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Ryan Ball, assistant professor of accounting at the Ross School of Business, is the 2016 recipient of the Golden Apple Award.
Created in 1991, the Golden Apple Award seeks to honor teachers who consistently teach every lecture as if it were their last. As a part of the award, each recipient is invited to speak to the University of Michigan on a topic that they would choose as their “last lecture.”
LSA sophomore John Petrie, who serves on the Golden Apple selection committee that determines the winner each year, said Ball’s nomination was a standout among the approximately 1,000 votes the committee received this year from students.
“This year it was an easy one,” Petrie said. “Because when you have a record-breaking number of nominations (for Ball), many of which are heartfelt and lengthy, it’s not too difficult of a selection to make.”
Petrie emphasized the comprehensive selection process that goes beyond just the quantity of votes each nominee receives from students.
“There’s not a rigid criteria as to how the selection goes,” Petrie said. “Some years there’s going to be the person who has the most in number as far as nominations. And some years it’s not, because there are going to be some comments that seem very heartfelt and long.”
Originally an engineer by trade, Ball said credited his success as a professor to his wife’s decision to return to school and his accounting professor who drove him to enroll in MBA and Ph.D. programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“In my first accounting class I took, my instructor made a blanket offer to the class,” Ball said. “And he said, ‘Hey, there’s a real shortage of accounting in academics. I would like any of you to come talk to me about a Ph.D.’ So I took him up on the offer and the rest is history.”
Speaking to his decision to transition from engineering to business, Ball highlighted the human interaction aspect of business that may not be as large a part of engineering.
“Engineering tends to be focused on the known aspect, you design stuff the way you know it,” Ball said. “Whereas in business it’s about human interactions with real financial models and financial markets. It’s got a little bit of everything having to do with the human race.”
Concerning the classroom, Ball said he likes to bring a sense of importance, energy and compassion to both his work and interactions with students.
“It’s about bringing energy and enthusiasm and just a little bit of compassion and caring to the classroom that I think goes a heck of a long way,” Ball said. “I think that’s important in today’s environment where business schools are always at the leading edge of innovation.”
Attesting to these qualities, Business master’s student Celia Boren, one of Ball’s accounting students, said she enjoys the way Ball makes more convoluted material become straightforward.
“He makes the topic (of accounting) extremely approachable,” Boren said. “And something that is complex makes sense to people with a wide variety of experiences.”
Ball also cited taking feedback seriously as a vital part of classroom learning. To demonstrate his commitment to it, he asks students to voice that feedback through his own form at the start of the semester.
“I distribute my own, personal mid-course feedback form three weeks in,” he said. “And a lot of time, there are things in there that I can do to change (the class).”
Through placing importance on hearing what his students have to say about, Ball said he strives to create a unique dynamic in each of his classes.
“Every class is different, so every class requires a different approach,” Ball said. “It’s not that I’m trying to find the one size fits all. What works for one class may not work for next year’s class. It’s always about adjusting and adapting.”
Business master’s student Abbey Maglaris, another of Ball’s accounting students, said she now feels more confident in applying accounting material to real life situations.
“I think Ryan and his class have given me the ability and the confidence to understand what’s in the content,” Maglaris said. “(I) feel comfortable looking at it on my own or taking a stab at interpreting something that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing before.”
Maglaris and Boren both compared Ball to a dolphin, saying he is fluid, energetic, intelligent and very approachable.
“He sets the bar high,” Boren said. “But he also never doubts that you can get there.”