When you add up a former WWE wrestler, rock and roll musician, and football lineman—along
with a gang member wanting to change his life—the sum is just a few examples of people
who found their calling as accountants by studying at Santa Monica College.
“When students hear their stories, I think they realize that’s why we push them so
hard,” says SMC Accounting Professor Ming Lu. “Accounting leads to a practical career.”
However, don’t let fellow Professor Enrique Lopez hear you call the field dull. When he was a student taking his first course in the
subject, he recalls, “I started realizing that accounting truly is the language of
business—and that I enjoyed it.”
Enrique shares that joy with his SMC students. A DJ in high school, he bolsters his instruction with rap, hip hop and rock lyrics. He’ll even change company names in accounting problems to things like “Billie Eilish Corporation” or “Beyonce Clothing Company” to keep interest flowing and make the subject more relevant to students.
Wealth of Opportunity
SMC’s accounting faculty members are particularly committed to expanding opportunities
for students from underrepresented groups. Ming organizes SMC’s annual Accounting Diversity Conference to encourage minority students to enter the profession. He and his fellow professors
also connect students with summer internships, enabling students to earn money while
gaining vital experience.
David Davis is one of many SMC alumni who landed their current jobs through such internships.
He credits Ming with setting him on the path to success as a consultant for global
giant Deloitte—one of the accounting field’s big-four firms. Impressed by his work as a tax intern,
Deloitte hired David full time as soon as he graduated from UCLA—where he had transferred after attending SMC. He has worked for Deloitte for almost
three years and is currently studying for his CPA license.
“I didn’t grow up in the best circumstances,” says David, who worked two jobs while
studying at SMC. “And Ming was not just a great professor but also a great mentor.
He genuinely cares about people and wants to help.”
Such help also led to opportunities far beyond Southern California. After his first
internship at Deloitte, the company asked David where he wanted to work the following
summer. He chose Melbourne, Australia. “They paid for his airfare and housing as well as a salary,” Ming notes.
“That was my first time out of the country,” David recalls. “Just to have that experience
while so young and getting this opportunity and career path through the guidance of
Professor Ming was just huge. I can’t even put into words how grateful I am.”
Accounting Is for You
Ming’s promotion of the field goes beyond the classroom. He shares knowledge about the profession, its options and how to get started though his YouTube channel, Accounting is for You. It features interviews with investment bankers, lawyers, recruiting experts, real estate investors and other leaders in the field—such as Los Angeles Rams Controller Darline Llopis. Ming also interviewed David about how students can graduate from college debt free.
“My goal is to capture these people’s words of wisdom,” Ming says. Instead of guests coming to speak in front of a single gathering, their appearances in Ming’s videos reach beyond SMC to inform anyone anywhere who is interested in the field.
“Recently, I got an email from a high school senior in Chicago who said he came across the channel and wanted to let me know he wanted to be an accountant,” Lu says. “So obviously my goals of providing outreach to underrepresented minority students and increasing awareness of the accounting profession are working.”
Preaching the Profession
Like Ming, Enrique also considers himself an evangelist for accounting. “I tell students that I’m going to try to convert them to accounting majors,” he says. “And some do convert. The rest I view as lost souls,” he adds jokingly.
Sophomore Nicolas Aquilar is one such convert, having come to SMC planning to major in computer science “My initial interest was purely in economics, but through Professor Lopez’s accounting class, I realized that I really like accounting as well,” Nicolas says. He plans to double major in accounting and economics when he transfers.
“Professor Lopez is very engaging and really cares about your success,” Nicolas says. “He has a unique teaching style. He’ll find a way to connect an accounting topic to a hit song, and he’ll just start singing it. All of us will have a good laugh, but it also helps connect us to the material.”
Not Just By the Numbers
Noting that low-income students who come to SMC from underfunded schools can face
competitive disadvantages, Ming instills time-management techniques and effective
study habits into his classes. He also teaches about budgeting, saving and investing,
as well as helping students plan their college courses for maximum benefit.
“The key to success is having someone advise or mentor you,” Ming says. “Connecting
them with the right people, giving them a vision and helping guide them along the
way to what they need to accomplish all make a profound difference—personally as well
as professionally.” In return, all Ming asks is they “pay it forward.”
Students and alumni are happy to oblige. “The ones who graduate and are working professionals
are mentoring the ones still in college,” Ming says. “And the ones who are in four-year
colleges are mentoring students at Santa Monica College.”
Enrique also goes above and beyond for his students. “We may only be in his class twice a week, but Professor Lopez lets us know he’s available seven days a week,” Nicolas says. “It’s always nice to know that you can reach out if you’re having trouble with an assignment.”
La VITA Loca
In addition to internships, students gain experience by providing free income tax
preparation to low-income households through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. Accounting Professor Cesar Rubio set up and coordinates the initiative at SMC.
“He brings in 20 to 30 students to help people, which also instills a sense of direction,” says Ming, who works with the program as well. “Students realize they’re not just studying it to fulfill a requirement or even to make money. They learn they can actually have a societal impact.”
Every professor in SMC’s accounting program is licensed as a certified public accountant and brings extensive industry expertise to their classes. In addition to Ming, Enrique and Cesar, the full-time faculty includes Gregory Brookins, Aileen Huang, Jenny Resnick and Erin Steinberger. In addition to work at major accounting firms, their collective experience spans the entertainment, restaurant, personal finance and investment industries.
Enrique is just one of the group who still maintains corporate clients. “It’s nice to keep things fresh, so I can share the experiences with students,” he says.
“Enrique and my accounting colleagues can actually show a student how what they’re learning works in the real world,” Ming says. And even though Enrique is the most recently hired faculty member, “he mentors me. I ask him all sorts of questions about the corporate world.”
“With seven years of work experience, I think I have the least amount,” Ming admits—even though he still aids the big four accounting firms in their equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Enrique, whose experience includes working with Disney, Panda Restaurant Group, Fox Films and Pizza Hut, calls teaching at SMC “the best thing I’ve ever done. I love it when I get a note from a student saying, ‘Professor, I’ve changed my major because of your class.”
As one of the many alumni whose lives has been changed, David says, “By the time I got to UCLA, I already had a leg up from all the training offered at SMC.
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