Trainspotting and number-crunching

Author: Megan reporter

Favorite Professors

BusinessWeek asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors. Here is another installment in the series.

Edward Hums has spent a lot of time watching trains, from the Canadian National Railway to the Norfolk Southern, which runs near Notre Dame's South Bend ( Ind.) campus. And Hums's passion for the rails has been integrated into his teaching at the university's Mendoza College of Business. Undergrads at the B-school often start Hums's accounting course with the impression that trains are a relatively arcane subject, and have little to do with accountancy coursework.

But Hums's research into the industry's high-tech e-commerce applications eventually dispels that misconception. Of course, his love of trains also has a tendency to seep out in less sophisticated ways. "During a lecture, he'll just throw up a slide with train pictures on it out of nowhere," says Katie House, who earned her BBA from Notre Dame in 2004. It's this sense of fun that has helped make Hums's courses so popular with Mendoza undergrads.

Edward Hums, known also as Ed, Eddie, and Hummer, was the name most often given when 337 Notre Dame students were asked to identify their favorite professor in BusinessWeek's recent survey of undergraduate business majors. By reporting that their accounting professor was deeply knowledgeable, well-versed in campus lore, and approachable during office hours, Mendoza undergrads created some significant buzz around Hums.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT.  "It was a lucky shot," says Hums about landing his teaching position at Mendoza. In 1989, the school needed someone to teach an accountancy-systems class. At the time, Hums worked in the school's administration, running all of its accounting systems, and he was offered the part-time position.

Now, 17 years later, Hums has been teaching in the College of Business full time for five years. In addition to elective courses, Hums teaches financial accounting in the fall and managerial accountancy in the spring, both core requirements of the undergraduate business major. Although Hums admits that his career change was something of a financial sacrifice, he's confident he made the right move. "It was the greatest thing I ever did to surround myself with the students here," he says.

Hums's connection with his students might have something to do with the fact that he has been in their place, literally. He earned his BBA in accountancy from Notre Dame in 1975. Hums's students say that experience gives him a unique understanding of their concerns. "He understands that accounting isn't an easy subject. So he'll tell his students stories about how he struggled in school at Notre Dame, and encourage you to keep your head up," says House.

THE MAN, DA BOMB.  And Hums admires the diligence and abilities of his students in return. He writes nearly 70 letters of recommendation for students every year. "I didn't work as hard as my students do now when I was an undergraduate, and my former professors will attest to that," says Hums. Today, however, he gives the university his best effort.

"Hums's students say things like: 'He's awesome,'" says Thomas Schafer, chairman of the department of accountancy at Notre Dame. Students get even more enthusiastic about Hums on the student Web site, NDToday.com. In addition to being described as "the man" and "da bomb," Hums is credited by his former students as "genuine," "approachable," and "the funniest guy ever." However, one reviewer cautions: "He makes fun of people in the back row so don't sit there unless your ego is well-reinforced." In the cumulative ratings on the site, Hums scored a 9.1 out of a possible 10 for teaching quality, a 9.2 for sense of humor ,and an 8.9 for accessibility.

Hums's excellence in the classroom has also been acknowledged by the university in more formal ways. In 2004, he was awarded the Frank O'Malley Undergraduate Teaching Award, a university-wide recognition that's not often bestowed on instructors of accountancy. In fact, only once before has the coveted award been given to someone in the department. Hums was again recognized in 2005, with the Paul Fenlon Undergraduate Teaching Award.

ALWAYS IMPROVING.  Hums is dedicated to Notre Dame's greater community. In addition to routinely attending the athletic and artistic performances of his students, Hums is the goalkeeper and coach for the school's Fightin' Faculty hockey team. While Hums was an undergrad, Notre Dame had the No. 1 collegiate hockey team in the nation, so there was "no way" he could play, he says. Instead, he stayed close to the Fighting Irish by working as a student trainer with the football and hockey teams. "I got great exposure to the athletes," says Hums, "and since then, [hockey has] continued to be a sport that I love." He has played on the faculty team since 1975 — the first year he qualified.

Hums also helps advance his students' understanding of accountancy beyond their South Bend campus. As a certified public accountant, Hums is the faculty adviser for student case competitions with the Indiana CPA society. "Not only was he a great help in the case itself, but the whole idea was actually his," says John Boots, a '05 Notre Dame graduate who participated in the competition. "I think it's cool that he sought out students to get involved. It's usually students who are scrambling to find faculty advisers."

What's next for Hums? "Our students get better all the time," he says. "What you might have done when you started your career 17 years ago isn't good enough now. You really have to challenge yourself to continually get better." For Hums, getting better also means branching out to teach in executive education and Master's programs. Additionally, he has his eye on teaching upper-level electives, like a systems-analysis course. Increasing his teaching load might mean less time to watch trains, but he can always just toss an extra slide into his next lecture.

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