Spotlight - Jennifer Cainas

Jennifer Cainas

by Lindsay Ederheimer

Jennifer Cainas is like any other resident of Juniper Poplar Hall. She often eats lunch in the dining hall, walks across campus to class, and grabs a coffee at Starbucks on her way to work.

However, Cainas graduated from USF in 1996. She is 46 years old and lives among hundreds of 18-21 year olds.

Finishing her eleventh year as an accounting professor at USF, Cainas is taking advantage of an opportunity she didn't have while she was in undergrad twenty years ago: living on campus.

"When I told people I was going to do this, they thought I was nuts," Cainas said. "But I never lived on campus when I was in school, so I took advantage of a rare opportunity."

So when an apartment was available for rent by a faculty member in the Juniper Poplar building last year, Cainas and her husband moved out of the suburbs and into a private apartment space on the ground floor of Poplar Hall.

Cainas hoped that being around students and seeing them outside the classroom would make her more empathetic.

"Sometimes, as a professor, you forget that students have a life outside of your classroom," Cainas said. "I wanted to see a different side of student lives. I hoped it would make me a better teacher."

Cainas graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1994 and returned to USF for her MAcc before becoming a Certified Public Accountant. She got her first teaching job in 2002. While working as a financial controller at a title insurance company, she saw an ad in the newspaper for an adjunct position at Hillsborough Community College.

She had never served as a TA while in college, but Cainas says her peers would often come to her for help with accounting questions, and was the go-to person for clarification about financial concerns. She thought teaching others the basics of accounting may be a good fit for her.

Hillsborough Community was holding mass open interviews, and Cainas stopped by on her way home from work one day. She was hired, and loved teaching so much that she decided to apply for a position at USF's Lakeland campus in 2005.

"I realized I wanted to come back and teach at the school that taught me everything I knew about accounting," Cainas said.

In 2009, Cainas returned to USF's Tampa campus, joining a staff of professors and instructors who taught her when she was in school.

"It took me a while to get used to calling some of my old professors by their first names," Cainas said. "I was nervous I wouldn't live up to their expectations. They set the bar high."

But Cainas has become a beloved teacher, advisor, and colleague during her time at USF. After teaching both entry and upper level financial and accounting courses, Cainas has been awarded the "Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award" for USF multiple times. She also serves as the advisor for Beta Alpha Psi, an honors accounting and finance organization whose USF chapter has been internationally recognized.

Cainas recently became a student again. She is working toward a DBA, the equivalent to a PhD in Business Administration, at the University of Florida. While taking classes at UF on the weekends, Cainas can experience learning at a different institution while still living and working at USF.

Cainas' dissertation focuses on the stage of development that triggers entrepreneurial firms and small businesses to adopt a financial management system.

"Every business starts with a business owner that handles everything from hiring to marketing to finances," Cainas said. "I'm interested in finding out the point when a business owner needs a management control system to formally handle the finances of the business."

From her research thus far, Cainas hypothesizes that companies adopt a control system when they feel external pressure or bring in investors. But Cainas will continue researching through the end of this year, surveying small businesses and CEO's about their transitions to a formal financial system.

While conducting research for her thesis and teaching mass lectures of more than 400 students, Cainas enjoys coming home to the dorm, where she finds the balance between being both a teacher and student. She is blown away by the students who live in close quarters, and says she is in awe of how positive the students who surround her can be.

"As a teacher, you always intend to make an impact on a student's life," Cainas said. "But seeing things from the other side, I've learned these students have made a bigger impact on me."