Doris Kelly won’t shy from telling you that the world of accounting is cutthroat—especially for women. A new professor in Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, Kelly has experience both working in the accounting field and teaching finance, and knows what it’s like to fight for her place in a male-dominated industry.
Kelly spent the past nine years teaching just six miles away at Bentley University, her alma mater. At Bentley, she was appointed to the inaugural Bentley Learning and Teaching Council in 2015 and awarded the Innovation in Teaching Award in 2017. Along with almost a decade of teaching experience, she has spent over 30 years working as both a public and private accountant. Now, she’s bringing her expertise to BC.
Kelly was born and raised about seven miles away from BC in Waltham, Mass. The child of two Canadian immigrants, she yearned to see what was outside her blue-collar neighborhood.
“When I got to middle school, I understood that I had an asset that I needed to use, which was my brain,” Kelly said. “I knew that I could go far and … education was the route to go.”
College was the goal, but Kelly had a tough road ahead of her. As a first-generation student in a predominantly working-class town, she had very few resources and role models to help her, leaving her to figure out the college application process by herself. She even remembers being the one who helped her older brother—who was often mistaken to be her twin because they went to college in the same year—with his college application while also working on her own.
Kelly’s hard work paid off when she received the presidential scholarship from Bentley University, where she studied accounting. For Kelly, her analytical thinking style and natural talent for math—along with her claim that “a 7-year-old could write a better story than [her]”—made accounting an obvious choice of study. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in accounting, a master’s in taxation, and an advanced graduate certificate in taxation, she dove head first into the corporate world.
Kelly spent over 30 years in the business community as both a certified public accountant and a private accountant. She continues this work today as a private consultant for Alipes, Inc. along with being a full-time professor. While she appreciates her time as an accountant and the skills it provided her for both the corporate world and the teaching world, she admitted that the business world can be very draining and thankless, especially toward women.
A majority of Kelly’s time working in private industry was before the “#MeToo” movement garnered public attention in 2017. Kelly said that when she was an accountant, she was often manipulated by companies and not treated with respect due to her gender. It was for these reasons she decided to enter the world of education.
Since her career shift, Kelly has found her role as a professor to be incredibly rewarding. Her favorite part about teaching, she said, is the fact that she can make a change in young people’s lives for the better, sometimes without even knowing it. She also said that most of the time, she doesn’t even realize the impact she has on her students.
One example she gave was a student she taught when she was an adjunct professor in 2001. Eighteen years later, this student reached out to Kelly to thank her for inspiring him to be an accountant, Kelly said. The student told Kelly that his wife, who is also a teacher, encouraged him to thank the teachers in his life who helped him become the man he is today.
Another one of Kelly’s former students, Catie Wojnar, Bentley ’18, spoke of Kelly’s devotion to her students. Wojnar was Kelly’s student for two years and described her as a tough teacher, but overall committed to her students and to teaching—she even helped Wojnar land her first internship for the summer of her junior year.
“Throughout my time at Bentley, she became both a friend and a mentor to me on campus,” Wojnar said. “She would email me asking how I was doing … just kind of checking in on me.”
Nathan Schroeder, CSOM ’22, met Kelly when he took her Managerial Accounting course at Bentley before transferring to BC. Partway through the semester, when Schroeder asked Kelly for his mid-term report because he was hoping to transfer to BC, they realized that they might both be transitioning from Bentley to BC the following year.
After applying to BC, Schroeder was initially waitlisted, but when he shared this with Kelly, she immediately made a phone call on his behalf, he said. The fact that Kelly went the extra mile to vouch for him as a student and person was meaningful to him and speaks to Kelly’s character, he said.
“She ended up calling … and telling the head of undergraduate admission why I was a good choice for BC,” Schroeder said. “… I have no way of knowing if it was just her who ended up helping that out, but it definitely didn’t do anything to hurt that.”
