But the perspective he gained allowed him to excel both as a college student and as a college professor. The 2009 Tidewater Community College Professor of the Year has taught accounting and economics at the college since 2006.
“I see myself in a lot of my students,” Conner says from his office on the Portsmouth Campus. “I see people who have enormous potential and very mediocre grade reports. Can I help them bring out their true self? Many times I can. My push to not just throw students under the bus but to help them do better comes from remembering that I wasn’t a strong student when I started college.”
Conner moved frequently as a youngster, ultimately landing at the former Ferguson High School in Newport News, a trying adjustment for a kid coming from a small Pennsylvania town.
“I got on the middle track where I could slide by without really excelling at anything,” he recalls.
College changed his mindset. “The environment challenged me right away,” he says, remembering special fondness for his history and physics professors from Christopher Newport University. “The way those classes were constructed gave me the thirst to learn, and I never looked back.”
After graduating from CNU with a bachelor’s in accounting in 1987, Conner earned his master’s of accountancy from Miami of Ohio. He spent years working in the field, initially at Ernst & Young in Columbus, Ohio prior to returning to Virginia, where he worked in banking and then for two CPA firms.
“The last CPA firm allowed me to teach internally and pushed me toward professional development conferences for CPAs,” he says, and that’s what directed him toward teaching. Conner taught as an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University before being hired as full-time faculty at TCC in 2006.
Conner enjoys accounting because he can focus students on the small picture, and economics because it allows students to take a broader perspective. Current events, he says, have turned accounting into an intriguing field.
“I’m thrilled to point out that if I went to a dinner party in the 1980s and I’d say I graduated with an accounting degree, they’d shake my hand and move on to the next person,” Conner says. “When Enron came out, all of a sudden people found accounting fraud very interesting, and that’s true today even though we’re past the frauds. People are very interested in how people could cheat businesses and what controls are in place to prevent that.”
Away from his job, Conner enjoys vinyl records and 45s – his collection exceeds 2,000 of each along with some 78s. The Beatles and Monkees are his favorites, and he is a science fiction buff. Among his favorite assignments is a project that has students craft a business plan around commerce-themed science fiction stories.
“If you think about the old “Star Trek” series, Spock and Kirk were carrying around tricorders that looked like purses,” Conner said. “While it doesn’t look like a personal computer, that’s what it really turned out to be.”
Conner resides in Norfolk with his 15-year-old daughter, Tori.