Paying it Forward

Leventhal students teach local grade-school kids financial literacy through USC's Joint Education Program (JEP).

March 14, 2016

Learning from Teaching
Accounting students challenge themselves while helping local kids through JEP

Last semester and this spring, USC Leventhal School of Accounting assistant professor Smrity Randhawa gave the students in her Accounting Fundamentals course the choice between two projects: an analysis of financial information from a public company or teaching a financial literacy course to K-12 students.

A large number of students chose the teaching option, organized by USC’s Joint Educational Project Center (JEP) for Service Learning. So many in fact, that Randhawa had to limit the number of participants to 15 because of logistical issues.

“I tell them upfront that the amount of time you’ll spend if you choose to do JEP does not compare with the time you would have spent on a project — JEP takes a lot longer,” said Randhawa, assistant professor of clinical accounting. “But that doesn’t dissuade them. The students want to do community outreach, and they sign up.”

Each year, more than 2,000 USC students receive academic credit for their participation in service learning courses. In addition, about 400 students serve as non-credit volunteers and share their time and special talents with their neighbors. Since its founding in 1972, more than 70,000 USC students have volunteered more than 1 million hours.

Marshall and Leventhal Pay it Forward

This is the second semester of Leventhal’s partnership with JEP, said Jacob Peters, assistant director of research and academic affairs for JEP. “It got off the ground in large part due to the efforts of Connor Gustafson MAcc ’16, a JEP program assistant who strongly suggested partnering with Leventhal students.”

JEP’s new recruitment of students from Accounting Fundamentals means that its financial literacy courses are now being taught almost entirely by Marshall and Leventhal students.

“I found the experience to be valuable as a way for me to get off campus and to learn about the surrounding community,” said Tiffany Chen ’18. “I had become so occupied with school that I had lost track of the importance of understanding the world around me.”

Cecilia Mak ’18, enjoyed the experience volunteering with JEP in her general education class, Immigrant America, last spring. “I knew I wanted to be involved with the community as soon as I came to USC, and JEP was the perfect opportunity for this,” she said.

Counting on Kids

Mak and other team members designed and taught an eight-week course for fifth graders at St. Raphael Elementary School. The lesson plans covered topics suggested by the teacher, such as credit cards vs. debit cards, college tuition and financial aid, exchange rates and interest rates. In the one-hour classes, Mak and her peers gave a PowerPoint presentation and then engaged the kids in interactive activities.

One such activity involved interest rates and a bank simulation. “Each week, we gave the students play money for every question they answered,” said Mak. “They had the opportunity to either spend what they earned on candy or invest it in our bank in order to earn interest.” Most of the students ended up investing, she said.  “Because I thought there might not be enough candy, as we were selling it at a 1:1 ratio, ‘inflation’ suddenly occurred,” she laughed.

For second graders at Norwood Street Elementary School, Chen and three team members designed a course on Money Matters, covering topics such as the value of the dollar, foreign currency, saving and budgeting.

Learning from Teaching

“This experience is really enriching for my students,” Randhawa said, “because they are thinking about how to adapt this information for a particular age level. That’s not an easy task. It’s really challenging them in a different way, and they feel a huge sense of accomplishment.”

The accounting students learned this the hard way.

“During one of our very first lessons, my team had created a worksheet that was much too hard for the students to complete,” Chen said. “The students struggled with the numbers, but they kept working on it until we left. I dreaded going back the next week because I thought that the students would be unenthused to have us back. But when we walked through that door, they were so excited to see us again.”