“I know I’m getting carried away, but I like cash flow statements!”
Ed Taylor is striding back and forth across the classroom in Fulton Hall, his sturdy frame clad in a polo shirt and khakis, suitable for the warm summer day outside. His hair is iron gray and his voice is getting hoarse.
“Assets up, cash down. Assets down, cash up,” continues Taylor, a senior lecturer and the assistant chairperson of Accounting in the Carroll School of Management. “All the time! No exceptions! And I can prove it to you!”
Taylor’s chalk clacks on the blackboard as he makes charts for accounting scenarios. If the board were filled with X’s, O’s, and arrows instead of columns and equations, Taylor could be mistaken for a basketball coach. Not the grumpy kind, but the patient sort of coach who brings along the stragglers with encouragement. Hardly a moment passes in which Taylor fails to elicit a response from a younger voice.
“How do you compute depreciation?” Taylor asks. “What is the method?” He sweeps the room with a wide-eyed gaze, his mouth open in an expectant half smile, as if he just knows someone has the answer.
“Linear depreciation?” hazards one student.
“It’s actually called ‘straight-line depreciation,’” Taylor clarifies. “But that’s a pretty good way of describing it, ‘linear.’ I like that! Linear!”
This enthusiasm is a good quality to have, because none of the thirty or so students in Taylor’s classroom are Carroll School of Management students. Financial accounting is Greek to most of them. (In fact, many are more likely to know Greek.)
However, these young men and women have all chosen to be here. They're among the 83 students, hailing mostly from the Morrissey College of Arts & Sciences, who chose to stay on the Heights in the heat for the Carroll School’s intensive nine-week, nine-credit program known as Catalyst. (Or, in full, the Summer Management Catalyst Program, designed exclusively for non-management students.)
“They get exposure to all the functional areas of management,” says Catalyst director Tom Wesner, associate professor of the practice in Business Law. “They retain the best of their liberal arts education, but couple it with business skills, and now employers see them as really unique.”
More than that, the experience broadens the very scope of employers that these bio, econ, poli-sci, and other majors will seek out. “We talk about [career] discernment at BC,” says Wesner. “My goodness, since we started Catalyst [in 2014], we’ve had several hundred students whose career trajectories have been significantly altered because of the program... You see it in teaching, that the lights are going on every day—those ah-ha! moments that lead to great transformations.”
Major source of minors
For example, Christopher Whelan ’21 of New Jersey is a political science major considering a career in international relations, perhaps as a consultant or in a government intelligence agency.
“I realized my interests in poli-sci crossed with an interest in business as well... What’s going on in different parts of the world might affect or be affected by business transactions and travel—that’s important to know no matter what your discipline.”
Whelan applied and was accepted into the Catalyst program. The son of an English professor, Whelan tended to excel in writing. He had a strong desire to burnish his numbers know-how, but he was somewhat daunted by the prospect of multiple crash courses heavy on spreadsheets.
“I was most worried about the Basic Finance class,” he says, “Financial Accounting was up there, too.” But he found Taylor’s passion for cash flow statements infectious. “I ended up really enjoying accounting,” says Whelan. He finds the areas of study complementary, lighting up different parts of his brain. “Writing an essay in political science, I might find a solution, but it’s also very satisfying when you balance a balance sheet, and you know it’s correct when the numbers add up... Catalyst taught me that behind each statement someone makes, whether it be about demographics or the political scene, there are numbers to back it up.”
Whelan enjoyed accounting so much, he’s decided to pick up a minor in it—which is something a Morrissey student can do, now that the Carroll School offers minors for non-management students.
And the accounting class didn’t merely spark Whelan’s interest; a for-credit course, it actually counted toward the new minor he’s chosen. “With nine credits, students can in some cases knock out a third of a minor with Catalyst,” says Wesner, the program director.