Kelly’s prior experience has helped her become a better teacher, she said, because she is able to illustrate accounting concepts with real-life examples from her years as both a private and public accountant.
“[Students] devour the stories,” Kelly said. “The stories are wonderful because they help them connect how this concept is going to play out and how they are going to use it. I teach them how to apply the concept.”
Her background as a CFO for Alipes, Inc. also gives her ample stories from the workforce to share with her students. Kelly customized each of her PowerPoints to include these examples, Schroeder said.
“When we were trying to break apart the concept of costs, she used an example of an airplane and the step-by-step process of making an airplane and what costs relate to what in Managerial Accounting,” Schroeder said. “It was just realistic applications along with her own touch that really made it a fantastic course.”
Kelly’s real-world experience also aids her in her role as an academic adviser. When giving students career advice, she tries to be honest and straightforward.
“Public accounting isn’t for everybody,” she said. “It’s a lonely life, you know, for three years there won’t be that work-life balance. You hear the stories about working 70-hour weeks, and it’s true.”
Antonella Spinace-Casale, a professor in Bentley’s finance department, worked closely alongside Kelly for years. She recalled many instances where she did not have specific work experience to illustrate a certain concept, so she would turn to professor Kelly for assistance.
“What Doris would add was always something related to a company that she had experience with,” Spinace-Casale said. “She would always bring in something real. I would say, ‘Okay, can I use your example and your slides?’”
Other Bentley professors—even the department head—would often turn to Kelly for input on their assignments and exams, according to Spinace-Casale.
“I wish all of my colleagues were like her,” Spinace-Casale said. “She’s such a hard worker and she really does everything for the team. You could ask her anything and everything. She’s very detail oriented, so we knew if Doris had seen the project or the case that we were going to assign, we would know for sure that it was perfect.”
Spinace-Casale also said she has referred many students to Kelly for advising in the non-profit financial services industry, where Kelly has significant experience.
“I would use her professional experience both ways—one as an adviser and one in the classroom,” Spinace-Casale said.
Having been in the corporate world, she said that she knows how difficult it can be, especially for women who often experience imposter syndrome, a phenomenon in which accomplished individuals doubt their abilities and believe they will one day be exposed as frauds. One of Kelly’s main goals as an adviser is to empower young women and create a space that helps them learn to stand up for themselves in the business world, she said.
Coming to BC, Kelly said she’s very thankful for the support she has received from the administration. She said that she appreciates BC’s commitment to undergraduate academics and providing the best education and the best professors for its students. From a faculty standpoint, Kelly also said she is thankful to BC for providing workshops and encouragement over the summer to help her transition—she specifically noted that she received a personal email of encouragement from Andrew Boynton, dean of CSOM.
Still, changing jobs in the middle of a pandemic has been difficult. Kelly worked all summer to make sure that her class would be able to run smoothly despite all of the challenges thrown at her, her students, and the school.
First, she had to do the normal amount of class preparation for a teacher returning to teaching a course for the first time in years.
“I had not taught financial accounting in the last four years,” Kelly noted. “It’s like riding a bike—it’s not a big deal, but in the beginning when you’re teaching a course for the first time, the prep is enormous.”
She then had to make sure that her class at BC could be taught in a world with COVID-19. She had to create a hybrid class that could be moved online at a moment’s notice, making sure lectures and additional resources were available to students online, and finding ways to administer tests and quizzes online.
One of Kelly’s unexpected problems has been figuring out where to put the speaker system in her classroom for students who have to Zoom into class. Since audio quality is pivotal for students’ ability to pay attention, finding the perfect location has almost become its own art form.
Kelly said the experience she has garnered throughout her years in the corporate and academic world has equipped her to guide students who are interested in those areas. At the end of the day, she wants to create a safe space for women looking to work in business, and she takes pride in the effort she has made so far.
“I want to make sure that … females stand up for themselves,” she said. “That they [know] they are just as smart if not smarter than their male counterparts.”
Photo Courtesy of Doris Kelly