When Sarah (Hailey) Bacon (‘13) graduated with an undergraduate degree in accounting and then with a MAcc degree in 2015, she likely did not imagine that she would become the Vice President, Accounting Officer at First Financial Bankshares, Inc. at such a young age. Sarah’s passion for numbers, her diverse background in accounting, and the pull of being close to family all had a hand in shaping her future career path.
During her time at ACU, she worked in the COBA Dean’s office as a student employee and also held a job as a controller for a local insurance agency. Bacon was able to apply many of the principles she was learning in both her undergraduate and graduate classes during this time. She also gained a firm understanding of the business world which she says helped tremendously at her first post-graduation job in public accounting as an auditor at a firm in Dallas. “I could relate to clients having been one myself. Ultimately, the combination of industry and audit experience lead me to my current position with First Financial.”
In early 2018, Sarah and her husband Michael (’12) decided they wanted to move back to Abilene to be closer to family. It didn’t take long for her Abilene connections to notify various people at First Financial that the Bacons were moving back to town. One morning, Sarah received a call from the previous CFO of First Financial Bankshares and, after interviewing in person a week later, they created a position for Sarah. “I was very excited because I had dreamed of working there since I first went to college.”
As most new grads find out, learning to navigate the world of working young adulthood can be hard. Sarah said, “Learning to balance work and life has always been a struggle for me. I’ve learned that there is a balance, however. That balance is different for everyone and is ever-evolving throughout the different stages of life. My best advice to anyone, including myself, is to be patient with yourself.” One of her favorite take-aways from ACU was a quote that came from Dr. Gary McCaleb to “be a life-long learner”. “This is so prevalent in today’s world where things are constantly changing and evolving at an unprecedented pace. I must always strive to be better and more knowledgeable in my field and in general. My time at ACU provided me the tools and the drive to be a life-long learner.”
Bacon said that one of the biggest surprises she’s encountered since leaving ACU is that she’s found ACU alums everywhere she has gone. “There have been ACU alumni at every company I’ve worked for, lots of networking events and several places that I’ve traveled. It’s so fun to reminisce about common professors, social clubs and Sing Song.”
COBA believes in empowering students and alumni to weave their faith into their vocation. This is something that truly resonated with Sarah as a student and now in her current position. “My faith has impacted my work most from the standpoint that I have long-believed accounting has been my calling. I try to use Christian beliefs and strong morals in everything I do, and every decision I make. I had a strong faith in Christ before I was a part of COBA, but learning in a Christian environment only helped strengthen that faith.”
Along with growing deeper in her faith, some of Sarah’s favorite memories were made at ACU; most importantly meeting her husband, Michael Bacon, in the Fall of 2014 in Dr. Paul Lakey’s communication class while they were both in graduate school and then marrying him in the Chapel on the Hill on ACU’s campus in 2016. To top off the magical day, the ceremony was conducted by Sarah’s dad, Joe Hailey (’69). Sarah also has a special place in her heart for the ACU tradition of singing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”. She said, “I can’t narrow down one specific time that is my favorite, but the feeling of unity and common love felt when this song is sung at ACU is something that will stick with me forever. It’s the kind of feeling that gives me chills and brings a smile to my face. I associate this song with ACU.”
During her time at ACU, Sarah enjoyed being a COBA Dean’s office student employee. “I had the opportunity to get to know several professors and back-office associates better than most. I learned how down to earth they are and how much they really care. Dr. Jonathan Stewart is one of my favorite professors. His podcasts were a big deal before podcasts were a big deal and made learning fun. I loved how several COBA professors integrated fun, out-of-the-box ways of learning. Dr. Bill Fowler’s audit stories always made me laugh.”
Sarah encourages students, especially freshmen, to spend time talking to their professors. “Invest not only in your studies but in your relationships with the people around you. The content of studies is always evolving but your connections will only go away if you let them. Building a network of professionals and fellow students can be more valuable than you could imagine.”
Bacon also has some advice for current accounting students preparing for their future. “I suggest current accounting students evaluate early on if they plan to sit for the CPA exam. Adjust your class schedule so you have the right classes completed in order to take exams while still in school. Take advantage of the resources COBA provides for study materials and take as many exams as possible prior to beginning your career after college. It’s helpful to do this while you’re still in the habit of studying.” And for all COBA students, she suggests, “Participate in the practice job interviews and learn to keep up with current events in your field.”
