Empowerment, integrity, leadership, and passion are the core values promoted by Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA), and this national organization recently recognized Illinois State University’s Accounting Department Chair Deborah Seifert as an educator who demonstrates these ideals.

Seifert said she was “very honored” to be named as the recipient of the inaugural Women Who Count Academic Professional Award during a conference luncheon held October 30 in Kansas City. The accolade was given in recognition of her role in supporting the formation of an AFWA chapter on the Illinois State University campus.

AFWA chapter President Michaela Spreier, a senior accounting major, said the award was “extremely well-deserved.”

The student described her many positive interactions with Seifert during her involvement in on-campus organizations and as a student worker and expressed gratitude to the professor for offering advice and emotional support during the stress of planning events.

“She will drop everything to help a student,” Spreier said. “I really think that’s the culture we have in our department and why so many students enjoy their time in our department. She starts that culture and then all the faculty kind of trickle down and emulate what she’s doing.

“In terms of AFWA, her support has been instrumental. She’s always there to say, ‘You’re doing a great job. Keep up the good work.’ If something goes wrong, (she offers) advice on what other solutions we could do.”

“She will drop everything to help a student. I really think that’s the culture we have in our department and why so many students enjoy their time in our department. She starts that culture and then all the faculty kind of trickle down and emulate what she’s doing.”—Michaela Spreier

Seifert credited the success of AFWA to the “exceptionally talented female students” who fill its membership rolls, as well as the Illinois State graduates who have provided resources to support its outreach activities.

“We wouldn’t be able to do it without the female alum donor base,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to invest in the development of diversity in the college and the department.”

The Redbird AFWA chapter was created to help address a student-identified need in the department for more female involvement and leadership in registered student organizations (RSOs). Spreier recalled planning for the group began in 2015 with the recruitment of founding members and development of activities. The group was officially chartered in spring 2018 and thus far has provided members with opportunities to build confidence, develop leadership skills, and network with other women on a national level.

“This is where we develop our future female leaders,” Seifert said. “AFWA is a nice national umbrella because they can provide leadership and guidance and also transition the women from school to the workforce. We’re only the second chapter in the country that’s active. It does take resources. It takes time. It takes effort, but we need to do this in other universities as well. I’m hoping that they’ll use (Illinois State) as a model for other chapters.”

In addition to hosting guest speakers and collaborating on event planning with other student accounting groups on campus, as well as the group Women in Business, the approximately 25 members of AFWA have developed two niche programs.

The first is a financial literacy presentation geared toward their peers. Last year’s event was highly successful and won the university’s 2018 Outstanding Educational Program Award for RSOs.

“We were really excited and proud of that accomplishment,” Spreier said. This year the group plans to offer a two-part series on financial literacy. The fall segment will discuss such topics as loans, credit cards, and interest, while the spring installment will feature employee benefit plans.

Additionally, the student organization has started a women’s book club. In April, this program came to the attention of the national leadership of AFWA when officers came to campus during the spring book club luncheon to present the student members with their chapter charter.

“They loved the book club so much that they asked me this summer to run a national book club,” said Spreier. “We had 30 women across the United States participate. It’s been really inspiring to talk to all of these successful women.”

The group read How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston, and Spreier developed reading guides and filmed five webinars to facilitate the discussion.

“It was an opportunity for me to demonstrate to myself that I had the ability to be creative,” Spreier said.

Seeing the success of students like Spreier is one of the most rewarding aspects of Seifert’s role as an educator.

“They’re doing great things,” Seifer said. “It’s better any day working with students. They keep you young because they’re young. It’s exciting to watch their minds work. It’s just the best job ever.”

She particularly appreciates such aspects of her role as fostering an exchange of ideas, offering career guidance, and seeing her students flourish as they gain knowledge and skills that will help them in their future endeavors.

“We try to keep long-term contacts with our students,” Seifert said. “We like to have that lifelong relationship. That’s what I like about ISU. People come here and stay, and then, we have the opportunity to be here for those students throughout their whole career. Then, they give money back, and then, we can invest in students again. It’s a very nice cycle of investing in the future.”