My Favorite Professor

Alumni dish on inspiring professors at SU

Written by Tina Potterf (interviews)
Photography by John Keatley
September 13, 2012

Members of the Alumni Board of Governors share their favorite memories—and favorite professors—as undergraduates at SU.

Chris Canlas, ’01 (Economics)
On Professor Teresa Ling /Albers (Economics; Assistant Dean, Undergrad Programs)

A good teacher sets examples for his or her students not just inside the classroom, but also outside the confines of classroom desks and chalkboards. I have to admit that when I look back at my experience at Seattle U, I recall fondly that I had many of these types of professors. One of those professors was Dr. Teresa Ling.

Dr. Ling was my statistics professor (1999–2000) and I took two classes with her. As an Economics major, I loved the qualitative aspect of my discipline. But I dreaded the quantitative aspects of it. I dreaded numbers. So, you can imagine the horror of stepping into a college stats class and seeing Dr. Ling's slides of copious numbers filled with regression analysis and distribution curves. It wasn't the content that finally engaged me (I still hate numbers, ironically). It was how she taught stats to me. She was both patient and meticulous.

I remember one time where I shyly asked for an appointment in her office and she calmly and positively helped me through a stats concept I had difficulty understanding.

However, her impact to me does not stop there. She has always taught me the importance of being engaged in my community. I always see Dr. Ling at Mass at the Chapel of St. Ignatius. She is always present at university events, mingling and speaking with alumni and students.

It is clear to me that she loves Seattle U and that is present in her commitment to being present with others in this community. She could probably easily unplug from Seattle U after a long day of teaching in the classroom, but her example has taught me the importance of reconnecting with my university.

Teresa Ling

Teresa Ling, aka “The funny statistics teacher.” Yes, you’ve read that right. Professor Ling has a reputation for making statistics, a subject that causes fear to rise up in many … fun.

But for Ling, who has taught at SU since 1996 and who herself is an alumna, class of 1974, infusing humor into an Economics course is all for the benefit of the students—she wants them to really get statistics. So apart from her levity, she also looks for ways to make the subject matter relatable by framing it in real life scenarios.

Besides having students take a lot of in–class quizzes—a practice she picked up from her former SU math professor, Professor Emeriti Dr. Andre Yandl—to get quick feedback on whether students are understanding the materials, she also has them doing case studies. Students have to get the statistical analyses results across to lay audiences without using jargon terms.

When Ling first started teaching at SU, after a long stint at a university in Hong Kong, she was well received by students for her humor and accessibility. Well, by most students, anyway.

“The first time I taught at SU, one of my students—in her evaluation of me—wrote a four–page note about how bad I was,” Ling recalls, with a laugh. “I kept that note to this day.” The irony is that the following quarter, Ling was the recipient of a teaching award from Albers.

Working at the business school, where Ling is also assistant dean of undergraduate programs, is “my dream job,” she says. “I find it very uplifting when you see a student understand the material. It’s all about what we can do for the students.”

Check out a video of Chris and Teresa here.  

Kymberly Evanson, ’99 (French)
On Professor Dave Madsen (History; Honors)

My first quarter of the Honors program with Professor Dave Madsen was a daunting experience at first. His expectations were very high and the class moved quickly. But his class quickly became a favorite. He was so engaging, I wrote down every word he said in class. He would become so engrossed in the lecture—marching around the room, pulling off his tie and making wild facial expressions to drive home his point. He was hilarious and made the material approachable. And it was clear he really was moved by history. Rather than lecturing to us, it was more like he was telling a story.  
Speaking of stories, I recall a funny one: Before our first set of oral final exams, Professor Madsen gave us all his home phone number and told us to call him if we had a question while preparing for the exam. I was studying with a friend and we were having a hard time with a question on the study guide. After a while, we finally mustered up the courage to go to the pay phone and call. When we asked him a geography question, he responded, “Go look at a map.” And that was that.

There was no easy way out with Professor Madsen, which was part of why his class was so influential and prepared me well for my later studies.
I learned so much from Professor Madsen and from my overall experience at Seattle University. In his class, and so many others, I was engaged and challenged in ways that continue to shape my personal and professional development today.
I can sum up my experience at SU in one word: community. 

