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A Seat at the Table

Guiding Exceptional Minds (GEMS) brings the best students to the best employers, thanks to the efforts of Professor Mike Paranal and the Trojan Family Network

September 26, 2022
Michael Paranal
Michael Paranal created the GEMS program to help students chart their professional futures. 

When Michael Paranal MBT ’06 returned to teach at USC Marshall as assistant professor of clinical accounting in 2020, he brought with him some particular ideas about how to help students make the transition from the classroom into the boardrooms.

He created a program he calls GEMS (Guiding Exceptional Minds), a selective business leadership program that invites students from his financial accounting class to visit multi-national firms in the Los Angeles area to learn which careers in business, finance and accounting are the best fit for them. During onsite visits, students meet with professionals—from new associates all the way up to the C-suite, who give them perspectives on the variety of work they do.

“I created GEMS because I think a lot of learning obviously happens in class, but a lot of it also happens outside the classroom,” he said. “The goal is to help propel our students toward meaningful and impactful future careers.”

Paranal knows of what he speaks. His own career has been international in scope, beginning as a senior associate at Deloitte in international tax and transfer pricing, followed by two years as an honors program fellow in law at the SEC in the division of enforcement in Washington, D.C. He was an associate attorney in corporate finance with Latham and Watkins in New York and London before taking a job with the European Central Bank as legal counsel in the finance division. He currently is director of advisory in the United States for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW).

With the second cohort of 16 students now in place, Paranal is excited to build on the successes of the first.  “Our first GEMS cohort has been a true success,” Paranal said. “Several of them were offered internships in the companies we visited.”

Nikki Tran ’24 participated in the first cohort. “Like most professionals tell you, you don't really know if something is right for you until you do it. But GEMS offered us an opportunity to sit front row to those living the careers we aspired to have ourselves,” she said.

“We learned about topics such as work-life balance, imposter syndrome, how to secure an offer, identity in the workplace, and other areas,” she said. “Many of our panel sessions would leave us in absolute awe and full of inspiration for our future careers because of the authenticity of the experiences being shared.”

Besides company visits, the cohort also enjoys close mentorship with members of the GEMS board of directors. Members are Marshall and Leventhal alumni who’ve committed to helping students achieve their career goals.

One such mentor is Josh Jacobs ’14, VP of finance and controller of EcoTrak who also serves on Leventhal’s Young Alumni Board.

“Accelerating the impact and careers of future Trojans is a shared ethos among our graduates,” he said. “We don’t all start out on equal footing, me included. I would not be where I am today (and tomorrow) without the countless hours given selflessly to me by fellow Trojans. I look forward to continuing the tradition.”

The GEMS program is selective. The most successful students in the core financial accounting class are invited to apply. After an initial selection based on their written applications and statements of intent, the shortlisted candidates are then interviewed by current GEMS on criteria such as leadership, problem solving, agility and teamwork.

“From this shortlist, we selected the most dynamic and promising students who demonstrate the ideals of a GEM—a student who embodies purpose and passion for authentic leadership and meaningful impact in business and beyond. I am so excited to see where they take this opportunity,” said Paranal.

Read more about GEMS here.