In fact, Wesner adds, 70 percent of the 2019 Catalyst class is now planning a CSOM minor or has already declared one. Besides those two classes that worried Whelan (and others) at the outset, Catalyst also offers Marketing Principles and Business Law for credit. (All students earn credit for the accounting and marketing classes; all attend the finance and law classes for the first four weeks, then choose which to continue for credit.)
Talking the talk
How do the professors pack so much material into such a short program? Turns out it isn’t so short, in terms of class time. A regular semester runs 15 weeks long, and students are in class 12.5 hours a week. In each of Catalyst’s nine weeks, students spend 22.5 hours in class. By Wesner’s calculations, it’s the equivalent of more than 90 percent of a semester.
Even the non-credit courses carry big benefits for Catalyst students. For example, three words: Excel, Excel, Excel. The spreadsheet software, taught in a pass-fail class, came up often in several interviews with students and alumni of the summer program. Big data is another critical noncredit course. Wesner stresses that he wants students to learn the hard skills that will give them confidence in answering a prospective employer’s question: “What can you do for us on day one?”
As to making connections with those employers in the first place, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Management Advising Amy Donegan has the business newbies covered. In her career prep module, she helps them figure out and articulate their personal brand, works closely with them to hone their resumes, and even gives them prosaic but important tips on presenting themselves professionally. “Strong handshake, eye contact,” she reminded her charges as they paired off and practiced their elevator pitches during one class meeting.
“I used to fear opening the Wall Street Journal because just the headlines gave me a headache.”
Moreover, Donegan arranges for the students to put that practice to good use at a Catalyst-exclusive Career Networking Night. Until that evening, “I’d never even been to a career fair before,” says Marvin Mujko ’22, an undeclared Morrissey student from New York City. “It was an absolutely vital experience. I got to talk to hiring officers from big firms and left with a bunch of business cards [and plans to] follow up. It was a good way of parsing out interests and seeing which interests correlate with which jobs.”
It helped that Mujko could finally make small talk about business and industry news. “I can have conversations about the stock market and the economy now,” he says. “I used to fear opening the Wall Street Journal because just the headlines gave me a headache.”
From bio to law and beyond
It was at the Catalyst networking event in 2018 that Áine Tracy ’19, of Hingham, Mass., made the connection that led to her current job.
Tracy was a biology major who had interned as a lab tech at an animal clinic and considered a career as a veterinarian. Her Catalyst experience convinced her to pick up a finance minor, and the career fair resulted in an internship at Leerink, an investment bank that specializes in health care.
“It’s a nice merger of my interests in science and finance,” Tracy says. “Luckily, the internship led to a full-time offer, and it’s been a great fit.”
“Everywhere I’ve interviewed, I’ve talked about Catalyst, and it stands out on my resume that I have business knowledge because of it.”
Samantha MacDonald ’17, too, had minored in biology with an eye to veterinary work, though the native of Newbury, Mass., switched to psychology her freshman year and picked up a history minor her senior year. Wesner’s Business Law was the Catalyst course that caught her fancy. She is now entering her final year at Villanova Law School, and she spent the summer of 2019 interning at Goldman Sachs.
“Everywhere I’ve interviewed, I’ve talked about Catalyst, and it stands out on my resume that I have business knowledge because of it,” says MacDonald.
Will Torsiglieri ’18 of New Jersey never considered being a veterinarian—he double-majored in economics and philosophy. But he echoes MacDonald on how Catalyst pops out on a resume and serves as a conversation starter with interviewers. Torsiglieri now works as a financial analyst at Amazon. “So many skills I opened my brain up to in Catalyst, I use to this day, and have been able to hone in my everyday work,” he says.
Such stories abound across the Catalyst cohorts of the past several years. When reminded of how his class convinced MacDonald to pursue law, Wesner says, “Therein lies the beauty of the enterprise. Students come in open to growth and new directions in life.
“Catalyst is Jesuit education at its finest,” Wesner adds. “It’s about discovery, awakenings, and reflecting on what’s possible.”
Patrick L. Kennedy, Morrissey College ’99, is a contributing writer at the Carroll School of Management.
Photos by Lee Pellegrini.