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Innovative business class teaches ethics, accountability

September 16, 2009

The global financial crisis has focused new attention on the need for business ethics and accountability. In addition to its already strong lineup of ethics coursework, the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University is also now offering an innovative course for all incoming accounting students designed specifically to teach leadership, ethics, accountability and professionalism.

"These are the hallmarks of the accounting field, and we want to immerse all of our new students in learning these traits," says Michael Mikhail, director of the School of Accountancy at the W. P. Carey School of Business, who created the new course concept.

Seven of the biggest accounting firms in the world are involved in this new introductory-level class, which is believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States. For two hours each week, all freshmen accounting majors get together and engage in hands-on lessons in leadership, ethics, accountability and professionalism. The course is called LEAP, an acronym for those words.

This Friday's class will feature KPMG representatives delivering ethics lessons with an "ethics compass tool kit." The students will go through real-world scenarios and talk about how to deal with the tough issues that might come up in their accounting careers, so they can make good decisions.

"We salute Arizona State University and the W. P. Carey School of Business for its leadership in the effort to promote business ethics through its LEAP program," says Ed Rodriguez, KPMG Phoenix office managing partner and a board member of the prestigious Dean's Council of 100 at the W. P. Carey School of Business. "There is clearly a demand for more ethics to be taught in the classroom, and we're helping business schools across the country address this need by combining our firm values and focus on ethics and integrity into a series of classroom tools we've co-developed."

Participating in Friday's class will be Manny Fernandez, KPMG national managing partner for recruiting and university relations, and Blane Ruschak, KPMG executive director for recruiting and university relations, as well several professionals from the firm's Phoenix office.

Clinical professor Phil Drake oversees the LEAP class, which is meant to introduce future accountants to the skills they will need, as well as the firms where they will want to work. The program was also created to give incoming accounting students a chance to interact with each other and learn more about the field in their first college year, when they otherwise wouldn't have much exposure to specialized classes in their majors.

"I think it's a huge win-win for the students and the participating companies," says Drake. "The students get a much better understanding of the careers they have chosen and the expectations of those who will work side-by-side with them. The accounting firms can say they've known these students from day one and determine which students will be the right fit to hire after graduation."

The course runs for eight weeks, but will be followed up with other freshmen- and sophomore-year activities to reinforce the lessons learned. Top firms participating include BDO Seidman, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Grant Thornton, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and RSM McGladrey.

After each session, students write a reflection paper about what they've learned and how the lessons will relate to their future careers. Drake says the papers show the students consider the presentations to be very valuable and are helping to reaffirm their choice to be accounting majors.

"We want to attract and retain the best students and to create a culture of what we want our students to be," says Drake. "We hope this unique course will help make Arizona State University a destination school with one of the best accounting programs in the country."