Ileana Gamillo knew exactly what she wanted after graduating from Kennedale High School:
- Study accounting at TCC Southeast
- Bachelor’s degree in Accounting (From The University of Texas at Arlington)
- Master’s degree (From SMU)
- Employment as an accountant (JTaylor).
- Certified Public Accountant—almost (scheduled for August 2021)
Her decision to make TCC her first stop was, she said, “really easy. If I had gone to a university for four years, I’d be spending around $30,000 when I could get two years’ worth of the work at TCC for a fraction of that. Plus, I was able to do it in one year and then transfer. So, it was a money and time thing.”
Hundreds of students have had the same reasons as Gamillo for starting their business education at TCC, but not her laser focus on one of the many subsets in the curriculum. It’s common for faculty to ask incoming students what their ultimate goal is. Far and away, the most prevalent answer is “I don’t know.”
That’s just fine for Tyson McMillan, department chair of business and computer science at Trinity River. “I didn’t know either,” he said. “It kind of finds you during exploratory coursework.”
TCC has made that exploration easier with an introductory course, Business Principles, taken by all students. McMillan describes it as “a little bit of everything but not a lot of anything.” It’s the academic version of a wine tasting. Would you like an accounting aperitif? Or perhaps this banking Bordeaux—rich but reserved. Try this marketing Merlot—bold and a touch brassy.
The selections don’t stop there, with communication, economics, finance, human resources, entrepreneurship, leadership and management also on the table.
“We’ve been talking about Guided Pathways long before pathways became the big buzzword,” McMillan said. “You get a taste of each one of them and say, ‘Hmmm, this is something I want to explore more.’ Like one of my favorite teachers said—take chances, make mistakes.”
More and more students are taking that TCC pathway. Enrollment in Business Principles reached a record 1,028 in the fall of 2020, up 48 percent from the previous fall. Gamillo’s money and time factors get some of the credit, but there are others. McMillan points to the transferability of courses. “We give our students the same quality as they’d receive in their first two years at a university and guess what? They get to apply those courses as they proceed, perhaps, to an MBA,” he said.
Then, too, there’s the quality of the faculty. “I notice that, especially in the Business program, we have a lot of people who have not just studied business, but who have worked in it,” said TCC Connect Assistant Dean Wanda Moore. “They bring that experience back to the classroom, bridging the gap between theory and practical application.”
Faculty members also take on mentor/counselor/advisor roles to help guide students to whatever that ultimate goal becomes. That might be the Associate of Arts preparatory to seeking a bachelor’s degree; the Associate of Applied Science for those perhaps wanting a two-year degree in order to get a promotion at work; or, for those who might want some basic skills to run a business, one of two one-year certificate programs.
“We really encourage the students to come to us with questions,” said Karen Haun, professor of accounting at TCC Southeast. “We encourage them to run their degree plans and let us go over it with them to see what they’re missing, what classes they need to take.”
Students’ education goes beyond the classroom. “We are really committed to the development of soft skills,” said Haun. Budding accountants, for instance, are urged to participate in the United Way’s VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program. Even during the pandemic, students were able to staff drive-through tax return centers at TCC South, Southeast and Trinity River.
Faculty also help students look beyond the degree toward universities to which they might transfer. “Because of changes in financial aid and changes at the state and federal levels, we’re trying to help them hone in on that as quickly as we can,” said TCC Northwest instructor Lourdes Ramboa. “They begin to talk about it and how this or that might be transferable.”
Yet another common faculty function is to tamp down anxieties. For instance, students in such disciplines as accounting and finance may worry that they’re deficient in math. “I tell them that I’ve had two whole math classes in my entire 13 years of college—from TCC to a Ph.D. and back,” said McMillan.
And if Haun’s students say they’re not very good in math, she answers, “I’m not either. I can add, subtract, multiply and divide using a calculator. Accounting is not math; it’s logic.”
Even Gamillo’s journey, for all her assurance and certainty, started with qualms. Before her first TCC accounting class with Haun, she had butterflies. “I was scared,” she said. “This was my first course, and I was banking my life on this accounting thing and what if I hated it? But she made it seem so simple and really drew me in.”
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