University of Southern California

Mrs. Mortenson Is Up There Laughing
July 23, 2010 • by Ken Simmonds

Dear Friends of Marshall:

When I was in high school, we all took a test intended to reveal one's career aptitude. I can remember my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Mortenson, handing me back the result and saying, "Sonny, you should be an accountant."

I was offended. Accounting sounded like a trade rather than a profession. So I avoided business classes for years. Finally when I was in the Air Force, I took one out of sheer boredom. And I found it interesting. I had been working off of bad information. No one can make an intelligent decision based on bad information. One thing followed another, and here I am all these years later a Professor of Clinical Accounting.

Eight years ago, when Dean Randy Beatty asked me to spearhead an effort to expand USC's reach to minority students, I knew the biggest issue was a lack of information. Turn on a TV and there are shows about doctors, lawyers, police - but not one about a CPA. These students had no picture - no information -- about accounting and business.

The Summer Leadership Program (SLP) was born. Each summer we immerse 42 students into an intensive one-week business education. During the day they attend classes on accounting, marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, communications - all taught by outstanding professors from the USC Marshall School of Business and Leventhal School of Accounting. They hear from working professionals, from technical experts, and from career counselors who talk about how to present oneself as a professional.

In the evenings, the students are divided into groups of five (to allow for a vote of consensus). Each group tackles a business project, with the help of two professional counselors (typically USC alums who are working at accounting firms such as Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers). On the final day, the projects are presented before the finance committee of a bank to determine their worthiness.

It's an extraordinary week of inspiration, motivation and information to help these students make good decisions about their future. Mrs. Mortenson may be somewhere up there laughing at how my career turned out, but I like to think when I finally got good information, everything fell into place. The most important thing we're providing for these young students this summer is good information. I hope you'll join me in supporting their journey - who knows where it will eventually take them?

Ken Simmonds
Professor, Clinical Accounting