As part of the vision, mission, and values of the college, COBA strives to create excellence and impact by upholding high moral and professional standards of excellence for faculty, staff, students and alumni, calling each person to a life of service and leadership that glorifies God and transforms communities and society. Sermons aren’t just lived out from the pulpit. Sometimes, the best sermons are seen at places like banks. Thank you to Sarah Bacon for making the world a better place by living out faith in the workplace.
Pre-COVID-19: Dr. James Prather with SITC students
COVID-19 has brought changes and challenges all across the country, including the ACU campus. From the middle of the spring semester to the current fall semester, our faculty have continuously adjusted how they deliver their class material and how to interact with their students. We interviewed Dr. Laura Phillips (’88), associate professor of management, Clint Buck, assistant dean and instructor of accounting, and Dr. Don Pope, associate professor of management to hear about their experiences teaching during the pandemic and how they are working to overcome the challenges that it has presented.
What challenges has COVID-19 brought to the classroom?
Phillips: “My challenges were in the spring and Maymester terms. In the spring I was teaching two semesters of stats that were supposed to start the week after spring break. When we took that extra week off to regroup, I lost 14% of my semester. Also, since we’d never met in person, I didn’t know any of the students and we had not been able to create a class culture before shifting to online. My other class was supposed to be a one-week Maymester in Dallas with about 20 guest speakers and several field trips. That class went virtual as well, which was a huge shift.”
Buck: “FACE MASKS! While I understand the need for face masks, they pose a great challenge in the classroom. It’s hard to ‘read’ the classroom and see if concepts are making sense, if jokes are landing, etc., and it is also hard to teach while wearing a mask. Seeing people’s faces, sending and receiving smiles, and shaking hands are all actions relied upon in the past to establish and nurture connection and community – hallmarks of the COBA and ACU experience. The current realities are forcing us to rethink how we establish and nurture our community, which is very challenging.”
Pope: “The inability to talk with and help students face to face, along with reduced interaction with faculty and staff colleagues.”
Dr. Laura Philips
What did you do to overcome those challenges?
Phillips: “Lots of trial and error! We’d try some things for a week in stats, and if it wasn’t working, we’d make adjustments for the next week. My coworkers were all very supportive but since we were working remotely and everyone was scrambling, there wasn’t a lot of time to sit around and think philosophically about how we should approach our classes. My schedule didn’t always allow me to attend but the weekly COBA Zoom prayer times have been great! And throughout the summer, the staff in the Adams Center and the crew they assembled to provide resources and training for the faculty have been outstanding.”
Buck: “My teaching colleagues have been invaluable in navigating these issues, and they have also been helpful in the tactical aspects of the job (great suggestions for teaching online and in a distanced classroom, things to look for, things to avoid, etc.). My administrative colleagues have been very good to normalize the challenges we face. It is not easy to be a good employee, a good spouse, and a good parent while navigating a global pandemic, and I am grateful for their faithful demonstration of grace throughout this season.”
Pope: “Through the use of technology tools – online teaching in Canvas and Zoom, we carry on and push through. I would like to compliment the IT people in the background here who work tirelessly ‘below the radar’ and receive little thanks. I would also like to thank the educational technology support staff in the Adams Center and the Library. They are amazing.”
What’s different about the current fall semester?
Phillips: “I can’t really address this question because I’m teaching online this semester. I am taking German, so I’ve experienced the classroom as a student, but not as a professor.”
Buck: “Can’t shake hands or see smiles; can’t see if a concept or idea is resonating or not. Things I took for granted – like handing out printed material in class! – are very noticeable in their absence. Also, I used to enjoy having a very special teaching assistant in class at least once each semester, but my eight-year-old daughter (Lillian) is unable to do so this semester. :( EVERYONE is very sad about this.”
Pope: “My classes ended up all being online this semester, so obviously that is really different. But when I/we return to in-person classes again, I plan to utilize many of the recorded lectures and clarified teaching materials that have been developed during the pandemic. In the past, I relied too much on being able to verbally explain something, and now I see that some of my notes are not very clearly written. So, the current situation is an opportunity to see things differently and learn and grow.”
COBA’s vision is to inspire, equip, and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. How are you integrating the vision with your students when you can’t always be with them?
