The Man, The Bowtie, The Future Legend
Students love Andrew Brajcich. Being a humble man, he deftly deflects the praise, crediting his grandfather, his students, his professors. Still, the stories his students tell paint a picture of a man who is obsessed, in the best possible way, with teaching — and above all else, with his students’ success.
“I’ll be honest with you, I think I’m developing a lot as a professor because I learn every semester,” Brajcich says. “If you just show the students that you care about them and their development, they work harder. The response is pretty amazing.”
Students agree. Across the board, he is a favorite professor at Gonzaga. Senior accounting major Trevor Harrison credits Brajcich, who is his academic adviser, with convincing him to go into accounting. Part of the allure is Brajcich’s charisma. Harrison feared that working as a professional accountant would kill his spirit, but Brajcich showed him otherwise.
“When he makes jokes about tax it helps,” Harrison says. “When you see someone who is that invested in tax and he’s still laughing it’s like, ‘There is hope. I can be funny still.’ ”
The whole notion of accountants being boring, money-obsessed number- crunchers is simply not true. “People who are in it for the money, they usually don’t make it out of junior year in accounting,” Brajcich says. “If you’re solely set on making money, you could get creative and figure out a quicker and easier way.”
Personally he chose accounting because it’s foundational to business. “Accountants seemed indispensable. I liked the idea of having a needed skill set,” Brajcich says. Pair this with the challenge of it, and he was sold on his career. He tries to convey this to his students by focusing on the bigger picture, of both accounting and tax law. While tax law is dense and seemingly byzantine, it’s intimately connected to how we organize our society.
“It’s really just made-up rules,” he says. “Obviously we need people to pay taxes, we need schools. We need roads. But people get creative, they try to get around or minimize their tax expense. So we make more rules to limit their ability to do that.”
Engaging and mentoring students is part of what it means to be a Brajcich. Andrew’s grandfather, Dan, was a legendary accounting professor at Gonzaga. Although he could be gruff, he cared deeply. He had hundreds, if not thousands of jokes on hand, ready for any situation. “I don’t know where he came up with them all,” Brajcich says. “But every time you saw him he usually had a new joke to tell.” Ultimately his value was in his ability to provide calm, measured advice. One interaction sticks out in Andrew’s mind. He was in his first year of law school. He was overwhelmed. Worried he’d wash out, he called his grandfather.
“I said, ‘Grandpa, I’m just getting killed down here. It’s so hard, it’s just so much work. You’re the old professor — can you give me some words of wisdom?’” The elder Brajcich was silent. And then he said to Andrew, “Well, at least you’re not in Iraq.”
That reality check was exactly what Andrew needed to hear. It’s that kind of grounded advice that Brajcich loves to give to his students. He believes the vast majority of our decisions are made instantaneously. It’s our job, he says, to uncover what we truly want.
That’s how it was when he was offered a job at Gonzaga. After getting his law degree, serving in the Peace Corps, and working professionally for a year in Seattle, he was ready to come back to Gonzaga. He jumped at the opportunity. “It was like coming home,” Brajcich says.
And he doesn’t want to leave. He jokes that if Harvard offered him a million dollars he’d turn it down, maybe. That’s because at the end of the day he’s interested, and committed, to his students.
“I think he’s the perfect balance between brilliant and humble,” says Harrison. “He’s willing to stay connected and involved in students’ lives.”