Born and raised in New Zealand, and a professor at the University of Auckland for 13 years, Ian Stewart made an incredible leap of faith in 1990. With his family, he moved from the South Pacific to the Puget Sound, where he took up teaching duties at SPU.
For a man who admits to a natural reticence, the casual affability of an American college campus was challenging, as was teaching classes of 25 students after a career spent lecturing to groups of 200. The success of his transition was clearly affirmed, however, when SPU students selected him as the 1997 Professor of the Year.
No one is more surprised by the honor than Stewart. "Accounting is a tough major. I have high expectations of my students," he says in his soft but clipped accent. "Every quarter I feel I'm turning some of them into adversaries because of the demands I make, so this is a wonderful encouragement."
Of the many professors nominated by students for the 1997 award, five names were selected for debate before the Student Senate. Nathan Hartman was one of the students to lobby vigorously for Stewart. "He's dedicated to his students," says Hartman. "He'll stick with you until you learn the material and he's always available to help."
A five-time veteran of Stewart's classes, Hartman vouches for the professor's reputation as a "tough" teacher. "Let's just say there are no multiple choice questions on his tests," he laughs.
Gary Gzirian, a recent graduate who came to SPU from Russia, found a kindred spirit in fellow émigré Stewart. "He's an excellent teacher as well as a gentleman in the old British tradition," says Gzirian. "He also agrees with me that American football is an unfortunate development of rugby!"
Another admirer, Professor of Entrepreneurship Herb Kierulff, describes Stewart as a "Christ-centered, kind and humble man who has a deep concern for his students." As chair of the Faculty Development Committee in the School of Business and Economics, Stewart demonstrates that same care for his colleagues, researching ways to assist fellow professors. "He's our guru of teaching," says Dean Alec Hill.
Closer to Ian Stewart than most is his "little" brother, Ross Stewart, also an accounting professor at SPU. He explains that although the two share a family name and a common profession, they are very different people. "Ian is neat; I'm messy. Ian is reserved; I'm not. He runs marathons; I run for the bus."
For all that, they're mutually supportive and have always been so. "Ian was my inspiration for getting into academics," Ross recalls.
The academic life has been fulfilling for Ian Stewart, but there was a point in the middle of his career, he says, when something began to tug at him. Tenured in secular academia, he "yearned to learn more about my faith."
And so, despite the hardships of going back to school while teaching full-time, despite suffering the disapproval of peers, Stewart followed his heart and studied for six years to earn a bachelor of divinity degree.
It was a revelation. "There's nothing like scripture in the original language to graft it into your mind," he says. "Church history and ethics served to deepen and enrich my Christian faith."
When the chance came to bring that faith to bear in an accounting classroom at Seattle Pacific, he jumped at it.
Students are glad he did. Melanie Nolte, a 1997 accounting graduate, credits Stewart with giving meaning to her coursework. "He challenges you to think about what the numbers mean," she says. "He is one of the most ethical men I've ever met."
Stewart understands only too well that accountants can, and do, manipulate figures. But he won't "cook the books," nor promote such conduct in students. "The numbers represent the reality of a business and the numbers are used in important ways," he says. "Accounting is fraught with social justice issues."
His fervor for following his conscience while staying at the top of his profession earns Stewart great praise. "Ian has the highest standards of integrity," says brother Ross. "He truly lives his faith."