An accounting class at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln was recently recognized as an innovation in business education by the MidAmerican Business Deans Association (MABDA). Taught by Amanda Gonzales, associate professor of practice in accountancy, and Julie Uribe, an Emmy-winning lecturer in the university’s Johnny Carson School of Theater and Film, the course empowers future accountants to communicate effectively in the workplace.
"At Nebraska, we’re leading the future of accounting education by creating innovative undergraduate curriculum and professional development opportunities and building a culture where students help each other succeed,” said Jimmy Downes, director of the School of Accountancy and associate professor of accountancy. "This class prepares the next generation of accountants by equipping students with the communication skills to thrive as future leaders through writing, research and improvisational techniques."
In the Research and Communication in Accounting (ACCT 455) class, Gonzales focuses on strengthening students’ research and written communication skills while Uribe uses her improv training from the Groundlings School in Los Angeles — with notable alumni like Will Ferrell and Melissa McCarthy — and more than 25 years of experience in the television industry to expand verbal communication.
“We each planned our own curriculum with shared course objectives in mind. In the end, our mutual goal is to help the students get hired, promoted and flourish in a diverse and fast-paced world,” said Uribe.
While students might feel familiar with the traditional setting of Gonzales’ classroom, Uribe takes students through unique improvisational exercises, often using full-body movement or short scenes created on the spot. The five weeks of applied improv training culminate in an experiential learning activity where students leverage their training to lead an unstructured, real-world role-play meeting. The interdisciplinary course sets Nebraska's accounting students apart from their peers through the skills gained through these experiences.
"It's impossible to overstate the importance of soft skills. In fact, they can be the difference between those we hire and those we don't," said Chris Lindner, audit partner for FORVIS.
For recent finance and management graduate Faith Miller, '23, the class impacted her life right away. It gave her confidence for her first full-time job interviews.
"Because of the improv training, I knew I had the skills to think quick on my feet. I was prepared for any question they threw my way. This class gave me new energy, and it helped me land a job at New York Life," she said.
The idea for the course emerged during a discussion with industry professionals serving on the School of Accountancy's advisory board. With the industry needing accountants who are also great communicators, Gonzales saw a way to best prepare Nebraska graduates for career success.
"Accountants constantly work with people and in teams to solve problems for their clients. Our graduates need to be able to respond quickly and communicate well to build relationships and persuade an audience during fast-moving conversations with clients and colleagues,” said Gonzales.
When she heard the news they received the competitive MABDA Curricular Innovation Award, she was told it came with a modest stipend. Gonzales decided to plan a surprise to say thank you to Uribe.
"I really wanted to do something to honor Julie’s amazing work with this course. Because I know Julie loves students so much and is so invested in their learning, I wanted to incorporate students into the honor. She believes in the work — and the results speak for themselves — so I knew getting the message out on T-shirts would be meaningful," she said.
The message included words students shared about their improv experience. The T-shirt design included the words: transformative, empowering, collaborative, fun, engaging, impactful and supportive.
"Julie often does her work behind the scenes, investing in each individual student. Students often write in their reflections about the confidence they have gained and the impact Julie has on them. Many describe Julie’s impact as life-changing," she said.
Gonzales delivered the shirts to those currently in the class and invited Uribe to stop by. The whole classroom joined in the surprise and celebrating their achievement.
"Hearing about how everyone came together to share in the win highlights what is special about our Nebraska Business community," said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance. "Our faculty, like Amanda and Julie, are doing amazing things while empowering our students to be confident in their abilities to lead the future of business."
MABDA also honored the college's Inclusive Business Leaders program with the Innovation in Business Education award in the Student Engagement category. MABDA provides a forum for chief administrative officers of member organizations in 17 states to share and discover trends and innovations in higher education and industry that impact and foster student success.
Published: February 6, 2024