‘It’s about the students’
Margarita Lenk wins prestigious award for undergraduate instruction
by Joe Giordano
published Sept. 3, 2019
Photo by John Eisele
Margarita Lenk’s College of Business office in Rockwell Hall is filled with reminders of her students.
Amidst the shelves of textbooks, awards on her desk and framed diplomas on her walls are crayon-scribbled drawings by daughters and sons of her past students and photos of classes with messages of gratitude written around the edges.
It’s a trove of memories for Lenk, an associate professor in the Departments of Accounting and Computer Information Systems, who has been teaching students at Colorado State University for nearly 30 years.
“I have a deep sense of appreciation for the great students I have had the honor of teaching at CSU,” said Lenk, who estimates that she has taught more than 20,000 students since joining the college in 1991.
For Lenk, teaching extends beyond the classroom. Her students see her as a mentor, a career development coach and a professional cheerleader.
“I love to focus on training my students to enjoy developing their critical thinking in order to ignite their own passion to continuously improve their work-related skills,” she said, “such as their initiative and resourcefulness and their inclusiveness toward opinions and styles and interests that are different than their own.”
“I love to focus on training my students to enjoy developing their critical thinking in order to ignite their own passion to continuously improve their work-related skills.”
— Margarita Lenk, associate professor
It’s one of the reasons Lenk has been awarded numerous honors for her teaching. Among the many accolades, she is the recipient of the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the Board of Governors of the CSU System, the Outstanding Educator from the Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies section of the American Accounting Association, and the Outstanding Accounting Professor in the State of Colorado from the Colorado Society of Certified Public Accountants.
Most recently, the American Accounting Association awarded Lenk the AAA/J. Michael and Mary Anne Cook/Deloitte Foundation Prize, a prestigious honor recognizing some of the top accounting instructors around the world.
Lenk accepted the award, which included a $25,000 prize, in San Francisco in August in front of family and friends.
But for Lenk, it’s not about the awards and accolades, as she explained during an impromptu hallway conversation in Rockwell Hall with colleague Bill Shuster, a clinical professor who was congratulating her on her latest honor.
“It’s about the students,” she said.
Margarita Lenk accepts the AAA/J. Michael and Mary Anne Cook/Deloitte Foundation Prize from University of Alabama accounting professor Mary Stone (left) and Kathy Shoztic, executive director of the Deloitte Foundation. Photo courtesy of American Accounting Association
‘Power of smiles’
“Dr. Lenk is a professor that teaches with love. My favorite thing about her is that she is always motivational and loving. She always comes to class with a motivational talk, a smile, and an open heart. There is no way that I can’t share the same energy back with her. She treats us like her children and believes in us to succeed. … She is the reason why I love accounting this much.”
— Nouran Badwei, senior
Lenk doesn’t use “sincerely,” “best,” or any of the boilerplate ways people usually sign off on emails. Instead, she closes with “smiles.” It’s something she has been doing for years.
“I believe in the power of smiles,” Lenk said. “I don’t know how many millions of emails I’ve sent in my life, but it’s meant to be an invitation to more of a relationship and more of an interconnection.”
When it comes to teaching, Lenk brings that energy into the classroom.
Rose Montgomery, a senior who aspires to be a forensic accountant, experienced that energy first-hand as a student this summer. She said without a doubt that Lenk has been one of her favorite professors.
“Her encouragement and enthusiasm really inspired me to be the best student I could be,” Montgomery said. “I really felt that she cared for each of us as individuals and had an interest in our success. She did a marvelous job of conveying the material and also creating an environment where students could flourish.”
“I really felt that she cared for each of us as individuals and had an interest in our success.”
— Rose Montgomery, senior
Lenk can spend hours talking about cognitive learning and the current state of U.S. education. It’s an area that moves her. What she sees as a byproduct of the system’s evolution is that today’s students are craving ownership over the efforts in their lives.
“What I’ve noticed is the students are starving for self-determination,” she said, “and so we need to give them structured opportunities to help them develop themselves.”
In the classroom, Lenk said her goal is to equip her students with the professional knowledge, process, perspectives, and teamwork skills that will lead to their confidence, enjoyment, and satisfaction in their successful careers.
Margarita Lenk teaching in 2005, at graduation in 2017, and at the College of Business Accounting Alumni and Awards Banquet in 2017.
Shuster has seen it firsthand as a colleague as well as a student. Lenk said she can still remember him in one of her accounting courses and her internet strategy class during the dot-com boom more than two decades ago.
Shuster recalled her commitment to teaching the inner workings of different concepts as opposed to teaching the right answer. It’s something he said that she still does today.
“Learning is an iterative process, and Margarita gets that, versus let’s dump all of our stuff into an exam and you either get an ‘A’ or a ‘C,’” Shuster said. “Margarita gets that it’s two steps forward and one step back.”
