The world of business and finance has undergone significant changes during Debela Birru’s career. During his 37 years teaching full time at the college level (27 of those at Central) he’s witnessed the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987, the Asian financial crisis of ’97-’98 and the recent U.S. financial crisis of ’07-’09, and its after-effects, among other major events.
“Change, not stability, is the norm in global financial markets,” Birru says. Perhaps the same could be said of teaching, yet Birru’s presence on Central’s campus has been something students could count on for many years.
The associate professor of business management earned an Associate of Arts degree at Grand View College and Bachelor of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees at Northwest Missouri State University. He began his teaching career at Northwest Missouri State, where he taught for two years. He then taught at Drake University for two years and at the University of Northern Iowa for six years before coming to Central in 1989. The personal connection and sense of community that the faculty exhibited and the focus on enriching the learning environment for students at Central appealed to Birru after 10 years at larger universities.
“At first, I thought Central was too small,” Birru says, “but then I met the economics, accounting and business management faculty and that’s when I saw how dedicated they were to their work. I saw that Central practiced a student-centered teaching approach, and I also observed that the faculty worked together for the common good. That really impressed me.”
During his time at Central, Birru is most proud of being selected as the recipient of the Outstanding Teaching Award three times (May 1996, 2007 and 2013). As a teacher, he finds satisfaction in maintaining “an unusual level of intensity and commitment to my responsibilities over a considerable period of time.” Throughout the years, students have noted that Birru’s courses are marked by high standards and academic rigor.
In addition to serving on major faculty committees, Birru served as economics, accounting and management department chair from 2000-05, 2009-12 and 2013-15. “During my tenure as department chair, I took pride in the fact that I always advocated high academic standards, instructional excellence and academic integrity,” he says.
Birru advocated for revisions to the business management and international management programs at Central when he arrived at the college. He says, “With significant encouragement from Carol Vruwink, then department chair of EAM, and assistance from others, we were able to create four new focus (concentration) areas in the business management area.” These areas are marketing, finance, business administration and international business.
“The addition of these concentration areas to our curriculum has made our programs more appealing to prospective students and employers,” Birru says. “The results of our efforts can be seen today in the positions our graduates hold in various businesses as well as not-for profit institutions in Iowa and all over the country.”
Having spent at least the last 57 years around academic circles (elementary school, high school and colleges/universities), Birru is ready for a change.
“Life is too short to waste it doing the same thing the rest of one’s life,” he says. He plans to devote most of his retirement to “maintaining strong physical, emotional and spiritual health. I consider myself multi-talented and find joy in doing a lot of other things than teaching. I can build, farm, garden, fix, remodel and repair. I love reading, fishing, hiking, running, long walks and visiting new places, especially visiting the beautiful (absolutely breathtaking) national parks all over this beautiful country.”
Though his professional teaching days may be over, Birru says he will always continue to learn and that he “will always have a special place in my heart for Central College and its rich history.”