John Shiffert: Blossoming in the College of Business

Blossoming in the College of Business

“When they’re actively doing tax returns, they blossom.”

Now, maybe one doesn’t typically link the function of doing a federal income tax return with blossoming, or with making dreams real, but the speaker in this case is Clayton State University Associate Professor of Law Dr. Judith Ogden, and the case in point is the University’s longest-running community service initiative, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, hosted by the College of Business, and directed by Ogden.

VITA is a national program that provides tax support for certain eligible taxpayers. The program is also an empowering experience for Clayton State students. Each year for the past 24 years, Clayton State accounting students have volunteered their time and efforts, providing the public with free tax preparation services and, in Ogden’s words, blossoming in the process.

And there are additional, long-term benefits to the students as well. Not only do they develop confidence in dealing with clients, notes Ogden, but the experience makes them much more comfortable in approaching an accounting firm after they graduate Clayton State.

“They’re now better at getting and keeping a job,” she says of her VITA volunteers.

While VITA is a highly visible and public manifestation of the University’s empowering its students, it is hardly the only such initiative in the College of Business.

Indeed, every business major at Clayton State knows about empowerment, thanks in part to the College of Business’ capstone strategy course, Capstone Business Experience. The lead instructor for the course is Professor of Management Dr. Gary May.

“The most empowering learning involves hands-on experience and challenge,” says May. “By participating in an interactive team simulation, students actually learn how to run a business – creating and revising product lines, marketing their products, managing the production, performing HR functions, applying total quality management tools, and raising funds in a competitive environment. Having teams go up against each other is a powerful motivator for students to test and hone their skills.”

That’s not just the professor talking. One of his current students, Christopher “CJ” Menard, has this take on the Capstone Business Experience.

I think Dr. May’s course is a good practice for how real companies operate in the marketplace. You have multiple factors that are interlocked, all affecting your bottom-line. The simulation is very detailed, and is a great tool for preparing soon-to-be graduates, including myself, on how every decision and function within the organization is crucial for success. In the simulation, production cannot really schedule what it needs to produce unless it knows what marketing is planning. This is one of the challenges each student in the simulation has to take into account. The process makes you work as a team and hold each other accountable. The simulation has definitely empowered me to want to get into the workforce to begin making these tough, yet rewarding decisions.

According to May, the simulation also provides a framework for understanding business processes, decision-making, and key financial reports as the students fight for market share and profits. The semester-long simulation is a complement to the cognitive course content, which teaches the principles of strategic management and leadership.

One of the College of Business’ specific academic programs that epitomize empowerment is supply chain management, a wide-ranging success story from Morrow to Savannah that typically ends up with the ultimate prize for Clayton State graduates, a good job.

“Every year, we have a student trip to the Savannah Ocean Container Port,” explains Director, Supply Chain Management and Assistant Professor of Supply Chain John Mascaritolo. “The focus of this trip is to give the students an up-close view of the working operations of the fourth largest container port in the U.S. They get to see what global shipping is like. They see ocean containers being loaded and unloaded from the huge ocean vessels and I find this exposure gets them more excited in their future for towards a career in supply chain management.”

One student who felt that excitement was December 2013 graduate Angel Devone. An Integrative Studies major with a minor in Supply Chain Management, Devone was also empowered by the University’s Corporate Partners Program, and the Office of Career Services, in addition to the academic programs of the College of Business. As a result, she was hired for her supply chain expertise by Georgia-Pacific as a procurement specialist. In fact, after three months of employment at Georgia-Pacific’s Houston, plant, she was promoted to supporting the Georgia Pacific plant in Las Vegas.

As Director of Career Services Bridgette McDonald explains, Devone was hired by Georgia-Pacific after taking part in one of her office’s periodic Employer Information Sessions – events that give Corporate Partners like Georgia-Pacific an up close and personal view of the University’s best and brightest.

From the students’ perspective, the Employer Information Sessions are empowering opportunities to listen to recruiters discuss how to gain inside knowledge to their hiring practices. That was the case in August 2013, when Devone attended the Georgia-Pacific Employer Information Session on the Clayton State campus and had a chance to interact with Georgia-Pacific Vice President for Procurement Scott Harper, eventually leading to her position(s) with Georgia-Pacific.

“There has been nothing but positive acceptance for our supply chain management program here at Clayton State University,” says Mascaritolo. “Companies like Georgia-Pacific, Philips Van Hausen, Kuehne + Nagle, Delta, and Coca-Cola, find our students of supply chain management well-trained and competent in meeting their requirements for filling competitive entry level positions.”

Clearly, the College of Business, like the rest of Clayton State, is a place of empowerment for students. Perhaps the student who expresses that the best is the president of the Clayton State Accounting Club and VITA volunteer, Garron Barrett, who notes that, while he’s learned a lot of complex tax codes in class, “it was a great experience to talk to people, to engage with them.”

Ogden and Barrett both agree that “doing” tax returns live is a lot different than doing them in the classroom, and that students are indeed empowered by the experience.

“Every tax situation is different, you have to figure out every part of the tax return,” he says. “You can’t flip to the back to the book to see the answer.”

While going “live” does provide the VITA volunteers with an empowering experience, Barrett also notes that their service also helps the taxpayers.

“By applying what we know in a real situation we can inform the taxpayers,” he explains. “We can also help the taxpayers learn about filling out their forms in the future.

“It’s a learning environment for everyone.”