Perfect Pitch

Darren Bernard hits all the right notes, wins the PACCAR Award for Excellence in Teaching

When asked, a few years ago, what he would be if not an accounting professor, Darren Bernard (PhD 2016) replied: “park ranger.”

It’s a noble profession, to be sure. But that alternative path might have squandered the gifts of a supremely effective management educator. It certainly would have been the Foster School’s loss.

Need proof? In only his second year on the Foster faculty, Bernard has won the PACCAR Award for Excellence in Teaching.

The Foster School’s highest teaching honor was established in 1998 by PACCAR Inc, the Fortune 200 global technology company based in Bellevue, Washington. The PACCAR Award’s annual recipient is selected by Foster MBAs.

This year’s students were won over by Bernard’s innovative and inclusive methods, disarming humor and deeply felt sense of caring.

“Darren makes managerial accounting compelling and approachable for everyone,” wrote one Foster MBA student in nominating Bernard for the award. “From his conversational teaching style to the variety of supplemental class materials, it’s all wonderful. AND the music he plays before class sets a great tone, as well.”

Setting the tone

About that music… Bernard commences each class session by blasting a classic jam for his arriving students. More than an excuse to play DJ, there is purpose in the pop.

“The music matters,” he says. “It seems so minor. But it puts everyone at ease, including me. I mean, if your professor starts class with TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ or George Michael’s ‘Freedom,’ how tense can you be?”

My cases have unusually diverse protagonists, but it’s more than that. I incorporate DEI topics into case questions and class discussions as well. The point I try to get across is that even systems like activity-based costing and transfer pricing that seem so divorced from issues of DEI oftentimes aren’t.”

Darren Bernard

Musical preludes are only the start of Bernard’s distinctive pedagogical methods. He also has continued an effective practice that he began, by necessity, when the pandemic forced classes online. That is, he produces short, entertaining videos (with Drew Nakashima, Jon Keib and other Hybrid MBA Program staff) that introduce key concepts ahead of class sessions. He even earns raves for the blooper reel he releases at the end of the course.

“It’s fun to watch your professor embarrass himself!” he says.

Diversifying case studies

Bernard is also widely celebrated for his efforts to diversify the real-world examples and case studies he creates and uses to cultivate a more inclusive environment in the classroom—and present DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) issues that students might otherwise overlook.

His cast of protagonists is ethnically and culturally diverse, and includes non-binary and LGBTQ+ managers who work in industries and businesses that would not likely populate your typical HBR case study.

The work earned Bernard and Sarah Shaikh this year’s Lex N. Gamble Family Award for Curriculum Innovation and Case Development.

“Darren has put tremendous thought into his curriculum and pedagogy,” a student wrote. “He listens to his students and implements feedback to continually improve the experience of his class, and he includes diverse representation in the cases he writes and is respectful and culturally competent in class.”

“Darren’s cases are an incredible breath of fresh air,” wrote another. “They make us all feel like we belong in business school, too.”

Bernard explains that presenting a diverse array of protagonists opens the door to deeper learning. “It’s more than that,” he says. “I incorporate DEI topics into case questions and class discussions as well. The point I try to get across is that even systems like activity-based costing and transfer pricing that seem so divorced from issues of DEI oftentimes aren’t.”

A homecoming

Bernard joined the Foster School in 2020. But he was no newcomer. After earning his BSB in accounting, finance and entrepreneurial management from the University of Minnesota, becoming a CPA and working as an international tax consultant for Deloitte, he began his doctoral work in accounting at the Foster School in the early 2010s.

Past and present PACCAR Award winners Frank Hodge and Darren Bernard.

While in the PhD Program, Bernard studied under a powerhouse team of advisors and mentors. His doctoral committee included Dave Burgstahler (chair) and Dawn Matsumoto from the Department of Accounting, and Ed Rice and Jon Karpoff from the Department of Finance and Business Economics. He also learned volumes as a teaching assistant under Dean Frank Hodge, recipient of the 2014 PACCAR Award.

After earning his PhD in accounting in 2016, Bernard commenced his academic career at the London Business School before returning to Seattle in the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His research examines the interplay of product market competition and financial reporting decisions. It has been published in the Journal of Financial Economics, Journal of Accounting Research, Management Science and other top journals.

But the teaching of this newly tenured associate professor of accounting and John B. and Delores L. Fery Faculty Fellow is what has really captivated students.

Guiding principles

Modeling a growth mindset in the classroom, Bernard says he’s always looking for ways to improve his ability to convey useful knowledge to his MBA students—the vast majority of whom are not seeking careers in managerial accounting. He credits colleagues like Matt Huston (director of course development in the Hybrid MBA Program) and Sarah Shaikh (the Durwood L. Alkire Endowed Professor of Accounting) with his continuous development as an instructor.

“I’m still figuring out how to keep 60 students engaged in an hour-long conversation about budgeting variances,” he says. “But I have found that lots of simple things matter, like humor and intentional pauses. Even more important is credibly showing students that you care and want to listen to what they have to say.”

His guiding principles? Less is more. Stay in the real world. Variety is key. “A lot of my prep time goes into finding novel angles at the content to keep class fresh,” he says.

A consensus of MBAs would suggest he’s doing just that.

“Professor Bernard’s managerial accounting course has been thoughtfully and meticulously constructed to ensure that we not only learn the material but have opportunities to actively engage with it and see how it applies to real corporate decision making,” offered one more student. “Beyond that, he is kind, respectful and supportive, and goes out of his way to check in on his students’ well-being. Foster is lucky to have him.”

The National Park Service’s loss, our gain.

PACCAR and its founding Pigott family are longtime supporters of the Foster School. In addition to the PACCAR Award and three endowed faculty positions, support from the Pigott family and company was instrumental in building PACCAR Hall, the Foster School’s 135,000-square-foot classroom facility that was completed in 2010.

Ed Kromer Managing Editor Foster School

Ed Kromer is the managing editor of Foster Business magazine. Over the past two decades, he has served as the school’s senior storyteller, writing about a wide array people, programs, insights and innovations that power the Foster School community.