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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

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Shira Cohen Shira Cohen

Passion for Language, Gift for Teaching Guide Accounting Professor

SDSU's vibrant multicultural environment and emphasis on diversity drew accounting professor Shira Cohen to the university.
By Fowler College of Business News Team

“I think the reason accounting is so interesting to me is that it is the language of business. And with this language, I can better understand corporate culture and corporate decision making.”

A passion for learning and a love of language are two defining traits of Shira Cohen, a newly appointed accounting professor at San Diego State University.

Cohen, who grew up in a multicultural home and spent her early childhood in Israel, was heavily influenced by her Spanish-speaking grandparents and still speaks both Hebrew and Spanish.

“The language of music has also been a big influence in my life,”  Cohen noted. “My grandfather was a naturally gifted pianist and while his formal education was cut short by the Holocaust, he instilled in me a strong appreciation for classical music — my name actually means ‘song’ in Hebrew.” 

Cohen’s fascination with language also holds the key to her interest in accounting. “I think the reason accounting is so interesting to me is that it is the language of business,” she said. “And with this language, I can better understand corporate culture and corporate decision making.” 

It is her passion for learning, though, that eventually determined her career path. As an undergraduate  at the University of Pennsylvania, Cohen majored in biology, thinking she would continue on the science Ph.D. route. However, innate curiosity led her to take courses in subject areas from bioengineering to art history. It was a class in the business school that changed her path.

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During her senior year in college, she applied to and accepted an offer at the New York City office of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Working at PwC confirmed  she had made the right decision going the business route. “I was working with interesting colleagues on challenging projects,” she recalled. “Actually, the first time I visited San Diego was as a consultant for PwC.” 

She eventually decided to formalize her business education and pursue an MBA at Columbia University. “As an MBA student, I was naturally drawn to finance and accounting,” she said. “Accounting, in particular, felt like learning a new language and I was excited to use this new language to further explore the real-world business issues I was exposed to in my work.”

After earning her MBA, she went on to work in finance. However, it was just a matter of time before she would return to academia as a doctoral student to study these issues in greater detail. As a bonus, during her graduate studies, she discovered a gift for teaching. “I find helping students understand and master — what at first may seem like a daunting and complex subject area — truly rewarding.” 

Throughout all this, Cohen participated in a number of volunteer programs aimed at assisting low-income communities. 

“Supporting and mentoring low-income individuals is extremely important and meaningful to me,” she said. “I have been volunteering a significant amount of my time since I was a senior in high school.”

Two programs she is particularly proud of are Streetwise Partners and Read Ahead. At Streetwise Partners she mentored, on a weekly basis, low-income adults and helped them attain skills needed to secure employment. At Read Ahead, she mentored low-income elementary school students and helped instill within them the confidence needed to succeed.

After earning her Ph.D. at Columbia, Cohen joined Temple University. During this time, she also served as a visiting scholar-in-residence at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C. “Working at the SEC was an invaluable experience. I was able to witness firsthand and contribute to the commission’s work on balancing investor protection and capital formation.”

In 2020, Cohen moved out west to join the Fowler College of Business faculty at SDSU. What initially attracted her to SDSU was the emphasis the school places on both research and teaching. However, it was the language in the university’s stated mission, promoting cultural inclusivity, that resonated like music to her ears. “What made me decide to come to SDSU is the school’s vibrant multicultural environment and its emphasis on diversity,” she said. “It has been a welcoming new home.”