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People: The Art of Accounting

Uncategorized | Sep 11, 2020 |

By Chelsee Pengal


In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence hangs one of the most famous Renaissance works of art, Botticelli’s Primavera. It depicts nine mythological figures, including the Three Graces, goddesses representing feminine virtues, shown dancing.

“It is the most magnificent portrayal of women,” said Barbara Porco, Ph.D., who doesn’t miss a chance to view the painting whenever she visits Italy.

An accounting professor at the Gabelli School of Business, Porco had originally planned to be an art major. “My great-grandfather came to this country in 1895,” she said, “and he was commissioned to do the chiseling in some of the landmark buildings in New York City,” including the New York Public Library. Her mother is also an artist who paints with watercolors.

Though Porco’s decision to major in accounting meant following in her father’s footsteps, her goal was to become self-sufficient, just like the “long lineage of very strong, independent women” in her family. After earning her bachelor’s degree at Fordham, she landed a role in audit at PwC, and later became a tax director.

When her company offered national instruction training, Porco immediately volunteered for the weeklong program. It was then that she discovered she liked teaching, so she began to develop courses for her local PwC office and later created a course on security transactions. “We taught it to the New York practice and it was enormously successful,” she said, “so they started sending me across the country doing this training program.” 

She also started teaching in the Gabelli School’s executive education program on the weekends. A few years later, after a stint at Yeshiva University, she returned to Fordham as an accounting and taxation professor where she has remained ever since.

It was a homecoming that marked a new direction in her career and also led to Porco to earn MBA and doctoral degrees from her alma mater. Already a Certified Public Accountant, she later added Certified Fraud Examiner and Certified in Financial Forensics to her list of credentials. Over the years, Porco has won multiple teaching and research awards from organizations such as KPMG and the American Accounting Association (AAA).

Her career shift also inspired Porco’s deep interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues in business. She is particularly invested in the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal that encourages companies to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle because, she explained, “to me, knowledge is the most important thing we have to share.”

To expand her own knowledge on these issues, Porco pursued certification in corporate sustainability management and a master’s degree in sustainability and innovation management from Harvard University. Her efforts have led to new courses, securing the Gabelli School’s collaboration with the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and an upcoming ESG installment of her national award-winning educational resource, “The Ethical Compass—A Toolkit for Integrity in Business,” developed in collaboration with KPMG.

As much as Porco still enjoys public accounting, after more than three decades at Fordham, she has found that teaching “is probably a better way to reach more people.” 

Intending to reach even more, she published a case study with Jay Thibodeau, Ph.D., of Bentley University and Denise Hanes Downey, Ph.D., of Villanova University. Recipient of the AAA’s Innovation in Auditing and Assurance Education Award, the article provides faculty with a simulated electronic auditing experience for their students.

At the end of the day, Porco escapes the bustling city for the Westchester community she’s lived in all her life, grateful to have had another chance to bring her teaching philosophy to future generations of business professionals: “One student at a time, we can make a difference.”

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