Joseph Comprix’s Commitment to Academia Accounts for Student Success Both on Campus and Online

Academia wasn’t the initial profession the Whitman School’s Joe Comprix pursued, but he would come to realize it was the one for which he was best suited. Scores of students and a list of accolades bear evidence.

“When I was in my late 20s, I decided I wasn’t being challenged intellectually at work, so I decided to become a college professor,” Comprix said.

About half a decade after Comprix graduated from Ohio State in 1988, he chose to leave his corporate post for a Ph.D. in the accounting program at the University of Illinois. Upon graduation, he became an assistant professor at Arizona State University. He was then a visiting professor at SUNY Buffalo for a year before coming to Whitman in 2008. Today, Comprix serves as an associate professor of accounting and chair of the Whitman School’s Lubin School of Accounting.

The first stop on Comprix’s career path would prove beneficial to his role as a professor. After earning his undergraduate degree from Ohio State, he took a job at Mead Paper in the company’s school and office products division as an accountant. He was soon promoted to accounting manager, where he was involved in financial reporting and supervised payroll and accounts payable.

Comprix credits his four and a half years at Mead for gaining practical experience in financial reporting that he brings to the classroom. The students value Comprix’s real-world perspective and his enthusiasm for the content; so much so that they voted him Graduate Faculty of the Year four times.

As a graduate of large state schools, Comprix appreciates Whitman’s small school feel.

“I was surprised when I first got here that the dean and members of the faculty would always take a moment to say “hi” when they saw me,” Comprix shared.

In addition to the intimacy of the Whitman community, Comprix enjoys that the school has “academically gifted students,” which allows him to conduct classes at a higher level. He said these students go on to be accomplished and loyal graduates who remain connected and give back, which perpetuates the uniquely strong and expansive SU alumni base.

“There is a tremendous school spirit that binds our alumni long after graduation,” Comprix added.

While Comprix has collected a number of accolades in addition to the faculty teaching awards – including the Guttag Junior Faculty Award for outstanding service, the Excellence in Graduate Education Faculty Recognition Award (he was one of only six recipients campus-wide in 2012) and the Lubin Research Fellowship he views the connections he’s built with his students as the true benefit of his job.

“Whether students reach out post-graduation for advice or with the odd accounting question, it is really gratifying to realize that people think of you enough to keep in touch,” Comprix said.

Aside from relationships with students, Comprix finds the ongoing opportunities to study things of interest to him as a significant professional perk. Throughout the years, he has conducted research on pension accounting, accounting restatements and international financial reporting standards. His work has appeared in multiple scholarly publications, including the Journal of the American Taxation Association, Accounting Horizons and the Journal of Accounting and Economics.

Since assuming the leadership of the Lubin School, Comprix has taken the time to examine how well the accounting department services its students.

“We have good students, our curriculum makes sense and it is providing students with the skills they need to succeed in their careers,” he shared.

Even so, he feels there is work to be done in achieving long-term goals, including the expansion of the accounting major and increasing awareness of the Lubin School across campus and nationally.

Comprix brings his years of workplace and classroom experience to teaching financial accounting in Whitman’s online MBA program. According to Comprix, the virtual nature of the program poses a challenge but not a barrier for relationship building with students.

“In terms of connecting with students, I think the environment makes it a little harder to interact, but it is still doable if you are committed and work at it,” he explained. “And being able to view and play back the lectures and discussions is a huge advantage for our online students. On top of that, the flexibility of the program allows students to complete their course work while maintaining their jobs, making the program an attractive option to students we otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach.”

Comprix has taught thousands of students—both on campus and online—during his time in academia, and he has noticed students’ learning habits have changed over the years. As expected with the saturation of technology in everyday life, Comprix said students’ attention spans have gotten shorter. He has responded to the students’ need for more concise bits of information by adjusting his teaching to help students be more active participants in the classroom.

One approach Comprix uses is to break the day’s topics into short 10 to 12-minute lectures. Each lecture is then followed by students working through examples or participating in group exercises. In a typical class, Comprix will cover four or five topics in this way. He feels that this technique is more effective than having students sit passively through an 80-minute lecture. Though today’s students may not remain engaged with the content for as long, Comprix has noticed they are stronger at working in teams when compared to students of years past, and that is a desirable skill for the marketplace.

Aside from differences in technology or the ways in which students consume information and learn, Comprix believes successful students, regardless of their generation, need similar qualities to succeed.

“It’s not always the students with the most intellectual horsepower who do the best,” said Comprix.

Aside from differences in technology or the ways in which students consume information and learn, Comprix believes successful students, regardless of their generation, need similar qualities to succeed.

“It’s not always the students with the most intellectual horsepower who do the best,” said Comprix. “People who take shortcuts in life tend to be exposed over time. In contrast, students who persevere tend to do very well. Students who are honest and trustworthy do well. In my view, character matters.”