Hollywood has created many movies about dedicated and inspiring teachers. From To Sir, With Love to Mr. Holland’s Opus, we have seen how teachers have changed the lives of students in countless ways.
Michigan Tech’s School of Business and Economics has its own teaching legend. Although his story will likely never appear on the silver screen, memories of Accounting Professor Sam Tidwell continue to echo through the School’s halls. Tidwell died in 2002, but his legacy lives on in each student who came into his classroom.
A native of Mississippi, Tidwell was often referred to as “Gentleman Sam” for his southern drawl, dry sense of humor, and sophisticated presentation. He was interested not only in making the world of accounting more exciting and accessible, but also in teaching his students, many of whom were “rough around the edges,” about manners and professionalism.
Former student Ed Robinson ’66 recalls Tidwell with great affection. “I switched out of engineering and moved to business and accounting because of Sam... He was a student’s professor. His whole interest revolved around the students. I remember spaghetti dinners at his home, his hospitality. He maintained contact with all his students, and that didn’t stop after graduation. He extended himself tremendously. If anyone could be held up as a model teacher, it would be Sam Tidwell.”
Paula (Kauppi) Seiter ’70 was the first woman to pass the CPA after graduating from Michigan Tech. “I found Sam Tidwell’s enthusiasm for accounting contagious, and it inspired me to pursue a career in accounting,” she says. “I have fond memories of Sam: the enthusiastic professor, southern gentleman, and all-around great person.”
“I still have hanging on my office wall a letter, a full page, before word processors, that he sent me at the completion of my freshman year,” says Dan Greenlee ’74, Michigan Tech’s chief financial officer. “He recognized my good grades and encouraged me to continue within the accounting major. He also invited me to stop by his office anytime and discuss where the accounting field could take me. His closing line always reminds me how he supported and encouraged his students: ‘I believe that you have all the material necessary to make a significant contribution to the business world, through accounting.’”
Not only did Tidwell make an impression on his many students, he made an impact on the accounting teaching profession. “He was a leader in the field of public school accounting,” says Robinson. “He put on seminars at Michigan Tech every summer for school administrators and caused a massive improvement nationally in public school fund accounting.” Tidwell authored four editions of the first textbook in the field.
Soon after coming to Michigan Tech in 1956, Tidwell started his red tie tradition. He requested that each student send him a red tie after he or she had passed the CPA exam. He then wore the tie, the more garish the better, to class and told his current students about the former student’s success.
Tidwell retired from Michigan Tech in 1984. In 1999, the School of Business and Economics established the Tidwell Center for Business Excellence. The Tidwell Center consists of endowment funds to support accounting scholarships and direct student services, such as counseling, tutoring, and mentoring. In addition, the student lounge and study center was remodeled and now carries his name.
In memory of Sam Tidwell and his dedication to students, the School of Business and Economics is resurrecting the red tie tradition (see sidebar). Once again, each accounting graduate who passes the CPA exam will be asked to send in a red tie.
“A teacher like Sam Tidwell is rare,” says Dean Darrell Radson. “We want to continue to honor Sam and to keep connected with our alumni. We are resurrecting and reinvigorating the tradition to help inspire a new generation of accountants.”
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.