For the second time in two years, a UConn Ph.D. student has won the prestigious $25,000 Deloitte Foundation Fellowship, an honor bestowed on only 10 future professors in the nation.
Ilona Bastiaansen, a fourth-year accounting doctoral student, whose thesis examines corporate bankruptcies, was one of the recipients. Each year doctoral students from more than 100 universities are invited to apply for the fellowship.
“I wasn’t expecting to win; it was an honor just to be considered,” Bastiaansen said, adding that the award is also very much a reflection of the expertise and dedication of the UConn accounting faculty.
“Our professors are our champions in both formal and informal ways,” she said. “They’ve taught us to develop our critical thinking, to explore the accounting literature, they’ve explained what makes good research, and how to understand it from multiple perspectives.”
Her dissertation looks at the spillover effects of corporate bankruptcies on peer firms. In her research, she looks at whether the demise of one company has ripple effects throughout the industry. Her other interests include corporate financial distress and financial disclosure.
The award, given to those interested in pursuing academic careers, will help her fund her education until she graduates in May 2023. She plans to apply for jobs in the U.S. and Canada, and her goal is to find a position in a top research university.
“Ilona is creative, thoughtful, and interested in exploring questions relevant to both practitioners and academics. She is extremely motivated in her research, but is also always ready to help fellow Ph.D. students, and excels in her teaching,” said accounting professor Alina Lerman, who is Bastiaansen’s adviser. “I look forward to seeing what great things she does.”
Winner is a First-Gen College Student
Bastiaansen, who is Canadian, said as an undergraduate at the University of Saskatchewan she began considering becoming a professor. But as the first in her family to attend college, she initially feared the profession was out of her reach.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2014 and took a job at Deloitte, in Canada, where she worked for three years. During that time, she also earned a master’s degree.
“I loved what I did at Deloitte, but I always stayed in touch with the university, and taught some evenings, and helped out with research,” she said. A one-year job as a lecturer at Saskatchewan convinced her to pursue her dreams of becoming a professor.
“I equally love research and teaching,” she said. “The teaching side is a great way to bring the real-world elements into the classroom, and research is a great way to disseminate information.”
The first time Bastiaansen stood before a graduate class as an adjunct instructor, one of the graduate students told her she’d better take a seat because the professor would be in shortly. She still laughs at the memory.
At UConn, she found mentors who guided her professional growth. Lerman forced her to “to step back and see the bigger picture, but also not to forget the details,” while professor and Ph.D. coordinator Todd Kravet fostered a collegial environment among all the Ph.D. candidates. Bastiaansen co-authored a paper with accounting professor Frank Murphy, and she said she’s appreciative of the interest he’s shown in her career.
“Yes, I won the award but it is a huge reflection of the department,” Bastiaansen said. “There’s no way I’d have received it without them. It’s not just personal win, but a reflection of the amazing and collegial UConn faculty.”
Two Winners in Two Years
This is the second consecutive year a UConn Ph.D. candidate has won the award. Trent Krupa, who won the award last year, has successfully defended his dissertation and accepted a position at the University of Arkansas.
“These grants are awarded at a critical time in a future educator’s academic journey,” said Erin Scanlon, Deloitte Foundation president.
“This financial support encourages the selected Ph.D. candidates to devote themselves full time to the final step of researching and writing their dissertation, and is one way the Foundation can help to strengthen the quantity and quality of accounting professors who will teach thousands of students over time.”
Kravet said the award brings great pride to the department.
“To have two Deloitte winners in the last two years is a validation of the quality of our faculty and our students in the Ph.D. program,” Kravet said. “We have an outstanding group of faculty and students and I am really proud they are being recognized in this way.”
Professor George Plesko, who leads the Accounting program, said it is gratifying to be able to mentor the next generation of accounting faculty, who will shape the careers of thousands of future industry leaders.