Dave Madsen

Professor Dave Madsen likens his style of teaching to that of conducting a boot camp—“college boot camp,” as he calls it.

“The bar has been raised and I expect students to respond accordingly,” he says. “I try to break students of their bad writing habits. I want them to recognize that they can be great writers. It takes time. That’s why college takes four years [to earn a degree].”

The longtime professor of history (who also teaches in the Honors Program) is known for his lectures as much as he is for his no-nonsense approach. Madsen, who graduated from SU in 1969, has taught here for 31 years. He expects student to do their best, to live up to their potential, to write well and read with a critical eye. He challenges them and in return, he earns the admiration of many for his ability to make a history lesson both educational and interesting. “I think that history is really about storytelling,” he says.

His path to becoming a professor was not a direct one. Born and raised in Everett, Wash., just north of Seattle, Madsen started out in the diocesan seminary with plans of becoming a priest. But, at age 19, he decided to enroll at university, choosing Seattle U and studying the Classics.

In his senior year he received a graduate school fellowship and his draft notice in the same day. After serving in the Army, he headed to Seattle for graduate school and then back to his alma mater.

Father William LeRoux, who was Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the time, encouraged him to apply for a Humanities teaching job at Matteo Ricci College. After six years at MRC, he shifted to a tenure track position in the History department. These days, he has a full schedule, teaching seven courses a year, including MRC, beginning Latin and Honors.

He’s seen much change at SU in his decades here, notably the growing prestige of the university in the region and beyond. For him, however, it’s about students, such as Kymberly, who he remembers well as a mature, smart student.

“Serving my students is most important to me,” Madsen says. “I think they appreciate, in the end, that what seemed harsh at the time in my class was really all in their best interest.”

Check out a video of Kymberly and Dave here


Dan Nicholson, ’03 (Accounting)
On Professor Susan Weihrich (Albers/Accounting)

I came to Seattle University, while still in high school, for an Earth Day event and I fell in love with the campus. How did I get into the world of accounting? It started with a job in finance I got at the end of my freshman year.

While at SU I was invited by Professor Weihrich to attend a luncheon to learn more about the accounting program. I found I was good at it. Later, Susan was instrumental in helping me land a prestigious yearlong Governmental Accounting Standards Board fellowship in Connecticut. This was such a great experience and I learned so much as part of the program, which included spending time in New York City on Wall Street.

The fellowship is perhaps the single most important think I have on my resume. And if not for Susan, I wouldn’t have even known it existed.

When I returned to Seattle I worked at Deloitte & Touche and in 2010 started my own accounting firm, Nth Degree CPAs. Susan stands out as my favorite professor for many reasons.

She takes so much interest in her students, is always available and a great resource. She got me thinking about a lot of things and saw the potential in me that I may not have seen in myself. In one word, my experience at SU was transformative.

Susan Weihrich
Working in the field of accounting seemed a natural choice for Susan Weihrich, who followed in the footsteps of her father, himself an accountant.

For 23 years, Professor Weihrich has taught accounting at Albers. These days, in addition to leading her tax accounting courses, she also she serves as associate dean. For many years she headed up the VITA tax preparation service, with SU accounting students helping to prepare taxes for low-income residents in the community.

She considers the accounting students a “very hard working” bunch who respond well to her style of teaching, which involves storytelling as a means to explain the heady subject matter. “I ask a lot of questions and try to call on every student every class,” she says. “Someone wrote on their evaluation of me that having someone call on them helped them not to be shy and to open up. I expect my students to come to class and be engaged in the discussion. If they work hard in class, they will succeed.”

Weihrich remembers Dan as an “awesome student who was always prepared for class.” The recognition as her former student’s favorite professor means a lot, she says. “Dan always put a lot of expectations on himself. So this means that I have lived up to those expectations.”

Check out a video of Dan and Susan here.  

Chris Canlas, '01 and Teresa Ling
Dave Madsen and Kymberly Evanson, '99
Susan Weihrich and Dan Nicholson, '03