From Bubble Gum to the Bedrock of Financial Security
Dr. Cathy Liu Makes the Case for Accounting
By Laura Wagner
Fun and accounting. Accounting and fun.
If you’re having trouble making the connection between those two words, you’re not alone. But Dr. Cathy (Zishang) Liu doesn’t have that problem. Liu is the Chair of the Accounting & International Business Department at the Marilyn Davies College of Business (MDCOB). “Accounting can be very fun and very creative,” she argues. “It’s not just crunching numbers.”
As evidence, Liu cites two accounting inventions: the first calculator (the abacus) and the income tax. Impressive achievements, but not exactly fun. She offers another example: bubble gum. Accountant Walter Diemer invented bubble gum while doing the books for a confectionary company back in 1928. (He also gets credit for the color of Double Bubble, an undeniably fun shade of pink.)
And Liu’s larger point is well taken: Good accounting requires the ability to consider novel (and legal!) ways of solving problems, open-minded thinking that leads to innovative methods of analysis. “Our profession requires creative solutions,” Liu states. “It’s a very versatile field, and it requires a focus on excellence that is its own reward.” She adds an old accounting joke, “When accountants do something, we ‘Excel.’”
At Home in Houston
Liu brought that excellence mindset with her from Beijing 20 years ago, when she moved to Houston and embraced the city as her “second hometown.” The vibrant culture and dynamic environment deeply resonated with her, she recalls. “And the UHD community stood out with its Texas-sized hospitality, fostering my professional development and growth,” she says. “It wasn’t just a choice to join UHD, it was a natural alignment with my personal and professional aspirations.”
Liu has demonstrated that alignment in her commitment to the campus community over the last dozen years. In her role as Department Chair and as the Director of the successful Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAC) program, she works with roughly 800 undergraduate and 200 graduate “learners,” as she calls them, noting, “It’s an enriching experience that continues to bring me great joy and fulfillment.”
Her teaching philosophy revolves around “active engagement and the power of reflection,” and her ultimate goal is to foster “true learners, not just good learners.” She explains the difference: “While the latter might excel academically, it’s the former who develop crucial lifelong skills such as critical thinking and the ability to tackle unlearned challenges and discover new things.”
Alum Miguel Rivas (BBA Accounting, 2019) confirms her method is successful, describing her impact as “profoundly transformative.” Rivas describes Liu’s teaching approach as “remarkable,” noting that it “reflects a genuine passion for the subject, making each class engaging.” And, he adds, “Her ability to present complex concepts clearly made even challenging topics accessible and exciting to learn.”
Liu’s commitment to student success includes supporting students who are struggling in class. She notes a good portion of the UHD student body suffers from a lack of time to study course materials. “I’m a big advocate for dedicated study time,” she says. “Approximately 80% of our learners are part-time, so I emphasize the importance of regular, focused study sessions and provide guidelines on how to optimize that time.” She also provides concise, easily digestible materials and makes herself readily available for questions.
From True Learners to True Professionals
Liu’s dedication to creating true learners extends to their professional lives. “I am particularly inspired by students’ transformation into proficient accounting professionals and productive members of society who want to give back to their communities,” she says. And UHD students are succeeding, as proved by the growth in recruiting outreach from “Big 4” and other prestigious accounting firms. “They used to overlook us,” Liu notes. “Not anymore. Now our graduates routinely get recruited by these top-tier firms, and our students earn top dollar in their internships—$30 per hour on average.”
Rivas is an example of that success. Now a Clinical Trial Financial Analyst at Baylor College of Medicine, he credits Liu’s “approachability and genuine care” for fostering a positive learning environment. “She empowered us to confidently embrace challenges and grow as individuals,” he notes. “I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to have learned from such an exceptional individual.”
In addition to teaching, Liu carries out research focused on earnings quality, auditing, and capital market anomalies. “I believe these areas are fundamentally crucial because, from my perspective, the quality of financial reporting forms the bedrock of our nation’s financial security,” she notes. “It not only reaffirms our central position as a global capital hub but also influences the prosperity and well-being of our citizens.” She sees the quality of financial reporting as a “vital pillar” supporting a democratic society, a belief reinforced by her collaborative work with colleagues.
The Path Ahead
With the demand for accountants in the marketplace at an all-time high, accounting professors like Liu have many opportunities. She has no interest in leaving UHD, however, noting, “This is a collaborative space where I work alongside colleagues who share my passion for continual improvement in student success. I’m constantly challenged and always learning.”
She credits the achievements of her department and the MPAC program to “the hard work and dedication of our faculty, staff, and particularly our learners.” But she adds that this is just the beginning of the journey. “UHD embodies a community dedicated to expanding access to higher education and fostering equal educational opportunities for all Americans,” she says, and in achieving that, “We still have a long way to go.”
Dr. Liu and the team at MDCOB ensure students have the opportunity to attend professional conferences and development events (photos by Dr. Liu).
- Grant Thornton on campus sharing insights with UHD Accounting majors at the TXCPA Event, Oct. 20, 2022. (left)
- Donna Hiller, Director of Qualifications for the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy, who presented up-to-date information on Evolution CPA Exam requirements, preparation, and future changes, Oct. 20,2022. (center)
- MDCOB Accounting & International Business students and faculty attended the 2023 National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) Elevate Annual Convention, June 7-10, 2023, in New Orleans, Louisiana – Recruiting the Future Stars of Accounting. (right)
Students interested in Accounting, International Business, Finance, and other business majors are encouraged to join the UHD chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) and Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA).