met at the Mount as juniors are graduating this year. One will pursue graduate degree in accounting, another will join one of the big four, and quite a few have their eyes set on completing the CPA. Happiness is hearing these stories!
What is your advice for a student who wants to pursue a career in accounting?
Don’t make any decisions based on your first (entry-level) job. Accounting encompasses a lot more than the narrow exposure you typically get in the first job. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that accountants are boring “bean counters.” That may have been true many decades ago; not anymore. You need to have analytical skills; but you also need to have good communication and interpersonal skills. So, appreciate the liberal arts curriculum that the Mount offers.
When I am not teaching or working on research, I like to…
Read. I am in a book club. So I read a lot. I also like to paint, even though I don’t have much time for that. I am also a volunteer for the Hospice of Dayton. I enjoy visiting my patients; I like to see the smile on their face, hear their stories, or simply hold their hands and provide comfort.
What else would you like to share?
All three of our kids are in business fields and my husband who is a physicist has no company at home!