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Showcasing Accounting as a Career OptionLeventhal high school summer program proves to be a source of inspiration for underrepresented studentsMay 3, 2013 • by News at Marshall
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A decade ago the USC Leventhal School of Accounting launched the Summer Leadership Program for High School Students. Its primary objective is to introduce accounting and business career opportunities to underrepresented minority youth in the public and private school systems—and to spark an interest in higher education. SLP alumni have gone on to graduate from USC and other institutions of higher learning and take jobs at CPA firms. Director Kendall Simmonds, along with program coordinator Audrena Goodie, hopes to accomplish even more in the coming years.
"The Summer Leadership Program was conceived because local firms approached then-Dean Randolph Beatty with a problem: there was a conspicuous shortage of accounting professionals from underrepresented minorities," said Simmonds, who is also professor of clinical accounting.
Simmonds was tasked with finding a way the firms could work with Leventhal to turn the situation around. "We discovered that it's not that underrepresented students aren't qualified academically, it's that they are not aware of what opportunities exist in the business world or even how to apply to a university," he said. "We designed a program to help students navigate intellectual and financial possibilities they might never have known about otherwise."
Recruiting for the SLP began in local high schools where, Simmonds said, he and his colleagues found plenty of well-qualified candidates: "The students we met were academically accomplished, with communication skills, critical thinking skills, AP courses and high GPAs."
Indeed, SLP alumni have been accepted at USC, as well as community colleges and other four-year institutions, including Stanford and Berkeley. And as participating students have spread the word about the program, its popularity has steadily increased and expanded beyond the local community. The program now draws applicants from Southern California, Northern California and across the United States, as well as Puerto Rico and Mexico. Currently, the program invites about 40 students to campus each year, though hundreds of applications are received.
"For the past 10 years, the Summer Leadership Program has spoken volumes to at least 400 alumni," said Goodie. "Making a difference in a young person's life is what it's all about."
During the free week-long summer program, students live in dorms and attend a regimen of classes at USC, learning about business fundamentals and careers in accounting, entrepreneurship, marketing, finance and other fields from Leventhal and Marshall faculty. Equally important is the information about the university admissions process, SATs and interviewing.
Representatives from firms such as Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, who are program sponsors along with AT&T, inform students about what a CPA firm does and what positions they can pursue. Students also visit a Big Four firm and get hands-on practice with their new business knowledge through nightly homework assignments and a case study competition.
Thivantha Kurera BSBA (marketing) '02, MAcc '03, associate director of university relations and recruiting at KPMG and SLP board member, has been consistently impressed with the high-performing SLP students. "They get very little sleep during an intensive week of lectures and assignments but bring an amazing amount of energy," he said, "and their case presentations are more professional than many I've judged at college competitions. We are blown away."
Kurera said KPMG sends several associates, managers and interns to volunteer as full-time counselors each year—and they get just as much out of the program as the students. "Everyone who takes part instantly falls in love with the program," he said. "They put in as many as 15 hours a day on campus."
KPMG's lead counselor is also one of SLP's success stories: Christina Fennell, a KPMG audit associate, attended the program as a student at Centennial High School in Corona and then graduated from California State University, Long Beach. "The SLP was my first introduction to the accounting profession," she said, "and through the SLP's classroom instruction and networking opportunities with key accounting professionals, I was able to determine that accounting was the right profession for me."
As a result of the program, Fennell met a mentor who helped her throughout college, advising her to apply for an internship program that brought her to KPMG. "This internship led to my employment with KPMG as a full-time professional," she said. "If I had not attended the SLP during high school, it is not likely that I would have majored in accounting, nor obtained a position at one of the Big Four accounting firms."
Now Fennell is spearheading efforts to form an SLP alumni association to expand the networking opportunities of current students and alumni. Fellow alumna Jamelle Nelson '08, a senior accountant at CBRE Inc., who participated as a student at King/Drew Medical Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, is also on board for that project.
"The alumni association will allow the SLP alumni an opportunity to give back by spreading the word about the program and volunteering to help future SLP students," Fennell said. "Our goal as an association is to perpetuate the continued success and impact of the SLP for high school students across the nation."
Simmonds praises the faculty,who have made great contributions to the overall success of the program. However, he admits that more needs to be done. "Our focus needs to be on encouraging more underrepresented students to attend USC Marshall and Leventhal," Simmonds said. "That remains an important part of our mission."
Toward that goal, the SLP is stepping up efforts to provide scholarships that can help level the playing field with schools offering much lower tuition. After all, the youth that participate typically come from low-income households where the parents do not have a college education.
"Support for the Summer Leadership Program is a priority because it impacts our community," said, William W. Holder, Dean of the Leventhal School of Accounting. "By introducing young people to accounting and business careers, we pave the way for a more dynamic future in these fields and organizations that better serve society."
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