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A Legacy in Education: Meet the 2024 Honorary Members

March 01, 2024

written by Haley MacDonell, photography by Rhianna Kahley

Bob Kilpatrick and Nancy Wilburn are Certified Public Accountants turned educators who have touched the lives of thousands of accounting students. Today, their students are leaders, firm partners, recruiters, advisory council members and more. In the ASCPA’s 90-year history, Kilpatrick and Wilburn are recognized in 2024 as the 10th and 11th Honorary Members, selected for their impact on Arizona’s accounting profession.  

Wilburn is well-regarded for her early use of collaboration as a teaching method in the classroom to help students connect with the material and their peers. She is the 1994 recipient of the Arizona CPA Foundation for Education & Innovation’s Excellence in Teaching Award and two-time winner of the Foundation’s Education Innovation Award.  

Kilpatrick also helped shape the accounting education that helped students continue to be successful with the CPA examination by modernizing curriculum and incorporating feedback from professionals active in the business. He is the 2009 recipient of the Arizona CPA Foundation for Education & Innovation’s Excellence in Teaching Award and served on the Foundation’s board and scholarship selection committee for nine years.  

Bob Kilpatrick 

Bob Kilpatrick is in high school working on a big project for his bookkeeping class. It’s late, nearing 2 a.m., but with some Led Zeppelin playing in the background, the time is flying by. He’s writing checks, preparing sales invoices and bookkeeping for a fake client for a grade. For Kilpatrick, this is the first moment where everything is clicking into place, and even though this moment was 52 years ago, it’s a defining moment for someone who would go on to teach thousands of accountants during his career.  

Years later, he is working toward his master’s degree in accounting at the University of Southern Mississippi. One of his professors was going to be out for a few days to watch his son play in the Little League World Series. In his place, the professor asked Kilpatrick to fill in as substitute.  

“I gave them a pop quiz as soon as class began,” Kilpatrick remembers. “That’s what he would have done too.”  

His reputation spread and soon other educators were asking him to substitute while they were away. He went on to teach four courses a semester at Bellhaven College, a small school with 600 students — as an educator, not a student substitute. Over the next few years, he completed his Ph.D. and became an assistant professor at Texas A&M University.  

This was the most prestigious university and the title Kilpatrick had had to date. The head of the tax program took him out to lunch to review all the programming students would have at their fingertips.  

“Every class he mentioned was being taught by more senior faculty,” Kilpatrick recalls. “What am I going to get?” The program leader explained that a new course would be offered on compensation, and that would be Kilpatrick’s responsibility. “I had never had any courses in compensation. I did a bunch of trainings with some of the then-Big Eight CPA firms, but there was no book.” 

So, Kilpatrick wrote the book, based on his detailed notes on the tax code and other regulations. He went on to publish the CCH U.S. Master Compensation Tax Guide with the educator who later took the course over once Kilpatrick got it off the ground.  

“The students that went through my courses were very successful at passing the CPA exam,” he says. At one point, he joked about a CPA-guarantee. “If you do everything that I tell you to do, and you perform well, you will pass the CPA exam. If you don’t, I’ll give you your money back.” 

Kilpatrick taught as a professor at Northern Arizona University for 34 years. For many years, he served as accounting coordinator. He helped place the program’s graduates in entry-level accounting jobs and founded the Accounting Area Advisory Council, a group of active practitioners who provided input on the program. With the Council’s input, the curriculum was modernized, and students excelled on the CPA examination.  

“This was crucial to the success of our program and enabled us to be highly competitive with our peer institutions in Arizona,” explains Ken Lorek, Northern Arizona University’s first endowed chair. “Bob valued all faculty members’ contributions, rewarded them accordingly and motivated them to contribute to the accounting area’s goals. This is no small task given faculty egos.” 

Kilpatrick began his involvement with the ASCPA in 1999. He served in many functions of the Arizona CPA Foundation board and the ASCPA’s scholarship selection committee. He was proud to have never missed a meeting, even though that meant making the drive from Flagstaff down to the ASCPA’s Phoenix office.  

That is, until Kilpatrick does miss a meeting due to presenting a paper at a conference. That day, he received a call from Allen Nahrwold, then the Foundation’s president, congratulating Kilpatrick on being voted as his successor.    

He laughed it off. The joke must have been a repercussion of his first truancy.  

“I’m waiting for the punchline,” Kilpatrick remembers. But it never came. Sure enough, he was voted board president, for which he would serve two years, the penultimate appointment after seven years of serving in various board roles. “Note to self: don’t miss the meeting when they’re voting on officers.”  

Kilpatrick was the only faculty member at NAU to be awarded all  the major college awards: Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Researcher of the Year and the Outstanding Service Award. 

Nancy Wilburn 

As a master’s student at Oklahoma State University, Nancy Wilburn wanted to teach. And not, as a graduate assistant, as many graduate students are.  

She shared this with the program director, who waved her away, explaining that there were no positions open to begin with. Days later, someone quit and suddenly there were two classes without a teacher, days before instruction was set to begin.  

The administrative assistant had heard Wilburn’s request too and brought it up to the desperate director. Because of that, Wilburn was granted one of the two courses to teach that semester. 

