High School Accounting Students Encouraged to ‘Pay it Forward’
Students played drums on the Eckley Quadrangle as part of evening activities during
the week-long ALOT program at Illinois Wesleyan. (Photo by Mark Von Brock)
Aug. 2, 2006
If there’s one thing accountants know, it is how to find differences—sums and differences.
Or at least that’s what most of the participants of Illinois Wesleyan University’s
second annual Accounting Leaders of Tomorrow (ALOT) program thought when they arrived
in Bloomington on June 18.
The 32 urban high school students, from Chicago and Detroit, spent a week at Illinois
Wesleyan attending panel discussions with accounting professionals, visiting regional
corporations like State Farm Insurance, Caterpillar Inc., and Archer Daniels Midland
Company, and completing a business simulation. Ultimately, they learned that accountants
do much more than add and subtract. They also learned that a career in accounting
could be “ALOT” different than they ever anticipated.
According to program founder Jerry Olson, professor of accounting at IWU, the mission
of the program is threefold: to “increase awareness of the diverse number of career
opportunities in accounting, expand interpersonal and financial skills of students,
and develop leadership, teamwork and communications skills in competitive business
simulations.” By these standards, the camp was a great success: the students interacted
with a wide variety of accounting professionals and collaborated to save a fictitious
software company in a simulated activity.
However, Olson had one more major lesson to impart: “Do any of you want to make money
but also give something back?” he asked students on the night they arrived. Throughout
the week his “pay it forward” message was consistent: “I hope you’ve seen as business
people that you have a responsibility to give back when you become successful.”
The ALOT program itself exemplified the generosity of many local organizations and
corporations. Every aspect of the program, from transportation in coach buses to
lodging and meals on the IWU campus - even souvenirs from the IWU Bookstore and treats
from Hattie’s, a coffee shop in the Hansen Student Center - was free to the participants.
Olson received funding from the University, as well as substantial support from State
Farm, Caterpillar, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois.
Gifts to the program were not strictly financial. Bruce Breitweiser, managing partner
of Dunbar, Breitweiser and Company, LLP, a CPA firm in Bloomington, presented each
student with a copy of the book The Richest Man in Babylon, by George S. Clason.
A collection of parables and short stories, the book is considered a classic on how
to sensibly increase wealth.
Perhaps the most valuable contribution to ALOT’s success, however, was time. Olson
and Sarah Riehl, visiting assistant professor of accounting, collaborated over the
last year to organize ALOT, with the support of Sammie Robinson, assistant professor
of business administration, and several IWU students and recent grads who helped plan
and chaperone the program. The corporations, too, gave of time in addition to financial
resources. Representatives, ranging from interns to senior executives from Caterpillar,
Archer Daniels Midland, State Farm, PricewaterhouseCoopers and other organizations,
led panel discussions about careers and opportunities in accounting.
“ALOT is getting some name recognition, people know what that means,” said IWU President
Richard F. Wilson at the program’s culminating formal dinner. Wilson was referring
to the increasing number of accounting professionals familiar with ALOT, but Olson
also encouraged students to continue to spread the word of the program at their homes
and schools. ALOT’s growing reputation with students, speakers and contributors will
help the program continue to expand.
Olson and Riehl were pleased with the improvements from ALOT 2005 to ALOT 2006, including
lengthening the program by one day. However, they are already discussing further
developments for next year. Olson hopes to invite the families of participants to
campus, increase student interaction with professional mentors, and provide several
laptop computers for the students to work on in the evening when The Ames Library
Contact: Becky Welzenbach, (309)556-3181