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LEADing the Way to a Business Career

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 summer institute.

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.

At Illinois

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.

Daily Life

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 stay.

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.

Case Competition

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 the competition.

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:

  1. Construct an evaluation tool or decision matrix to assess the market value of each entertainer.
  2. Develop and present a financial model (using the spreadsheet model) that demonstrates the impact of alternative pricing strategies on profitability.
  3. Demonstrate the team's recommendation utilizing the case data.
  4. Present a promotional plan that can be used to market the entertainment act you recommend.
  5. 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 team.

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.

Going Home

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 in business.

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

Attentive students

Andres De Arellano, Daniel Sloan, and Erin Benavides

Studying the markets

In the classroom

Getting a taste of the business curriculum



Second Place Team
Gavin Miller
Miafere Jones
Andres Ramirez

Third Place Team
Ayanna Coleman
Efren Beltran
Raymond Lawrence
Kindra Mason

Fourth Place Team
Sonia Jones
Taylor Cooper
Rachel Rodgers


Lindsey Howard
Andrew Parks
Cecil Stokes
Gavin Millar
Kindra Mason
Rachel Rodgers
Andres Ramirez


--Ginny Hudak-David
August 2004