“I was terrified. Believe it or not, I was not a comfortable public speaker,” Wilburn says. The first day of classes, she mumbled through a short introduction without saying her name and quickly left as soon as it was over. Decades later, that scared first-time teacher is now an esteemed educator who has been recognized with several awards and who has touched the lives of thousands of students.  

Years prior, she had taken her first accounting job at a retail store. “It was like a duck taking to water,” Wilburn recalls. After earning her degree, she was an auditor at Deloitte while she studied for and passed her CPA exam. She knew teaching was the road she wanted to follow and began developing a teaching style that fit her.  

In 1994, 10 years into Nancy’s teaching career, she was called into the dean’s office at Northern Arizona University, where he announced she had been awarded the Arizona Society of CPAs’ second annual Excellence in Teaching Award. Excited, she raced home to tell Kilpatrick the good news.  

“We live out in the country, so I drove on the I-40 to my exit,” she explained. “I was so excited to tell him that I rolled through a stop sign— and I never roll through stop signs. Do you know what else was there, that was never there? A police officer who pulls me over. While I was talking to the officer, Bob drives by with our three-year-old daughter in the car laughing.” 

She didn’t get a ticket, but she hasn’t rolled through any stop signs in the 30 years since. It was her very first teaching award, emboldening her to experiment with new methods in her classroom, such as incorporating teamwork.  

“Teamwork was not often used back then,” Wilburn remembers. “Students were resistant to it. But that award gave me enough courage to try a big change in my teaching style that I fell in love with and used the rest of my career.”  

She assigned students to teams and gave them the annual report of a Fortune 500 company. In preparation, Wilburn had requested 100 annual reports by mail and reviewed each one, looking for the ones that would best fit the project. The students reviewed financial statements and disclosures, answered questions and brought everything they had learned so far together. The project enthused the students and when Nancy went on to present this special project at a national teaching forum, over 60 schools requested copies of the lecture to replicate it.  

“Accounting can be a challenging discipline to learn. Professor Wilburn would often go the extra distance to help students. In addition to her regular class instruction and office hours, she would host extra study sessions on Friday afternoons to assist students,” says Lawrence Mohrweis, a professor emeritus at Northern Arizona University.  

Collaboration has been an essential piece of Wilburn’s teaching philosophy for decades, but it was even more critical during her final years of teaching when smart phones fragmented her students’ attention during class.  

In her financial accounting classes, Wilburn knew these senior-level students already knew plenty about technical topics — like leases and income taxes – but collaboration was how she helped them bring the concepts into reality. Students worked example. She shared lecture notes with fill-in-the-blank spaces. She paired students up for quizzes and assignments so they could reteach each other. 

“It’s hard to sit there staring at your phone if you have three other people working in your group,” she explains. “I’ve always felt that if you can teach it to someone else, you’re really learning it yourself. I think it helped students connect, too. I didn’t ever want them to feel isolated, that they could disappear and not engage.” 

In addition to awards for her teaching and research, Wilburn is also a two-time recipient of the ASCPA’s innovation award and served on the Foundation Board and Scholarship Selection Committee for several years.  


While Wilburn was working on her master’s, Kilpatrick was deep in the third year of a Ph.D. program at Oklahoma State University. The two didn’t know each other well at first, but they had mutual friends.  

“Larry Watkins set us up on a blind date,” Kilpatrick said, before adding, “Blind for her. I knew all about it. It has led to almost 40 years of marriage.” 

When he got his first job as a professor at Texas A&M, Wilburn followed to earn a Ph.D. of her own.  

“I had actually accepted a position at Texas A&M to stay there, which is unheard of for students,” she remembers. “You don’t stay where you get your Ph.D., but it was difficult trying to find two positions at any university.” 

Until the impossible happened. Two teaching positions opened up at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, a city where Kilpatrick and Wilburn had vacationed often. In the spring of 1987, they received a call from Watkins, the same friend who had set them up years before who now was a professor of accounting at NAU. It was true. Two teaching positions were available, and they were Kilpatrick’s and Wilburn’s if they wanted them. They moved to Flagstaff and taught for over 30 years at the university.  

Every semester, there were always one or two students in introductory accounting courses with great potential. They had talent, and an outgoing personality, and could collaborate well. These were the students Wilburn and Kilpatrick knew needed to be recruited into the accounting program.  

“Students loved Bob, which is even more unexpected, as he taught taxation. He was an exceptional leader as the department head and developed and maintained strong relationships with accounting professionals,” Watkins says. “Nancy was a much-loved teacher. She was the only faculty member that could ‘nerd out’ on financial accounting topics with me at lunch, which benefited both me and our students.” 

After teaching at NAU for 34 and 33 years, respectively, Dr. Bob and Dr. Nancy, as their students knew them, are now retired emeritus professors. Bob fixes up things around the house and updates a book he co-authored on LexusNexus. Nancy has walked a thousand miles with their dog outdoors and has written questions for the CPA exam.  

The Arizona Society of CPAs, and the entire Arizona accounting community, is grateful for their contributions to our profession.  

Honoring Bob & Nancy's Contribution to Accounting Education

If you would like to donate in Bob & Nancy's honor to the Arizona CPA Foundation for Education & Innovation, which supports the Excellence in Teaching Award and accounting scholarships, please click here.