Spotlight on Theresa Campbell

We asked Theresa Campbell, alumni of the Master of Arts in Educating Adults (MAEA) at SNL, if she would share her experiences and advice with current and future SNL students.

Terri Campbell

MAEA Graduate Theresa Campbell


I live in Chicago and have for the better part of my life. The city has so much to offer and so much diversity in everyday life. Diversity to me is more than a wide variety of ethnic restaurant menus. It is being able to observe the everyday struggles of people, to witness the work ethic of various peoples, to be influenced by their culture and heritage. Even experiencing the violence, including deaths in my Rogers Park neighborhood enables me to understand what others, especially students, are experiencing.

What is your educational background?

I walked onto DePaul’s Loop Campus back in 1977 and just signed up for some accounting classes. Nine years later, through sheer perseverance, I completed a Bachelor in Commerce. I had already passed the CPA exam before I graduated, so I started working in public accounting. Fast-forward 25 years, the economy was collapsing, my job prospects as a construction auditor expert had dwindled, and I was ready for a new career direction. That led me to the MAEA program.

Why did you choose the DePaul Graduate School for New Learning?

At first, I did not know how long this economic situation was going to last, but while things were slow; I saw an opportunity to go to school. I choose SNL’s MAEA program because I wanted flexibility and I saw flexibility in its program design. I had the expertise in accounting; I needed to know how to deliver that expertise to learners in a variety of environments. I remember asking in my entrance interview, will I be able to teach community college, put on CPE seminars, or lead internal staff development in a CPA firm with this degree? I had not yet decided what direction my career was going to take.

What was your Applied Inquiry Project?

My AIP was about Informal Learning in the workplace with a specific application to small to midsized CPA Firms. I rather migrated to the topic. I started out looking at social learning theory, especially Bandura[i] work. I thought to apply it to how ethics and ethical behavior are learned in the workplace. During the literature search, I stumbled on a Canadian study on informal learning in the workplace whose author used the metaphor of an iceberg[ii]. That was it! All that is learned informally is hidden beneath the surface. My project was going to surface that learning for the public accounting firm workplace. I was thinking of a seminar, a webinar, or possibly some type of guide for CPA firms. At which point my faculty mentor asked me to be specific about the final deliverable product. So, I chose to write a self-published book.

Tell us about your academic team: your faculty mentor, project advisor and yourself?

My original faculty mentor was Morry Fiddler, who was having career redirection dreams of his own. I was still writing and researching when Catherine Marienau had to take over. It was a very smooth transition. I chose John Ahern as my project advisor. John is an accounting professor at DePaul and also teaches the internship class for accountants. John was much attuned to what DePaul graduates were experiencing in the “first job,” and he knew what was important to CPA firms. I would write some, then do more research, write some more, and then do more research. The project took longer than I had expected. I knew I had perseverance from my undergraduate work, but I often wondered if the rest of the academic team saw my perseverance. Studies have shown that character skills such as perseverance count more than intellectual ability in relation to long-term success.[iii]

What path did your career goals take after beginning the MAEA program?

My career goal was to change careers. I was able to solidify what my choice was after experiencing an adjunct teaching position at a small college. I knew I was going to be teaching college. Recently, I accepted a position with Harold Washington College in Chicago, to teach accounting through the business and professional career designated center. Obtaining the position might have been the combination of the MAEA and an MBA from DePaul Business School across the street. Colleges are constantly trying to align with business to better serve the students and the workplace that eventually hires them. I think having both degrees, in educating adults and in business, was essential to my current position.

I have not abandoned my interest in workplace learning in CPA firms, I may start a consulting or seminar type business during the summer months. I am not required to teach in summer, and CPA firms are in the “slow season” during summer months. The MAEA has provided me with the expertise to be able to accomplish that, when the time is right. The success of future businesses in this fast-paced global and technological world rests on a few keys ideas; innovation and learning organizations are among them. To be a contributing member in a learning organization, you need to be able to learn and teach your expertise to others. Knowing how we learn in what context we learn is essential to all people who work.

Can you tell us about any current projects you are working on?

I can give you a hint: I am in the research phase of another possible writing project on the transition of formal learning to informal workplace learning. I am constructing a bridge to guide the college senior into the business workplace.

How have you been able to apply your learning in the workplace?

Every day I apply what I have learned. During the difficult winter we just passed, I had a group of students start venting and getting angry at the administration of the college. They were not able to sit down in the class. I texted an emergency message to the Dean, then asked the students to think of solution routes for the issues they had.  Then a guided imagery popped into my head. Someone from our cohort had done a guided imagery demonstration and Professor Pamela Meyer had taught guided imagery as well. Next thing I know I am telling them to stretch their hands up in the air like trees, reach for the sky, breathe, breathe, ground your feet in the earth like roots of the tree. Breathe. Within seconds they all sat down and were fully engaged in the lesson. Moments later the Dean drops in to say she is observing today. She had a puzzled look on her face and asked me later, “How did they calm down?” I replied, “Oh, just something I learned at School for New Learning.”

Do you have any advice for graduate students or prospective graduate students?

While it might seem at times the learning is narrowly applied to your specific application, it is the process of application that solidifies your learning. It is that learning that you will be able to apply to any context in the future.

Who is the most influential person in your life?

My mother is the most influential person in my life. Margaret, at 85, is a lifelong learner, a critical thinker and an avid reader. Ever since she aged out of the orphanage school at 16, she has been an informal lifelong learner.

Thank you,

Theresa Campbell, CPA, MAEA, MBA

[i] Bandura, A. (1977) Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

[ii] Livingstone, D.W. (1999) Exploring the icebergs of adult learning: Findings of the first Canadian survey of informal learning practices1 WALL Working Paper No.10. Canadian Journal for the Study Of Adult Education, 13-2, pp. 49-72.

[iii] Heckman, James J. and Kautz, Tim (2013, Nov.) Fostering and measuring skills: Interventions that Improve character and cognition. NBER Working Paper No. w19656. Available at SSRN:


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