Inside Iowa State

Inside Archives

Submit news

Send news for Inside to, or call (515) 294-7065. See publication dates, deadlines.

About Inside

Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Nov. 18, 2005

The accidental academic

by Kevin Brown

The path that Susan Ravenscroft traveled to Iowa State might best be envisioned as a game of "Chutes and Ladders." It isn't your traditional academic story.

Ravenscroft, the Roger P. Murphy Professor of Accounting in the College of Business, was an honors high school student in Detroit when she left home and dropped out the last semester of her senior year. Chute.

Accounting professor Sue Ravenscroft visits
with a student prior to the start of class earlier this week.

Accounting professor Sue Ravenscroft visits with a student prior to the start of class earlier this week.Photo by Bob Elbert.

"My parents raised me to be practical, fiscally conservative and responsible," Ravenscroft said. "I'm from a blue collar background, so I knew about working. I knew how to find a full-time job, get an apartment and support myself." Ladder.

From there, she started night school and took English and civics classes. When she was two classes shy of a diploma, she opted out again. Chute.

"I didn't want to take the extra classes -- they weren't challenging or interesting," she said. "And, at the time, I thought I probably didn't need a diploma."

Before Ravenscroft dropped out of high school, she had been accepted to Wayne State University, Detroit. No one asked about a diploma; it was assumed she had it to be accepted. So, she started college that fall. Ladder.

She later left Michigan, moved to Colorado and then to Washington and took enough courses to complete two years of college. Ladder.

When the University of Washington, Seattle, wouldn't take her as a transfer student because of her lack of a high school diploma, she returned to Wayne State to finish college. Chute.

To avoid being stopped by the lack of a high school diploma again, she took a GED test and had her diploma in two hours.

"It's great -- they grade it while you wait," Ravenscroft said of her official record of high school equivalency.

She was studying for a doctorate in philosophy from Michigan State University in the mid-1970s when she changed course and entered the MBA program at the University of Detroit. Ladder.

"I sought a different academic field because it was the practical thing to do," Ravenscroft said. "I chose accounting because of the job availability, and I was recruited because of my high scores on the Graduate Management Admissions Test."

"I have met very few professors who began as high school dropouts," Ravenscroft said. "It is unusual, but obviously not an impediment."

Accountants and communicators

In fact, Ravenscroft has met other high school dropouts who went on to become university faculty. She even has offered to counsel similar ISU students studying to become professors. Teaching and mentoring students comes second nature to her.

"I loved school," she said. "Whatever grade I was in, that was the grade I wanted to teach. Every level of school I was in, that was the level that inspired me."

Sparking potential in students is something she works at. Ravenscroft is adviser to the Gamma Phi Beta sorority and a strong proponent of ISU Comm and the importance of using written, oral, visual and electronic tools effectively in today's world. She advises accounting students and teaches governmental, nonprofit and honors managerial accounting classes.

With Brian Hentz, a doctoral student in rhetoric and professional communication, she has earned a Miller grant to create teaching models for faculty in the College of Business. The purpose is to help faculty add communicating-to-learn principles in upper-division business courses.

"Brian and I will modify assignments and assessment tools to focus on developing stronger communication tools that foster critical thinking," she said.

Student cheating, real and otherwise

Some of her recent research focuses on students and their practice and view of cheating.

"I examine how students rationalize cheating," Ravenscroft said. "We've found that students who cheated are less honest about how they cheated. We also look at how students view their cheating or the cheating activities of others."

"Students who cheat themselves don't view it as cheating because they describe it as necessary," Ravenscroft said. "Necessary because of time constraints or because a friend needed help or because they needed help. These students will try to distance themselves from 'real' cheating. For example, students will say what they did was not actual cheating, but what others do is real cheating."

Ravenscroft also researches stock option reporting.

"I look at whether the required reporting asks people to make predictions that auditors can and should be auditing," she said. "If you assume interests rates and performance far into the future, then you assume that who is managing the company doesn't make a difference. But, if you assume that, then why provide compensation to individual managers based on the future performance? The reasoning underlying stock option accounting is self-contradictory."

She is the editor of Issues in Accounting Education, and serves on the editorial board of Behavioral Research in Accounting and Advances in Public Interest Accounting. She has worked for Peat Marwick Mitchell (now KPMG) and is a CPA in Iowa.

Community volunteer

As committed as Ravenscroft is to her job and students, she gives time to the Ames community. She was active in this month's municipal elections, serving as treasurer of the Jim Popken at-large council campaign. She has followed the possibility of a new mall development on Ames' east side.

"I have been writing letters to the editor that approach the lifestyle center (mall) from the standpoint of an auditor examining a business plan," she said. "The letters focus on the hidden costs of development -- the infrastructure, operating costs and cost to existing businesses and employment. Examined under an auditor's eye, there are inconsistencies in some of the assumptions about the project that people need to think about."

Ravenscroft finds time to train her dog, Motley, a Brittany Spaniel mix, plays piano and read novels to "just let my imagination fly."

"My piano teacher is very proud of me," Ravenscroft said with a smile. "I'm finally starting to use the metronome when I practice."


"I have met very few professors who began as high school dropouts. It is unusual, but obviously not an impediment."