EMBA Faculty Feature - “It’s Numbers, But It’s Not Calculus” – An Interview with Dr. Robert Cornell

Picture of Professor Robert Cornell
Jun. 18, 2021

Though he’s been teaching for nearly 20 years, Dr. Robert Cornell is still capable of being surprised, and impressed.

“I’ve taught executive programs before, but the caliber of bios in EMBA Cohort 19 is not what I anticipated,” he explains. “This group can ask really interesting, insightful questions that cause me to pause and say, ‘I haven’t thought of that before.’”

A veteran of academics and the accounting discipline, Dr. Cornell teaches EMBA 711 – Managerial Accounting as part of UNLV’s Executive MBA program. It’s his first experience teaching in the program after several years as Chair of the University’s accounting department – “The EMBA was an opportunity to get back in the classroom with a different set of students,” he says -- and he’s eager to talk numbers with the current cohort. 

“We have students that can and do compete with those at the top schools in the country,” Dr. Cornell says. “And from a conceptual perspective, UNLV’s academic reputation in accounting nationwide is very, very strong.”

So strong, in fact, that UNLV’s Lee Business School has for years been a leading destination for accounting graduates. The EMBA program may be different from the accounting major, but as Dr. Cornell explains, the knowledge is essential to every student’s future.

“We don’t anticipate these students are working to become controllers or CFOs,” he says. “But they need to understand the principles of managerial accounting and its subset cost accounting – both covered in EMBA 711 – and how that information reflects their organization.”

‘Understanding Financial Information at its Essence’

Cohort 19 is among the most diverse to ever enter the EMBA program, with engineers, entrepreneurs, and doctors among them, and while the concepts covered in EMBA 711 can seem intimidating on the surface, Dr. Cornell says accounting itself is not mathematically intense. In fact, he adds, a high school algebra class is all the preparation a cohort member needs before taking his class.  

“It’s numbers, but it’s not calculus, and these students are learning to understand financial information at its essence,” he explains. “Operating budgets, valuation of an entity, recording transactions, decision making – those are the types of things that managerial accounting can be used for, so we give students a framework they can take back to their organizations.”

Confidence Is Key

For Dr. Cornell, boosting the cohort’s confidence with accounting concepts is just as important as boosting their knowledge. Much of being an educator is being a cheerleader and an advocate for every student, he explains, and the success of Cohort 19 – our “pride and our product” -- will become the University’s legacy.

“I love most working with the student that lacks confidence at first and then, as we interact throughout the semester and I stay in touch with them, they go on to do exceptional things,” he says. 

With Cohort 19 working within UNLV’s “Hy-Flex” model, attending classes online and in-person, Dr. Cornell sees his role as expanding beyond the outdated image of a professor speaking before a lecture hall of students. 

Earlier in his career he was part of an intensive online learning program while serving as an assistant professor and later associate professor, for more than a decade, at Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business. Online learning, he explains, gives every student – introverts and extroverts -- a chance to participate in the conversation, and gives educators a chance to become better communicators and listeners while delivering “nearly identical content” as they would see in the classroom. 

The current cohort, he says, is “incredibly bright” and catches on quickly. Many of the students he’s spoken with are in the EMBA program because their careers have “plateaued” and they want to reach the next level. A foundational understanding of managerial accounting will broaden their hard and soft skillsets, and the confidence they’re gaining will unlock the leadership potential that lies within. 

“We want to capture the students that don’t understand how smart they are,” Dr. Cornell says. “They have the capacity, and our job is to come in and give it our all to make this program special.”