High school senior Rachel Rodgers of suburban Chicago announced
during a television interview that she is seriously considering
studying accountancy because it affords her several career paths
that mix numbers with the law.
College of Business Assistant Dean Jewell White could barely contain
his excitement when Rodgers also said she was putting the University
of Illinois on her short list of schools to apply to this fall.
"I came here thinking I wanted to go into law but now I'm thinking
more about going into accounting in a law-related field," said
Rodgers when she was interviewed by the CBS affiliate in Champaign
on July 21.
White was so pleased because when he met Rodgers a week earlier,
she had a declared interested in pursuing a law career. What changed
her mind? LEAD.
At the Head of the Class
LEAD -- Leadership, Education and Development -- is a Philadelphia-based
program on a mission - a mission to make academically advanced minority
high school students aware of the many and varied career opportunities
in business. Historically such students have pursued careers in
law or medicine. "This is an effort to show students who are
among the best and the brightest the wide variety of opportunities
in business," said White. "And they see the level of competition
they can expect in a top-tier business school." White and Assistant
Dean Victor Mullins served as the Illinois co-directors of the LEAD
Since its inception in 1980, LEAD has been an effective mechanism
for channeling top minority youth into careers in business. LEAD
provides its students with a broad perspective of the business world,
helping them select the best career direction. Support continues
through college and beyond by opening doors to mentoring programs,
internships, and permanent jobs. It also helps companies identify
outstanding internship and employment prospects. LEAD's alumni number
more than 6,000, 75 percent of whom are currently working in business.
The College of Business served as a LEAD Summer Institute for the
first time during July. Illinois' participation was made possible
by a $100,000 grant from the Bank One Foundation. University of
Illinois alumni Warren Chapman (educational policy PhD '93), and
Norma Lauter (accountancy '71) were instrumental in obtaining the
funding from the Foundation.
High school juniors who were interested in participating in LEAD
applied to the national headquarters and ranked their choices from
among 12 LEAD institutions. White, the Illinois co-director, said
the program accepted the best applicants who listed the Urbana-Champaign
campus as their first choice. "We were primarily interested
in students from the Midwest," he said. "We'd like, of
course, for them to apply to Illinois." But if they don't,
White hopes they will choose another LEAD institution such as Cornell,
Duke, the University of Texas, or the University of Michigan.
The administrative team was pleased to discover that many students
from outside the Midwest listed Illinois as their first choice on
the LEAD application, making the class geographically diverse. Of
the 29 students, seven were from Illinois, 4 from Puerto Rico, 3
from Texas, 2 each from Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New
York, and Ohio, and one each from Kansas, Tennessee, and Virginia.
The reasons for participating in the program were as varied as
the students. Sonia Jones of suburban Chicago has her sights set
on attending Howard University in Washington, DC. She applied to
LEAD because she wants to make an informed decision on a major,
a sentiment echoed by several of her peers. Erin Benavades from
Texas, whose father is a businessman, was researching specific areas
of business, particularly accounting. So was Andres De Arellano
of Puerto Rico who expected LEAD to give him a different perspective
on the various fields within the broad heading of business. Other
students said they wanted to learn more about business in general
and to spend some time on the University of Illinois campus.
The students lived together in a dorm under the watchful eyes of
several resident assistants. Although reported to be "on the
small side," the dorm rooms proved adequate for their three-week
Days were packed with classes, skill development sessions, and
seminars. Each day started at 7:15 for breakfast, followed by a
walk across the generally steamy campus to Wohlers Hall for a quiet
half hour perusing business news courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.
Classes - on such varied topics as ecommerce, marketing, investing,
banking, and new product development - started at 9 and continued
until lunch. Special seminars on interviewing skills, making effective
presentations, and web page development were interspersed throughout
each day, which ended at 5. Evenings were spend on project work
and various practice sessions and the 11 p.m. curfew was strictly
enforced. Saturdays were for time off and visits to Six Flags and
other fun venues.
Visits to corporate sites such as Bank One, Quaker Oats, Caterpillar,
State Farm, and PricewaterhouseCoopers and to the Chicago Board
of Trade filled three Fridays. At each corporate visit, students
heard from a variety of speakers who opened their eyes to the excitement
of a business career and the varied career paths.
A few stereotypes were dispelled too. Accountancy, long burdened
with images of dull jobs crunching numbers all day, is now a career
option for more than one LEAD student because of the range of jobs
the field offers, as well as advancement opportunities.
To make business challenges more real, the students were divided
into teams of three students to tackle a case study -planning a
large-scale event at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall. First
on the list of concerns for the teams was deciding whether to select
Beyonce or Justin Timberlake as the featured performer. Who is the
bigger draw in the Midwest? What are the marketing costs? All the
elements of hosting a celebrity entertainer were on the table during
While the example was fun and engaging, the activity was actually
an integrated simulation model planned by Bill Qualls, a professor
of business administration who noted that event management is a
growing but challenging industry. The specific assignment was not
for the faint of heart:
Your team is
to develop an in-depth analysis of the current situation-facing
Kevin [the Assembly Hall manager]. Specifically, you are
to address the following four (4) issues in your presentation:
an evaluation tool or decision matrix to assess the market
value of each entertainer.
- Develop and
present a financial model (using the spreadsheet model)
that demonstrates the impact of alternative pricing strategies
the team's recommendation utilizing the case data.
- Present a
promotional plan that can be used to market the entertainment
act you recommend.
- To meet Kevin's
objective of providing entertainment value to Central
Illinois and the university foremost, but at a profit
your evaluation must provide evidence that the cost of
producing, distributing, and marketing either a show by
Beyonce or Justin Timberlake, generates a greater return
than alternative programming.
The students were excited by their assignment. Alberto Mercado
Ortiz from Puerto Rico hoped the experience would be similar to
work he might do in the future. Adding to student interest was the
promise of hand-held electronic organizers as the prize to the winning
The case study presentations were made on the last full day in
Champaign and the winning team of Michael Marshall of Texas, Rance
Graham-Bailey of Kansas, and Alexx Poston of Michigan was announced
at the closing banquet at the Illini Union.
According to Assistant Dean Victor Mullins, the Illinois LEAD graduates
join a network of other LEAD alumni, business partners, and college
administrators who will help and mentor them through an assortment
of summer internships and opportunities leading to full-time careers
Twenty-nine students arrived in Champaign in early July, looking
for answers to questions about their futures. They departed with
a better understanding of business as an academic discipline and
as a possible career path. They also left central Illinois with
new friends and new ideas about their futures.
A friend told Rachel Rodgers she would have a good time if she
participated in LEAD. "She told me it would be really fun,
the best summer of my life," said Rodgers. "It's been
like that and a lot more."
More on LEAD at Illinois
Rachel Rodgers, on camera
Nicole Nash, Sonia Jones, and Efran Beltran
Andres De Arellano, Daniel Sloan, and Erin Benavides
Studying the markets
In the classroom
Getting a taste of the business curriculum