Anyone who steps into the office of Joe Hoyle, associate accounting professor, can see his impact lining the walls. Hundreds of photographs, postcards, and mementos from students cover every inch of the "most interesting office in Virginia," as he proudly calls it. On the front door hangs a picture of Hoyle officiating two former students' wedding -- his second time performing the honor.
Over the summer, Hoyle received the inaugural J. Michael and Mary Anne Cook Prize, which is awarded to an accounting professor who demonstrates superiority as an educator. The honor comes with a $25,000 prize.
"Professor Hoyle is simply the best teacher I have ever known – in any subject," Robins School of Business dean Nancy Bagranoff wrote in an email. "His interest in the welfare of the student is complete. He gets to know the student, the student’s family, and follows the student through school and out the door."
That interest begins in April, days before the end of spring semester, as that is when Hoyle sends his first email to the students registered in his fall classes. He sends the students about eight additional emails before the first class.
"If [students] walk in intrigued, which is a word I like, they're going to learn more and do better," Hoyle said. "So I try to intrigue them. I also want them to realize that I'm serious about this."
Hoyle began his teaching career at the College of William & Mary, and joined the Richmond faculty in 1979. He said he had never planned on teaching long-term, but the flexibility of his schedule and his passion for learning kept him at Richmond.
"The key thing about Joe is that he is utterly committed to learning -- his own and his students'," said Elisabeth Gruner, associate professor of English. Gruner co-taught a class with Hoyle in 2013. The class combined a senior-level accounting course with a course on Victorian literature. Hoyle taught the former, Gruner, the latter.
"When we did the class together, he came to every session of the literature class," Gruner said. "He did everything I asked the students to do -- the freewriting, the questions before class, the in-class discussion. I'm pretty sure he read all the books twice, in fact."
Hoyle strives to engage his students beyond the world of accounting. He cultivates discussions about his students' favorite books, gives extra credit for attending cultural events and encourages his students to analyze what it means to be a student.
"Teaching is not about conveying information, it's about shaping a soul," said Hoyle, who quoted William Shakespeare during our interview. "I want students to be able to think for themselves, understand what they want from life, and to help them understand that there is more to life. A lot of the time 19 year olds surprise me by how little they see in life. I want them to see more."
Generations of students have been able to "see more" because of Hoyle, and the proof lies in the professor's email inbox. Students dating back to the '70s still email Hoyle to let him know how much he affected their worldview.
Nathanael Paimanta, a senior accounting student, came to Richmond after seeing a Businessweek feature on Hoyle.
"The way he challenges his students is really interesting," Paimanta said. "I feel that that's the quality that the Robins School of Business promised its students: professors like him."
Hoyle's sphere of influence expands beyond the Richmond campus. He has written a successful accounting textbook, received over 160,000 hits on his teaching blog, been featured in Businessweek and is now a winner of a competitive national award. Still his ambitions continue to soar.
"The goals never change," Hoyle said. "My goal is always to get 5% better every year...[if] I have students coming in on Friday, I want to have a great class on Friday...Not a good class, I want to have a great class on Friday."
Hoyle said he plans to compile essays from his blog into a teaching book. Citing Mother Teresa as a role model, he hopes to give away copies of the book for free.
Like Mother Teresa's charity, Hoyle's work is not about money. His priority is making a difference both on an individual and global level.
"I've tried as much as I can to look at every person as a separate person and not just one member of a class," Hoyle said. "You may be in a journalism class or a psychology class, but you're really you...When my students come in I like to talk with them like they're the only other person in the world, no matter what else is going on in my world. If you treat people that way, and you push them to succeed, they'll come back and they'll be nice to you. They really are."
Contact features assistant Kayla Solsbak at firstname.lastname@example.org.