Professor of Finance
Dr. Nell Gullett knows her doctoral degree could easily bear the names of professors, other mentors and family members.
In fact, at nearly every turn of her academic preparation and teaching career, there were those who strongly encouraged her, opened doors and, occasionally, pushed her through them.
Gullett, professor of finance, had what some might call a pretty simple career goal – “get a job and put food on the table.” She was married with a young child when she began as an undergraduate.
Her major was office administration, which was a four-year secretarial/office management degree. The major was discontinued years ago, she said. But at the time, she realized she enjoyed organizing things, completing projects and maintaining records. “So a business degree made sense,” she said.
Gullett was working part-time as a student worker and going to school full-time. School of Business Administration, the late Dean William Baker, the late Wilbur Washburn, assistant dean, and the late Kay Durden, faculty member, encouraged her to apply for a full-time secretarial job in the Division of Academic Affairs working for Dr. Jimmy Trentham. This would be the first “encouragement” by this trio and others.
During this time her scheduled flipped, as she became a full-time employee and a part-time student until she finished her degree. “I would stay late on weekdays or come in on Saturdays to make up hours I was in class,” she said. “Dr. Trentham was great to work for.”
When she finished her bachelor’s degree, Trentham, Baker and Washburn again were there urging her to pursue her MBA. “Frankly, I couldn’t see much reason to pursue an MBA, and I was tired of school when I completed my bachelor’s degree. But Dr. Trentham, Mr. Washburn, Dr. Baker and other faculty members like Dr. Figgins and Dr. Durden kept telling me I should do it. After a year of their ‘nagging,’ I headed back to school.”
With that advanced degree behind her, Dr. Bob Figgins, who was the chair of the Department of Economics and Finance, gave her an opportunity to teach as an adjunct professor, and “I fell in love with teaching.” She was then hired to teach full-time with the stipulation that she return to school and earn a doctorate in finance. Her classes were scheduled so that she could leave campus around 3 p.m. and drive to the University of Memphis in time for doctoral classes, which were taught at night. She took one or two classes each term.
Gullett readily admits that the seven years earning a doctorate were hard. “I was divorced when I took the teaching job and began work on my doctorate.” She married Jacky Gullett in 1984. “It was hard on both my daughter and husband. My oldest daughter, Nancy, graduated from high school in 1990, and I completed my doctoral degree in 1990. I was in school all but two years of her life before she headed off to college.” She added, “Nancy actually attended some undergraduate and graduate classes with me when other arrangements couldn’t be made. I am blessed because of all of the support I had from family, friends and colleagues. I've often said there are lots of names that should be on the doctoral degree along with mine. Lots of folks helped me earn that degree.”
Gullett and her husband, have two other daughters, Jane, a graduate assistant and MBA student at the University of Mississippi, and Laura, a UT Martin sophomore majoring in accounting. They are also grandparents to Nancy and Drew Kim’s two sons, Jack and Luke.
Gullett has not lost that initial love of teaching. “The most rewarding thing is to see a student understand something he or she didn’t understand previously. It’s especially fun when the student is sure he or she will not be able to understand it,” she said.
With her years of study and teaching, Gullett says the best personal finance advice for young people she can offer came from a family member. “My grandmother’s advice was ‘to live beneath your means.’”
Still, Gullett builds on her knowledge as part of her “applications-oriented rather than theoretical research” that she carries out with other UT Martin finance faculty. “I believe my research improves my classroom teaching, and it keeps me current in my discipline.”
Gullett has had other opportunities at UT Martin, such as serving as longtime NCAA faculty athletics representative and chair of the UT Martin Athletics Board. “My husband and I are big fans of UT Martin athletics,” she said. “It’s been fun to be a small part of the athletics program and its improvements since 2000.” Speaking of student-athletes, she added, “They play because they love to play. Student-athletes are required to devote a lot of time to their sport. They are physically tired at the end of the day from practices or competitions, but they still have homework to do or tests to study for. I admire their ability to juggle class work and the demands of their sports. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the coaches and the staff in athletics. They’re a good bunch of folks.”
Gullett has always been a hard worker, but said there was one other trait on her side – luck. “I was lucky there were people at UT Martin who thought I had potential. They encouraged me and pushed me. I can’t imagine a better job.”