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Business Officer Magazine
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Casting Students in Starring Roles

In most cases, it probably takes an entire cast of characters to stage a major initiative at your institution. When you begin to consider who might handle what details for your next big production, remember to seek—formally and informally—input from students. As the following examples illustrate, those you teach may have access to critical resources and relationships. Keeping the lines of communication open can bring you unanticipated returns.

By Jolene Lampton

In most cases, it probably takes an entire cast of characters to stage a major initiative at your institution. When you begin to consider who might handle what details for your next big production, remember to seek—formally and informally—input from students. As the following examples illustrate, those you teach may have access to critical resources and relationships. Keeping the lines of communication open can bring you unanticipated returns.

Sharing the Spotlight

In the corporate world, good relationships are good business. They can generate sustainable profits for companies. Such connections are built on mutual respect, which is the glue that holds together well-functioning teams, partnerships, and relationships. Building respect leads to accepting people for who they are. The trusting environment that results is usually one in which individuals are open to new ideas and opportunities.

It is no different in the classroom. Instructors welcome new ideas, options, and collaborations. Good relationships between students and teachers can jump-start strategic initiatives at your institution. In my recent experience, establishing initial trust between instructor and student was the catalyst that facilitated a corporate partnership between Citibank and Park University–Austin, Texas.

Keep the Door Open

Not long ago, a student in my accounting class came to my office for help with an assignment. After addressing her questions, I shared my plight in securing a grant for financial literacy programming. We began discussing the fact that many people are not financially savvy. Among other related issues, we discussed the low savings rate in this country and the runaway use of credit cards.

This kind of interaction occurred as a result of the strong student–instructor relationships that are fairly typical at liberal arts colleges like Park University. The institution serves primarily working, adult students; and this particular student was a banker who worked in management with Citibank. Following our conversation, she took my problem to her boss. Their meeting eventually led to the bank’s contribution of $1,000 in private funds for our financial training sessions.

Beyond Modest Beginnings

We used the financial support to conduct a series of seminars jointly presented by bank personnel and the Park University faculty. We made these outreach opportunities available on campus, in workplaces, and throughout the Austin community. Financial literacy in our community has increased as a result, and we project that the sessions will mean more customers for the bank and more students for our campus.

A powerful collaboration—the first of its kind for us—between the Park University–Austin campus and a major banking institution began as a casual mentoring discussion between student and instructor. In truth, students can be the most avid proponents and activists for a campus in establishing key relationships with corporate sponsors as well as with other organizations in the surrounding community.

The future holds many mutually beneficial pursuits. We currently are developing a course called “Personal Financial Management,”which will be offered to the bank’s customers and Park University’s students. Plans for additional outreach in the Austin community are ongoing—as a means of helping more of our citizens become more knowledgeable about financial matters.

JOLENE LAMPTON is professor of management accounting, Park University–Austin, Texas.


Scripting the Future

One of the many benefits of working at a university is the perpetual access to talented professors and students, who are capable and willing to help address challenges confronting the institution. A major initiative that we undertook at the University of California, Sacramento (Sacramento State), provides an excellent example of this dynamic.

An Economical Solution

Due to the unavailability of funds to purchase an off-the-shelf business continuity plan, Sacramento State began discussing the possibility of designing a BCP database in-house. At the same time, Carlos Romero, a student and an employee of the university’s Office of Risk Management Services, asked his supervisor if he had any ideas for a viable senior project. Romero explained that he and a small group of students from the College of Business Administration’s information management systems program needed to complete such a project as part of their graduation requirements. Seizing the opportunity to use free talent and energy, Romero’s supervisor proposed the BCP development project to the students. They eagerly accepted. Sacramento State then began a nine-month journey, with faculty and students working to turn their ideas into a usable solution.

Realistic Expectations

We spent the first four months conceptually designing the database solution. During the final five months, we developed a Microsoft SQL (structured query language) database for storing BCP information and combined it with a Web interface for user data entry. The end product, while relatively simplistic compared to systems developed by for-profit businesses, is quite remarkable.

We considered the construction of the interface and database from the viewpoint of user data entry—and factored in the time constraints (mainly that of student graduation) that limited the scope of the project. Consequently, the project team agreed that the solution to our BCP development challenge was to attack the heart of business continuity planning—critical processes and procedures development. With constraints understood and the ability to reference critical system information previously identified in our BCP business impact analysis, we agreed upon a few basic system design requirements, which included:

  • capturing the critical system(s);
  • identifying all of the resources, responders, and supporting documents;
  • providing a data entry structure that would allow the user to develop step-by- step procedures for each critical function that might need restoring,
  • applying worse-case scenarios to the way that data would be captured and handled within the database;
  • creating a data management process to correlate responders, resources, and supporting documents with the response procedures; and
  • assembling electronically all of the entered components into a single, coherent document.

As it turned out, the students were up to the challenge. They were incredibly talented and developed a system that is not only more than adequate in its ability to capture information but is intuitive in its functionality.

Taking a Curtain Call

By taking advantage of our in-house student capabilities, keeping our design simple, and focusing on critical system maintenance and response procedures, we were able to construct a BCP management system that’s easy to use, efficient, and flexible. It allows users to easily develop response procedures for restoring critical processes during any unfavorable event.

If you develop good relationships with faculty and students, you too will be able to identify and take advantage of student talent. Conversely, by assisting you, students will gain much-needed, real-world experience.

MICHAEL D. CHRISTENSEN is assistant vice president for risk management services, California State University, Sacramento.