Retirement Beckons

Cliff Nelson is retiring this semester after 19 years at UConn. (Nathan Oldham/UConn School of Business)
Cliff Nelson is retiring this semester after 19 years at UConn. (Nathan Oldham/UConn School of Business)

Professor Nelson and His Never-Give-Up Outlook Will Be Missed

Don’t misunderstand Cliff Nelson.

It isn’t that he dislikes the students for whom accounting comes easily. They’re great. It’s just that the ones who struggle, persist and keep fighting until they understand the concepts—they’re the ones he enjoys the most. 

“When you help a struggling student, and you make a chart or draw a picture or you try different ways to get them to understand, and then they have a ‘Eureka!’ moment, that’s one of the most satisfying parts of my job,” said Nelson, an assistant accounting professor-in-residence who is retiring this semester after 19 years at UConn.

Nelson’s own determination played a key role in the expansion of the UConn chapter of Beta Gamma Sigma (BGS), the international honor society for business students.

Asked by Dean John A. Elliott to shore up the fraternity chapter several years ago, Nelson took the task to heart. He recognized that students had many clubs and activities competing for their time and that membership had to be something special.

Nelson and his team secured interesting speakers, empowered student officers, and embarked on a campaign to inform students about the fraternity. But he didn’t stop there. Nathan Ives, executive program director alumni relations and one of the BGS team members, created elaborate invitations that were presented personally to each candidate who had the academic credentials to participate. Membership increased and the UConn chapter now boasts the organization’s highest recognition.

Nelson has also served as the faculty adviser for the Accounting Society and Beta Alpha Psi, which recognizes scholastic excellence. He has accompanied students to many regional and annual conventions.

“It would be difficult to think of a harder working person with an ability to go in many directions to take on new and challenging jobs,” said accounting professor emeritus Dick Kochanek. “He contributed in so many ways to the accounting department. He was always positive, always capable, and always a great friend. We will all miss him.”

“Cliff has had a lasting impact, directly and indirectly, on all school of business majors during his time at UConn,” said Professor George Plesko, head of the accounting department. “His dedication to the students in Beta Alpha Psi is wonderful example of how faculty can enrich the academic experience of students outside of the classroom.”

Nelson came to UConn as a second-career professor after working as an executive in the U.S. sales operations for Xerox Corporation from 1969 to 1995. At UConn, he said, his co-workers were so welcoming he instantly felt at home.

“What I will miss the most is the camaraderie of the faculty and staff,” Nelson said. “I usually come in at 6:45 a.m. to prepare for my 8 a.m. class and I will miss saying good morning to my colleagues, having a cup of coffee with them and comparing teaching notes. They are a nice group of people.”

Nelson also helped develop the curriculum for the First Year Experience course and is proud of his contribution to create expanded sessions explaining and examining careers in the workplace. He has also served on a committee reviewing undergraduate curriculum and started an online managerial accounting class.

His contributions also extend beyond UConn. He has represented the University at Charter Oak State College, a degree completion program for people with extensive workforce experience, for 10 years, reviewing applicants and new programs there.

Associate dean and accounting professor Larry Gramling said that Nelson is a man who can be depended upon.

“Cliff was able to combine professionalism with a caring and nurturing spirit for the students,” Gramling said. “He made sure everyone performed at the highest level, but did so while being a kind guy. His involvement with the two accounting groups accentuated my opinion of him and feelings toward him as a truly great colleague.”

Nelson said he doesn’t think the idea of retirement has really sunk in yet. He still occasionally catches himself starting to plan for next semester. But when asked what aspect of his job he will miss the least, Nelson is quick to reply.

“That’s an easy question,” he said. “I won’t miss grading papers. For my cost accounting class, that’s a process that takes hours and hours.”

Soon after he retires, Nelson plans to resume his interest in playing the clarinet, an instrument he hasn’t touched in 10 years.

“I’m kind of rusty, but I’ll get up and running,” vows the man who was briefly a music major at the University of Illinois, where he earned all three of his degrees, including a doctorate in business administration in finance, accounting and economics.

He and his wife Linda are also regulars at a nearby gym and he plans to spend more time there as well as with his four children and five grandchildren.

From his vantage point, Nelson said, the School of Business is in good shape.

“The quality of the faculty is amazing,” he said. “We have fine teachers with extensive experience and I’m very impressed with the newer faculty as well. I think the school is going to blossom. We also excel in helping students find internships, and many of our accounting students have jobs lined up by the end of their junior year.”

When he closes his office door for the last time, Nelson said it probably won’t be the end of a UConn era for his family. He has a grandson in high school who is considering applying to UConn—as an accounting student.