• Mel Jones

Where would I be if not for a teacher? (posted for Ed Cook)

In everyone’s life, there are certain people who make a great impact on the direction of that life. Parents, of course, are among those making an impact, for better or worse, on everyone’s life but most everyone I know includes a teacher on their short list of the most influential people in their lives. In my case, I have 2 teachers, but two stand out.

Where would I be without Jean Thomas?

My career was already planned for me. I was supposed to be a dentist. There had been a dentist in my family for over 100 years when I was starting high school, and I was the next designated dentist. I was OK with that. My Uncle Steve was a dentist. He had a nice boat, a house right on the water in Scituate, MA, a real nice car and other trappings of a well-paying dental practice. I could picture myself with that kind of income. So I started High School wanting to be a Dentist. I took courses that you’d expect, Biology, Chemistry, fairly advanced math, etc. By the time I got part way into my junior year, I realized, ‘I’m not real good at this stuff’. Dental School only takes “A” players, and I was definitely on the “B” team. At that point I was really confused about what to do with my life. OK, I was 17, who isn’t confused about what to do with the rest of your life?

Enter Jean Thomas. I took a class called Business Seminar my junior year which was my first business course. It was a combination of four business topics, including Bookkeeping. As the seniors left in May, I was the only one left in the class! Mrs. Thomas and I had a long chat the first day of 1 on 1. She asked what I was planning on for college. I told her I was not sure since I was not expecting to be a dentist and was not sure what to do. She suggested that we just do Bookkeeping for the rest of the class, about six weeks, and that would essentially be the whole Bookkeeping 1 class, and I could take Bookkeeping 2 as a senior, and maybe I could consider going to college to major in business and then go on to a business career. I never thought of that. Thank heavens she did. Well, we did complete the Bookkeeping 1 curriculum, and I guess I did well enough that they put me the top Accounting class instead of Bookkeeping 2. In the Accounting class, I got A’s on every test. It was easy for me. I figured I had found “my thing”. I had kept Mrs. Thomas updated with my progress during the fall and eventually told her I was applying to colleges for Accounting. She was thrilled.

I went to Northeastern University in Boston, graduated with a degree in Finance, and a couple of years later went back and got my MBA in Accounting. I have had a reasonably successful business career for 30 years including the three years of Co-op I had while in school. I also have been teaching Business for 20+ years as a second job most of that time and primary income for much of the time I was out of work a few years ago. Without Jean Thomas I am pretty sure things would not have turned out this way, or at least would not have worked out as smoothly.

Where would I be without Lal Chugh?

Lal, who is from India, was one of my undergraduate professor’s at Northeastern University for the first time in 1977. There were two other classes I took with him after that, but it was the first one, in my sophomore year, that has made an indelible impression on me for 40 years.

On the mid-term, I got a grade of 60! He wrote on the paper to “See Me.” When I went to see him my knees were shaking…with a 60 wouldn’t yours be? He asked me why I had gotten such a bad grade after I participated in class and seemed to know the material. I told him I had worked the night before and did not have time to study. He asked where and how much I worked, when I told him I worked 35 to 40 hours a week, he asked why do you work so much? I told him, I have to work to pay my tuition. He said…and this is what hit me…”Mr. Cook, if you don’t get better grades than this, you won’t have tuition to pay.” I immediately went to the pay phone and called my manager and told him to cut my hours to 15 a week. My GPA went up every quarter from then until graduation.

Professor Chugh and I became real friends as time went on. He wrote me letters of recommendation for Graduate school and then in 1984 he disappeared. In 1986 I found he had gone to UMass Boston as Department Chair of Accounting and Finance. I called him, and we had a nice chat, and I told him I was starting my MBA. When I finished my MBA, he hired me to teach at UMass Boston. That was in April 1992. In late 2010 I was laid off from my job. I was asked to fill in for Lal as he needed surgery in early 2011 and was not able to teach for the spring. Later that year he took a sabbatical, and when he was coming back, he told me he really liked the casebook I had put together for the course we both teach. It was a simple compliment but coming from him it was as good as gold. All these years later after he hired me, he has always been the guy I go to first for advice, and counsel. He has always been very nice to me and one of the most important influences in my academic and professional life. I will never forget him either. Now that he is retired, we go to lunch every couple of months and talk and solve the world’s problems.

If it weren’t for these two, I am sure I would be in a very different place. Who was it that changed your life? There are probably several. We did not get where we are alone.

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