Four well-dressed students stand at the front of a classroom presenting their final project. With impressive oratory skills, they demonstrate a superior grasp of the accounting and marketing concepts needed for the project with their technical handouts and detailed PowerPoint presentation. This would be a pretty normal scenario at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, except for a few things:

1) there are judges trying to pick the presentation apart.
2) there are giant, paper cupcakes on the students’ heads.
3) the participants aren’t Mays students, and most have never taken a business course.

Students giving presentation
23 high school seniors found creative ways to showcase their business acumen during the Business Careers Awareness Program

Recently 23 high-achieving high school seniors were invited to take part in a weeklong crash course and competition at Mays called Business Careers Awareness Program (BCAP). Now in its eighth year, BCAP is impacting not just students’ lives, but the face of Mays Business School and (potentially) the marketplace. BCAP is open only to a select few of the brightest young scholars from the state of Texas from “underrepresented” populations.

According to Sonia Garcia, BCAP coordinator and assistant director of the Undergraduate Programs Office, “underrepresented” at Texas A&M means African American, Hispanic, and Asian students. But no matter what their race, Garcia stresses that the student must be highly qualified. Participants have to be exceptionally talented to be able to keep up during the strenuous program, which involves lessons from Mays’ best faculty and an extensive group project, which gives practical application to their class work. The conclusion of the week is a competitive presentation that amounts to an oral exam and marketing pitch rolled into one.

But the hours of toil are well worth the effort, say participants. Not only is the program all expenses paid, it is also an inside look into the world of business that most young people considering college do not have.

A tasty lesson

Working in teams of four, each group was tasked with the creation of a business plan for a unique restaurant in the Bryan/College Station area, taking into consideration all of the financial trappings of starting a new venture. Not only did they get to do the “fun stuff,” like filming a commercial and picking out the furniture and place settings for their store, they also did more technical tasks such as market research to support a sales estimate and preparing a series of operating budgets to estimate the costs of running their business for the first year of operation. These budgets formed the basis for a projected income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement.

Students giving presentation
On the final day of the program, students presented their group business plans to a panel of judges.

Though it is a fictional venture, the students’ numbers had to be firmly grounded in reality. Judges examined their financial statements closely on the final day of BCAP during the group presentations. Just like in the real world of business, fishy financial reporting was not acceptable.

Leo Flores drove up from Laredo to take part in BCAP. He says his father is in real estate, so he knew a little about business, but the experience was enlightening for him. “I’ve learned the basic outline of a business, the business plan, and what you need make sure to accomplish before you even start coming up with ideas,” he said. “Like your mission statement. What’s the foundation of the business is going to be? Because without that, it’s all going to break down.” Flores’ group won second place in the competition with their restaurant called JAM, a student hangout featuring open-mic performances and gourmet jams and breads. “Our idea was two things that have never really come together in a business…we wanted a one-of-a-kind place,” he said.

After the week of classes and group work, Leo says BCAP gave him insight into what you need to do to have a successful business. “I have a really good head start on my future,” he says. Flores is now planning to pursue a business degree either in marketing or accounting, and is deliberating between A&M and the University of Texas, Austin.

Recruitment is key

Recruiting is a major component of the week, says Annie McGowan, associate professor of accounting at Mays. McGowan was the creator of BCAP and still works closely with the program.

Students giving presentation
Recruiting is a major component of BCAP

“I’m really dedicated to seeing the minority population here grow,” she said. “The retention rate for the program is about 60% each year. So 60% of the students come to Texas A&M, though not always to the business school.” Garcia and McGowan agree that 60% is a great number, when you consider that these students are “high-fliers”: Garcia’s term for students that can go to college just about anywhere they choose. “We had all award-winning professors participating in the program. We try to get the best faculty in front of them so they see what the quality of the education is like,” said McGowan.

McGowan says they also “like to expose them to the other education.” BCAP participants stayed in Traditions, a luxurious residence hall, and had time for an evening at the rec center, a movie at the Cinemark, a campus tour, and dining at many of the best student eateries in town.

“We treat them first class, with the expectation that they will remember Mays,” said Garcia. “I want them to leave this place with the sense that this is the “whole package.’ This is quality. If they come here, they’re going to get a great education.”

“Time and time again we hear “you have changed
my mind about A&M.'” – Annie McGowan, associate professor of accounting, Mays Business School

The program is free to participants. A large portion of the funding for BCAP is provided by Ernst & Young, which is also a major recruiter at Mays. “The value for Ernst & Young, and all of our sponsors is we hope that it improves diversity in their workplace as they hire our students,” said McGowan. “We want to get sponsors names in front of the students to get students interested in them early.” Other sponsors are Boeing, which provides money for the weeklong program as well as BCAP scholarships, and Shell.

McGowan hopes that BCAP not only interests the best students in a business education, but that it will also dispel some racial myths about the Texas A&M campus. Many times, African American students overlook A&M because of its lack of diversity and reputation for not being a welcoming place non-Caucasians, said McGowan. “Time and time again we hear “you have changed my mind about A&M,'” she said. “We want to give them a realistic view of what our campus looks like, and let them know that it is a friendly place.”

Changing the future, one student at a time

A college-bound high school senior has a lot of interrelated decisions to make: What are my talents? What are my professional goals? What should I major in? What college will be the best fit for all of my needs?

McGowan says it can be a daunting decision for young people to make. If they haven’t been directly exposed to business, they are not likely to choose that academic discipline. “A lot of these kids are not only trying to decide on what school to go to, most of them don’t know what they want to major in. And it’s hard to know what being an accountant is really like if you haven’t seen it,” she says. So to solve this problem, McGowan incorporates lectures from all of the business school’s departments, as well as a careers panel with question and answer time. “We tried to get people down on their level on that panel….what are the jobs really like, how do you prepare for it. We’re trying to help them find their career path,” she said.

“I credit BCAP with a lot of things in my academic
and professional life.” – Jason George ’07, tax consultant, Deloitte Tax, Houston

The program was certainly helpful to Jason George ’07, who participated in BCAP in 2002 and found a path to a rewarding profession. After the week at Mays, George says, “I went back to high school for my senior year and took an accounting course, and that cemented in my mind what I was going to do in college: major in accounting and do the Professional Program in accounting. It was actually BCAP that sealed the deal for me to go to A&M rather than to that other school down the road.” George now works for Deloitte Tax as a consultant in Houston. He credits BCAP not only with sparking his initial interest in accounting, but also with creating opportunities for his success. “Through BCAP I made contacts at Ernst & Young that I would be recruited by later in college. I got to know some professors and leaders in the business school as well…It opened a lot of doors for me, even before I got to college. I also got a scholarship from BCAP that was a tremendous help. I credit BCAP with a lot of things in my academic and professional life.”

“I had not considered A&M as a serious option until I came to this. I’m definitely going to apply.” – Emile Gerard, BCAP participant

For Emile Gerard, BCAP’s influence is just beginning. Gerard, who is originally from Mexico, participated in the program this year. He said he hadn’t really considered business or Mays prior to the program, but now he’s convinced. “I want to do something in the field of business,” he says, possibly in management, maybe even get his MBA in a few more years. “Before I came here I didn’t really know if I wanted to do business because I didn’t know what the classes would be like…This has made me sure about the classes and it made me really like the school as well,” he said. “I had not considered A&M as a serious option until I came to this. I’m definitely going to apply.”

For more information about BCAP, contact Annie McGowan (amcgowan@mays.tamu.edu) or Sonia Garcia (sgarcia@mays.tamu.edu).