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Karen Bird
  Karen Bird

BBA Lecturer Accounts for Diversity at Ross

9/10/2009 --

Ernst & Young recognizes Karen Bird for her contributions to MREACH and LEAD.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As a lecturer of accounting, Karen Bird usually works with numbers. But her true passion is people. And her primary goal is to get people talking. As faculty facilitator of two on-campus programs that promote dialogue among students from varied backgrounds, Bird does just that.

"Figuring out how people learn is sort of my passion," says Bird. "How do we provide an environment where everyone can maximize their learning?"

To create that environment, Bird is one of the driving forces behind two programs that promote diversity at Ross. She is the curriculum coordinator of Michigan Ross School of Business Enriching Academics in Collaboration with High Schools (MREACH) and is the Ross faculty director of the Leadership Education and Development Program in Business (LEAD).

For her efforts with both MREACH and LEAD, Bird recently was awarded Ernst & Young's first Inclusive Excellence Award for Accounting and Business School Faculty. Ernst & Young created the award to recognize the extraordinary efforts of faculty members who are helping to create more diverse learning environments that will help students succeed in the global workforce.

Bird knows that MREACH and LEAD are two paths to doing just that. "Firms are focusing more and more on having a diverse workforce," she says. "You can talk about it, you can say you do it, but the employees are asking what it means. So my goal with MREACH and LEAD is to figure out how to do that effectively. I'm always going to be asking how we can better communicate with each other."

MREACH is a four-year program unique to Ross. It brings students from urban and rural high schools to the Ross campus and introduces them to basic business principles while also generating interest in higher education. Students enroll as freshmen, and the goal is to retain them in MREACH until high school graduation. The program fosters cross-cultural relationships by exposing students to people of varied backgrounds.

"No one else in Southeastern Michigan has done this," says Rob Koonce, executive director of MREACH. "No other college or university has said to a ninth grade student, 'You're pretty smart, you're talented, you're creative. Why don't you study business?' and then brought them to a business school campus to do just that."

As such a unique program, MREACH already is achieving its goals. But Bird took it one step further. She wanted MREACH's high school students to truly understand Ross and its values so she recruited members of the undergraduate Accounting Club to help run some of MREACH's programming. From there Ross student involvement in MREACH snowballed. Several other clubs decided to participate, including the Black Business Undergraduate Society and the Ross Undergraduate Hispanic and Latin Society. More recently MBA clubs also signed on, including the Black Business Student Association.

"Karen has always wanted to create more cultural dialogue at Ross," Koonce says. "And I think she recognized that if you're going to talk about diversity, you need to make sure your student involvement is there. She wants to address the issues of group self-identity and self-segregation to get Ross students talking to one another."

Piloted in the 2005-2006 academic year, MREACH opened with 44 high school students. Of those 44 students, 37 are now planning to attend college in the fall. Now in its fourth year, the program has served approximately 614 students. MREACH has generated such interest in higher education that approximately 99 percent of students in the program say they have plans for college. Bird is especially pleased that many of them also express an interest in accounting.

"Accounting has this bad reputation of being about numbers only, but it's really about the story," she says. "How do you put everything together? That's the lesson I impart to the students."

With several action-based components, MREACH 's curriculum is designed to engage high school students for the entire four years. Ninth graders participate in a business simulation in which they manage companies and raise capital through equity and debt. In their sophomore year students break up into teams to compete in an online economics game and manage a virtual portfolio and learn how to evaluate stocks, mutual funds, and other investments through the John R. and Georgene M. Tozzi Electronic Business and Finance Center. During the summer between their sophomore and junior years the high-performing teams attend MREACH Summer Business Academy for a week where they develop a business plan which they implement during their junior year. And as MREACH seniors, students shadow a Ross BBA and attend classes.

"I see great progress in students throughout the four years," says Bird. "On their evaluations, they'll say, 'I get it. I have to figure out the story behind the numbers.' I'll also get students who say they directly applied something they learned in managerial accounting to a job or internship. They seem so surprised."

Bird's attempts to get people interacting don't stop with MREACH. She also works with LEAD, a national summer program that helps and encourages underrepresented minority high school students to study business. Ross is one of 11 top schools that host LEAD's intensive Summer Business Institutes, which combine coursework, corporate visits, and social activities. Bird has been teaching sections of the summer institutes for 10 years. In 2009 she revamped the LEAD curriculum at Ross.

"Students typically think they're studying just one subject at a time and think of it in isolation," she says. "But putting all those strands together is really important, especially in business school. That's what I try to do with the LEAD curriculum."

Ernst & Young's first Inclusive Excellence Award for Accounting and Business School Faculty is a tangible reminder that she is on the right track. The five award recipients were selected from more than 260 nominations based on their contribution to inclusiveness on their campus through innovative teaching, research, or program development. The winners also were selected based on their mentorship and support of diverse students and faculty, as well as their involvement with underrepresented minority students on an individual basis or through diversity-related organizations.

—Leah Sipher-Mann

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847,