Shasta College Collaboration Merges Critical Industries
News Center, Business and Entrepreneurship Sector – November 2020
When Shasta College became the first school in California to earn a commercial timber license for its award-winning Heavy Equipment Logging Operations (HELO) program, it opened up possibilities in the lumber industry… and beyond.
This year, Shasta is saying “HELO” to business, inviting accounting students to handle the books for timber sales. This unique, cross-sector pollination is creating opportunities for both CTE and business students to bloom bigger than ever.
“The cross-discipline training being offered by Shasta College is unique and innovative,” shares industry partner Dr. Timothy Robards, Staff Chief of Forest Health, Wood Products and Bioenergy at CAL FIRE. According to the fire protection administrator, the accounting collaboration will have wide-sweeping implications for both business and ecology:
“Merging the two is critical to the success of a forest products business, and the success of forest products businesses are critical to the state of California in sustainably managing its forest lands.”
It’s an urgency echoed by Angela Cordell, Regional Director for Business and Entrepreneurship in the North Far North Region. From her perspective, the synergy represents an ideal way to expose accounting students to real-life work experience. “They will have a better understanding of the numbers,” says Cordell. “Then, they can make recommendations if they see an opportunity to save money.”
While HELO students learn how to safely harvest materials for sale to Sierra Pacific, accounting students will soon be using their financial skills to make operations run even more efficiently. Proceeds will be reinvested directly back into the timber program.
With accounting students balancing the books, the operation will become self-sustaining, all while boosting in-demand skills across disciplines.
“Students are going to be getting their boots dirty,” says accounting instructor and Shasta alumna Juanne Van Der Linde, who is grateful to have “come home” recently to teach at her alma mater. For now, she will oversee the experiential project virtually, with plans to return to the field once it’s safe.
“They are actually going to see how this works: the people working machines, cutting down trees and preparing them to be sold,” says Van Der Linde. “It will really make the experience a lot richer for the students.”
Set to start in Spring 2021, the hands-on opportunity will commence with the Managerial Accounting class and eventually expand to Financial Accounting, both fulfilling core business requirements. The semester-long group project will count toward final assessments and represents the first time participants will take their skills outside the classroom and apply them to an operational business.
Students will create financial proposals as part of the project, giving them specific experience in an essential aspect of the accounting profession.
“This is similar to what I’ve done in my MBA program,” says Van Der Linde.
At higher levels of education, she explains, learners from various business disciplines are routinely involved in group projects with actual companies – indispensable experience for a prospective business professional. Thanks to the collaborative nature of the project, Van Der Linde says, “Students will be better prepared.”
With accounting experience under their belts, grads would open the door to broader opportunities in various industries. Or, they might even find a new home in the forest, parlaying their experience into a timber career. Says Becky Roe, Senior Project Coordinator at Shasta College: “We get this really cool cross-pollination for the accounting students being exposed to an industry that is a major economic driver in our region.”
For partners in the timber business, where careers are broad and varied, innovative collaborations like this are precisely what the industry needs.
“Industry employers are seeking professionals in the fields of business, sales, finance and accounting, IT, engineering, and human resources, among others,” says Kristy Lanham, North Sierra Region Community Relations Manager at Sierra Pacific Industries.
And while meeting demand in these critical sectors will take more than luck, Lanham says the area is fortunate to have Shasta College’s help.
“As technology advancements and innovation loom large in our industry, Shasta College continues to rise to the occasion, providing solid opportunities for local students to train up in careers right in their backyard.”
Once accounting students get a feel for lumber operations, they could decide to join or even start a business in the lucrative sector. In fact, entrepreneurship opportunities are booming when it comes to mechanized logging, with many contractors running operations that need employees with strong business backgrounds.
“We’re going to hear down the line that some of these logging students have partnered up with some of the accounting students to start a business or work on a project together,” envisions Van Der Linde.
At the end of the semester, accounting teams will submit their findings and recommendations for the culminating project. The plan is to evolve these presentations into something like a pitch competition to a panel of logging industry members, boosting students’ networking potential. Internship and job shadowing opportunities may also emerge as the college explores possibilities with partners.
“All these industry folks need accountants,” says Roe. “There’s potential there for it to naturally evolve.”
Once the accounting-logging collaboration gets off the ground, Cordell thinks the idea of cross-collaboration between businesses could catch on elsewhere. The regional director hopes to replicate the synergistic process across other business classes and divisions in the future to bolster cross-sector careers:
“All of our colleges can take the model and say, ‘Alright, how can we apply this to Hospitality, to Manufacturing?’”
Van Der Linde agrees.
“This kind of project would make students even more hirable,” says the instructor. “They will have actually learned how to put some of these things into practice.”
asIt worked for Shasta College alumna Robyn Evans, who received her associate degree in Business Administration while Van Der Linde was also a student and tutor. Today, she’s applying what she learned as an Assurance Associate with public accounting giant CohnReznick, with plans to earn her CPA license.
“The accounting program at Shasta College helped develope my problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, which I was able to carry with me,” says Evans, who cites Van Der Linde as a significant peer-to-peer influence. “She was a semester ahead of me and was always willing to help me if I had questions.”
Evans found it wholly unsurprising that her helpful homework buddy is now a forward-thinking instructor running an innovative cross-sector collaboration. And while she wishes Van Der Linde’s new venture well, she really wishes the program had existed when she was at Shasta.
“It would have allowed me to see the bigger picture instead of just reading about it in a textbook,” says Evans, who now knows the value of genuine experience as a resume-booster. “Not only will they look more well-rounded, but having even a little bit of bookkeeping experience could help tremendously.”
“Robyn brings so much energy and determination to our organization,” says Emily Santana, Human Resources Manager at CohnReznick. “She is a well-rounded member of our team and adds immeasurable value.”
For her part as manager of Evans’ department, which also employs five other community college grads, Santana is well aware of the power of experience-based career education. When it comes to Shasta College’s new accounting undertaking, she says she’s certain that the hands-on project will enrich the regional hiring pool while making grads more attractive to employers.
“It will give students an ability to add to their resumes as well as give them a competitive edge in potential job interviews.”
Graduates like Evans are proving that there is strength in numbers when it comes to business education, and proud industry partners like Sierra Pacific Industries couldn’t agree more.
“California Community Colleges are opening doors for local students,” says Lanham, who can’t wait for the accounting project to get off the ground.
“This will be music to our industry finance and accountants’ ears.”