A token of gratitude: local alumnus honors long-time accounting professor with endowed scholarship
Three years into his undergraduate career at Flagler College, alumnus Ben Platt '97 had to decide between keeping his academic scholarship and marrying his high school sweetheart.
As an incoming freshman, Platt was one of two students to receive the Lewis-Wiley Scholarship recognizing "exceptional academic achievement, leadership, and moral force of character." Later, when he discovered the fine-print provision in this prestigious scholarship specifying that it was only available to unmarried candidates, one of the first people Platt consulted was his professor and friend, Jim Makowski.
"He helped me find these other resources," Platt said. "He helped me apply for other scholarships that were a good fit for me in the accounting profession."
Platt and his high school sweetheart Cleta are still married today.
It was Makowski's guidance through this difficult situation as well as his invaluable impact on Platt's academic and professional career that inspired the couple to establish the Professor James S. Makowski Endowed Scholarship in Accounting following his retirement from the College during the summer of 2022.
"He's just a really humble guy, and I think it's good for the world to know that humble people like Jim are making big impacts on people's lives," Platt said. "He did on mine."
They established this endowment with the purpose of providing scholarships to students with financial need majoring in Accounting at Flagler. Platt and Cleta's endowed gift will be matched by a scholarship-matching grant provided by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust .
Among a small group of accounting majors at the time, Platt's trust in Makowski started to build within his first few courses at Flagler.
In part, Makowski's positive perspective on St. Augustine and the professional opportunities here influenced Platt to build his CPA practice in town. And over the course of two decades, their admiration for one another has continued to strengthen.
"You have this moment of recognition of mutual respect, and it's really those kinds of moments that are important in life," Platt said. "They're powerful."
Makowski left his career as a CPA to join Flagler's faculty in 1989. As a professor, he instructed 18 courses in Accounting, Business Administration, and Finance, representing more than 2,000 students over his 33 years at the College.
Establishing the scholarship was Platt's way of honoring Makowski's influence as a professor and friend, but Platt also wanted to ensure that his robust career was celebrated with fellowship.
"We had to have a party for Makowski," he said. "This guy can't just go into the sunset, it needs to be a big deal."
Platt said it was an opportunity for reconnection, and for Makowski to see the scope of his impact.
"That was a blast, and it was a blessing too, to be able to help him connect with some of the people whom he had a really positive impact on over the years."
Among family, friends, colleagues, and former students, Makowski's dedication to his practice as a professor and refreshing style in the classroom were recognized.
"He made accounting approachable," Platt said. "Because it wasn't just theory, it wasn't just debits and credits."
After explaining its origin as an ancient method of tracking beer and goat supplies, Makowski said accounting isn't really math at all. It's the language of business.
"It took me a long time to figure that out and how to help students learn that language," he said. "But it was so easy thanks to the administrators, staff, my colleagues, and other faculty."
During his initial interview with Dr. William Proctor, former president of the College, Makowski asked for one word to describe what the position would require to succeed.
"He must have taken 45 seconds to answer, but it seemed like five minutes," Makowski said. "He cogitated on it, and said, 'enthusiasm'."
It's a quality that Makowski said he tried to carry into every class and what he attributes to the inspiration he's imparted to so many of his students, like Platt.
"I felt like Makowski and a handful of the other professors that I'd had for a number of years had this genuine investment in my future," Platt said. "They wanted to see me make good decisions, choose the right career path, and develop this 'good life'."
Platt has made a practice of hiring Flagler accounting students as interns for his local firm, Tembo CPAs.
"Every time an intern would come in, they would have Makowski as a professor," he said. "It was funny, Jim and I had conversations through students very frequently."
With three decades of students who had the chance to study under Makowski, Platt is hopeful that his gift will be a catalyst in building this scholarship fund.
"I'm hoping that leading the way with this scholarship will inspire other people whose lives have been positively impacted by Makowski to join in on this scholarship because there's a lot more room to fund this," he said.
With excitement for the future of the accounting profession, Platt said there "won't be an end" to the need for funding this scholarship.
"The more people we can get on board, the more impact we can have on students' lives and the more, great accountants we can put into the world," Platt said.
It's his hope that this scholarship will act as a steady resource for generations of Flagler accounting students to come.
"Years from now, when we're long gone, students will still likely be benefitting from this. It tickles me," Makowski said.
Although his time as a professor has ended, Makowski is optimistic for the future of the accounting and business programs at Flagler.
"They'll say you can't predict the future, but if the trend continues, Flagler's business programs are headed in the right direction," Makowski said.
If you would like to make a gift supporting the Professor James S. Makowski Endowed Scholarship in Accounting, please visit: https://giving.flagler.edu/campaigns/professor-james-s-makowski-endowed-scholarship-in-accounting