Gabriela Trujillo became a Trojan long before she officially enrolled last fall as an undergraduate in the USC Marshall School of Business.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there. If you just pursue them, doors will be opened,” said Trujillo, who – thanks to a national program aimed at introducing economically disadvantaged high school students to the world of high finance – completed a two-unit USC business accounting and finance course while she was still a senior in high school. “I always wanted to go to college. I am the first in my family to do so.”
Trujillo, along with more than 20,000 high school students in the nation – 1,200 from schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District – have since 1989 participated in the Academy of Finance, a program of the National Academy Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to bridge the gap between school and the world of work.
The USC component – a course that covers the foundations of finance and accounting – represents “hundreds of thousands of dollars in free tuition that USC is donating to the community annually,” said Robert Trezevant, an accounting professor who coordinates the on-campus course for the USC Levanthal School of Accounting and the Marshall School of Business and serves as one of its teachers.
Trezevant, who has been with the program for the past nine years, said he has received as much as he has given.
“With academy students, I’ve been able to take a few more risks in teaching,” he said. For instance, Trezevant discovered that allowing students to take exams as individuals and then as a group increased learning opportunities. “Now I do that in some of my regular USC classes, and it works very well. Grades on some quizzes now are based on both students’ individual exams and their team exams.”
And his academy students more than meet the challenges of rigorous academic work.
“The quality of many academy students’ projects is at least equal to the quality of the projects turned in by USC students, and that surprised me a lot,” Trezevant said. “They are very impressive students.”
As part of the program, the sophomore through senior-level students take advanced business and accounting courses at their high schools. Those classes are taught by LAUSD teachers who have taken courses offered by the academy. During their junior year, the high school students are also hired as interns at financial or business firms for four-to-six-week internships, Trezevant said.
“One of the big things they learn from the paid internships –at firms such as Bank of America, Deloitte & Touche, Merrill Lynch and Price Waterhouse Coopers – is that they can get these jobs,” Trezevant said. “A lot of the students keep on working at the firms after the internship because they are that good.”
Trujillo, whose final project in the USC course was a Power Point presentation of a fictional annual report for the Walt Disney Co., is one such student.
“I’m working part time with Price Waterhouse Coopers as an assistant finance coordinator, the same job I had during my internship,” said Trujillo, who works three days a week at the firm.
The accounting course is sometimes “that final nudge to get kids to file college applications,” said Barbara Golding, director of secondary career programs for the Los Angeles Educational Partnership (LAEP), which directs the academy.
“We are convinced that 90 percent of our kids go on to college because they spend time on campus, see people who look like them and are welcomed by professors who think they can do this work,” added Golding.
The tuition-free course also benefits USC because a number of academy students have chosen the university as their alma mater. Of the approximately 390 students who have gone through the program at Foshay Learning Center, about 17 have reportedly gone on to USC.
“The experience of being on a university campus is the final ingredient that helps our students realize how much they have accomplished,” said Daniel Corwin, associate director of career academies for LAEP. “USC’s involvement in the Academy of Finance advances students’ knowledge and preparation, provides them with a setting that confirms their importance and encourages future success.”