‘Cares before she thinks’
“Margarita wants all of her students to thrive, and for that reason she is will shove anything that she is doing out of the way and talk to her students when they stop by for advice.”
— Max Rivera, junior
When Shuster was asked how he would describe Lenk as a colleague, he summed it up in five words.
“Margarita cares before she thinks,” he said. “That’s the best quote I can give for Margarita. She cares before she thinks.”
It’s a trait Lenk has embodied her entire life.
During her early years, Lenk bounced back and forth with her parents and sister between Argentina and the United States.
“At many times, the challenges of ‘fitting in’ when we were materialistically poor, culturally more different than just speaking a different language at home and not knowing Americanisms in speech and behaviors, living far from our very large family, and feeling the pressure to be successful – these challenges were oftentimes very heavy to carry,” she said.
Despite it all, Lenk said her positive personality has always been a constant throughout her life. “I just was born with this intellectual curiosity and this happiness,” she said.
Terry Campbell, a clinical professor in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, can attest to Lenk’s positive personality. He was one of her accounting professors when she was an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida.
For Campbell, who was on hand in San Francisco to see Lenk accept her latest honor, he has seen her come full circle from student to professor.
“Margarita was the rare accounting student as an undergraduate student. She was happy to be an accounting student, an accounting major, an accounting leader, and an accounting mentor,” Campbell said. “Margarita is the rare accounting faculty member. She is happy to be a faculty member; she is happy to be a faculty leader; and she is happy to be an accounting mentor. Most of all, she is happy to be a grandmother as well. Margarita is happy. Then, now, and I trust for always.”
“Margarita was the rare accounting student as an undergraduate student.”
— Terry Campbell, clinical professor, Indiana University
Jane Robbe Rhodes, vice chair of the CSU System Board of Governors, shared similar sentiments. She worked on the board with Lenk who recently completed a term as Faculty Council representative.
“Margarita’s personality was such a positive influence at the Board of Governors,” Rhodes said. “She brought a level of caring about any issue, understanding of the student experience coupled with how the faculty could get involved or how they would be impacted. She cared about being prepared and sharing her perspective in an educational way. She influenced by being a positive and thoughtful force. The gift of Margarita is that she can express her thoughts in a way that educates, empowers, and influences in a positive manner — what a gift.”
“The gift of Margarita is that she can express her thoughts in a way that educates, empowers, and influences in a positive manner — what a gift.”
— Jane Robbe Rhodes, vice chair, CSU System Board of Governors
Looking back on her career, Lenk said she has a deep appreciation for her parents, her teachers, and her students — all of whom have been there for her along the way. This is especially true when she thinks about her 2019 Cook Prize award.
“This award belongs to all of my alumni,” Lenk said. “Additionally, I feel that this award belongs to my parents, as they believed in me and pushed me along before I understood how I was going to contribute.”
As for where Lenk will showcase her latest honor, she said she hasn’t found a place in her office yet for the award, an impressive silver medallion. There’s not a lot of space on her walls and shelves or even her desk.
But it doesn’t matter because she’ll be wearing it proudly where it matters most — at graduation near her heart and with a smile.
Margarita Lenk at the 2017 College of Business Commencement ceremony. Photo by John Eisele
Words from more students
“I have had the honor of being both a student and a colleague of Dr. Lenk’s. I was a nontraditional student, changing careers in my early 40s. Dr. Lenk didn’t discount my prior professional experience. Instead, she used my stories to illustrate a classroom topic or engage in a sometimes lively discussion. Dr. Lenk was incredibly supportive at a time I wasn’t sure I ‘had what it took’ to be a CPA. With her encouragement, I earned a MAcc as well as my BSBA/Accounting. Dr. Lenk was instrumental in my appointment as an adjunct instructor and provided invaluable counsel while I was teaching. While I graduated a decade ago, Margarita is still available, helpful and invested in my success.”
— Beth Ellen Dixon (’07/’09), CPA, past student
“The first time I meet Professor Lenk was fall semester of sophomore year. I took her Honors ACT 210 class. The class was very challenging, but in a great way. I learned so much in one semester, and it inspired me to pursue a certificate in financial accounting. The other way that she has impacted me is that I was in the Otterbox Ethics Challenge along with three other young women at CSU. Professor Lenk mentored us — helping us with an executive summary, a 10-minute presentation and supporting us at the (very stressful) competition. We received second place at the competition, and I cannot thank her enough. She supported us the whole time, even showing up for meetings at 9 p.m. to watch us practice. She also helped fuel my passion for ethics … In addition to all of this, she set up for me to present the nonprofit I run, Score A Friend, to the CSU Board of Governors. It was an incredible opportunity and I, again, cannot thank her enough.”
— Sarah Greichen, junior, past student