Stephen P. Valenti, CPA

Chair of the Business Studies Department and Clinical Professor of Accounting, Paul McGhee Division, New York University
BY LINDA SEGALL

You don’t become wealthy as a teacher, but you can become rich in other ways. One of those ways is being able to devote my summers to what I love most—acting.

 

Although I’ve been interested in acting since high school, in college I was in only one production. After graduation, I put acting aside and concentrated on my professional and family demands. In 1994, however, I was on the full-time faculty at Hofstra University, which had a summer theater program. They were casting Man of La Mancha. I went out for it, and I got the part! Since then, with the exception of two summers, I’ve been in musicals every summer. I’ve played such diverse roles as Tevye and Lazar Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof; Padre and Sancho in Man of La Mancha; Max in The Sound of Music; and Marcellus Washburn in The Music Man.

 

Last summer I auditioned for summer stock at the Ogunquit (Maine) Playhouse, a 75-year-old theater, and was cast in the role of Lazar Wolf in Fiddler. What made it special was that I co-starred with Sally Struthers (Gloria Stivic in All in the Family) and Eddie Mekka (Carmine Ragusa in Laverne & Shirley). This was a professional production. It was a tremendously fun experience and a challenge to be in a production of 32 performances.

 

Acting has helped me grow as a teacher by developing skills to make my subject matter more interesting. It has also helped my family life. A lot of people who have busy schedules like mine complain they never have time for their families. Not me. My children and I have a great relationship, because the theater has bonded all of us together. Both of my daughters, who are now 18 and 21, have acted in at least seven productions each at Hofstra, and my wife, Mary Lou, a vice president of a major cosmetics company, also acts and does backstage work. I am there for them; and they are there for me. We support each other.

 

I have been teaching continuing professional education in the tax area, my specialty, ever since I received my master’s degree from Fordham University in finance, which I earned after graduating with a B.S. in accounting from Bucknell University. I still teach continuing education classes, but my full-time job is teaching nontraditional students at New York University.

 

Nontraditional students are individuals who did not complete their undergraduate degrees when they were young. Many of them are already quite successful; some want to complete their degree to get a promotion. Others want to try something different. Many work full time, are single parents, or have other barriers to overcome. I am impressed with the tremendous amount of knowledge these people have, and I find their contributions to the classroom invaluable. They have an element of maturity and perspective I didn’t see in the traditional students I previously taught.

 

Teaching mature adults finance and accounting, which is part of the core curriculum, has been a wonderful and challenging experience, especially when I work with students who have no intention of going into accounting but are taking it to round out their education or to gain a better understanding of business. My challenge is to make them appreciate the importance of accounting and financial issues. When some of these students, after taking my course, tell me they want to major in accounting, I am especially gratified. As a way of promulgating the AICPA’s financial literacy campaign, I have promised myself no student will leave one of my classes without a keen awareness of the importance of prudent financial cash management.

 

I said that no one gets rich being a teacher. One of the riches I have attained at NYU, however, is being privileged, for the last six years, to announce each student’s name at the division’s graduation ceremony. I feel tremendous pride for them, knowing how they have persevered to get that degree.

 

As accountants we work hard to remain technically competent. That’s very important. But just as critical is to remember life is more than work. Teaching and the theater balance my life. And that’s important to me.

 

—As told to Linda Segall

Photo by Evan Cohen

 

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