Ronald “Ronny” Daigle won the Excellence in Teaching award on May 10 for his dedication to his students and his academic life.
Daigle has been a semifinalist for this award for three years and a finalist for another three years; he finally won after seven years of nominations.
“It’s still shocking to have won,” Daigle said. “I’m humbled and honored because there’s so many good faculty here. I’m a full professor here, but I look to other faculty for mentoring. “What I think of is a quote to keep this all in perspective, ‘The higher you are placed, the more humble you should walk.’”
His office walls are covered floor to ceiling with magnets, photos, memorabilia and various mementos from students from years of teaching. Behind his office door is a variety of orange jackets and clothes to show school spirit.
Every year he takes a photo with students from his classes and he tears up when reminiscing about students and the impact they have made on his life.
“This award is a humbling honor,” Daigle said. “I want to be a good steward of what this represents because this is a responsibility. I want to live up the ideas of this award.”
He always knew he wanted to be a professor, which he credits to growing up in an academic environment. His father was a college professor who stressed doing your best and learning as much as possible.
Daigle got his undergraduate degree at the University of South Alabama, got practical experience in the business community and went to graduate school to get his master’s degree and Ph.D. at Texas Tech University. He now teaches auditing and accounting classes.
“I don’t call this my academic career,” Daigle said. “I call it my academic life. I want my life to be seamless between what I’m doing in a classroom and what I’m doing in my life. I love it so much.”
After six years of working in public accounting, he discovered Sam Houston State University during his Ph.D. program in 1996 where he met his long-time friend and future colleague—Philip Morris. Morris allowed him to come to SHSU and use his class during the week of 9/11.
“I was stranded here in Huntsville all week long because I had flown down,” Daigle said. “I stayed out of the way, but I came here every day that week, and I got to interact with the faculty. As sad as that day was, I left with a wonderful, positive impression of Sam Houston, the department and the college.”
Daigle visited the university multiple times over the years, and when the opportunity presented itself, he knew his place was at SHSU’s College of Business Administration.
“I did not come here and do a formal interview,” Daigle said. “They felt comfortable making that hiring decision without it. It wasn’t me answering a job ad. It was a seed planted in 1996. It was an interesting path it took for me to come here. I knew the environment here and how much I wanted to be part of it.”
Contributing to a positive environment has always been important to Daigle, as he believes people have an impact on each other in most aspects of life.
“There are two things I think of when it comes to teaching: you have to be yourself, and you have to show you care,” Daigle said. “There’s a quote I give my students by Teddy Roosevelt which says, ‘People don’t care what you know until you know they care.’
“I impress upon students that I care. I take very seriously that I have to be a good boss, steward and manager of the authority given to me. I tell my students – respectfully – I love y’all, so we’re going to work hard.”
Most people define success in education as straight A’s and a 4.0 GPA, but that is not how Daigle sees it.
“When I say succeed, it means giving their best,” Daigle said. “I’m not looking for everyone to be an A student. If you do your best, be proud of your best. There are students I’ve been more proud of earning a B than some earning an A because I’ve seen the effort, attitude and drive.”
Although Daigle continually pushes himself and his students, he believes in rewarding them for their hard work.
“I give drink coasters as a token of achievement in my classes,” Daigle said. “That’s part of my personality and style. I want to make class fun. I fervently believe in recognizing achievement, especially for those who make the high score on what I call an opportunity for excellence – I don’t use the word test or exam – I use opportunity for excellence.”
Another unorthodox method of teaching and encouragement Daigle implements is celebrating Talk like a Pirate Day by showing up to class with a hook, eyepatch and bandana and giving a “cornball” quiz. On Mardi Gras, he dresses in purple, green and gold and brings King Cake for students to eat outside of the classroom.
“What does it cost a pirate to get an ear piercing? A buccaneer,” Daigle said jokingly. “I want to do things that lighten up the class, make it entertaining but educational. I think I’d be doing this stuff no matter what topic I’d be teaching, but when you teach accounting some people might fall into a rhythm of technical stuff. So, I think no matter what you’re in, you need to liven it up and keep them on their toes.”
The reason Daigle wants to give back so much is because his academic life and career have helped shape his future.
“I had a couple of blessings from my academic career,” Daigle said. “My buddy invited me to a faculty lunch to meet someone since I was new. Well, it turns out the person he introduced me to was my future wife.”
Colleague Philip Morris and a former student of Daigle’s also wrote him letters of recommendation that made it possible for Daigle and his wife to adopt a son.
Daigle doesn’t just teach. He learns from his students. This award has further motivated him to do even better for future generations.