Phillips: “I don’t start teaching until October this semester so most of my interaction with students is coming through a community group I’m leading for some COBA freshmen and meeting with students about study abroad next fall. I’m trying to stay connected to students even though I’m not in the classroom. I guess right now I’m spending a lot of time trying to inspire them to spend a semester abroad. It is such a transformational experience but sometimes it’s hard for students to visualize themselves doing something so vastly different from their normal life. I’m also trying to help some of our freshmen connect in our small group. They have such a great attitude but I think it’s harder to get to know people with the masks and social distancing in the classrooms. I’m hoping that our community group helps them get to know a handful of their COBA peers and that they will have a few classmates with whom they have connected at a deeper level.”
Buck: “I’m working hard to use Canvas better so information is accessible and organized for students.”
Pope: “In terms of connection, I am trying to encourage more emailed thoughts about prayer needs, scripture, and other personal concerns. My wife has, for 20 years, invited students into our home for meals and we typically have had large groups. This fall, she is going to considerable effort to plan, prepare, and host multiple smaller groups in a safe manner.”
Dr. Don Pope
What are you excited about for this semester?
Phillips: “Getting to know some of our new freshmen, seeing students get excited about spending a semester abroad, ‘meeting’ my students – even though we will not be gathering in person.”
Buck: “Seeing how we expand our vision of community. We’ve relied on very traditional definitions and expressions of community (e.g. shaking hands, sharing a meal, attending a sporting event or attending the performing arts) for a long time, and the current moment forces us to rethink them. When things return to something resembling what we used to call ‘normal’, we will hold these definitions/expressions even more sacred and special than before.”
Pope: “‘Excited’ is probably not a word that we would use about this situation. But, I do think that we are all learning some valuable lessons about the human need to be with other people, to accept each other’s different perspectives on things, and live together in community. It will be interesting to see how family, education, business, and church are changed long term by this experience.”
While the ACU campus looks and works differently in 2020, COVID-19 hasn’t stopped faculty members from looking for ways to put students first. Echoed in the comments of each of our faculty members is the theme that is so central to ACU – community. We value our students and our relationships with them as faculty and staff. We will continue to strive to connect in the best ways possible this semester and we look forward to the day that we can see those smiles in the classroom.
Haden Johnson is a senior finance major from Dallas, Texas. Haden spent his summer as an intern for Everlight Solar in Madison, WI and will potentially begin a career with them after graduation. We asked Haden a few questions about what he learned from his experience and what advice he has for other students who are looking to find an internship that may lead to a future career.
What were the greatest lessons you learned in the internship?
I learned that even if it isn’t school-related, the best thing we can work on is ourselves. Every day we have a two-hour training finding out how we can improve ourselves inside and, more importantly, outside of work. My favorite thing about Everlight is that they focus on the fact we are always learning, all the way from the CEO to the newest interns.
How has your time at ACU prepared you for this internship and for employment after graduation?
ACU has shown me how to be personable with everyone I interact with, and creating relationships that go far past “business.” ACU has allowed me to realize that every little moment I have to improve myself counts and can be worth a ton. My favorite thing about being a COBA student is seeing how well connected this college is, and how much the people in it care. Even the people you might not know will check-in and make sure you are doing well, and it makes being a student “easy.”
What advice do you have for students who are preparing for an internship?
My advice would be to take your time and find a company or culture that suits your strengths, and where you can see yourself coming out of the internship and being a much stronger person. Not only will it be beneficial for your resume and professional skills, but it will allow you to work on being the best version of yourself outside of work and school as well.
I took this summer as a step similar to the step it takes from going to high school to college. This summer I looked at having a professional internship as a stage to grow as a professional, but also as a person. I didn’t know hardly anybody in Wisconsin but decided to take a leap of faith to test myself and see who I can be. The first night here felt like the first night in my freshman dorm, a little uneasy and uncertain about the future. Luckily, the more I dove out of my comfort zone, the more I was rewarded. This company, Everlight Solar, invested a TON in me early on, and it has paid dividends in myself as a professional, but more as a person. The people and friends I have met have pushed me far past my limiting beliefs of who I can be, and will continue to do so. I am very happy to have the opportunity to start and continue my professional career with Everlight, and I highly recommend this company for anyone who wants to jumpstart their business career.
Since its inception in 1999 with an initial amount of approximately $100,000, STAR has had several goals in mind. One of those goals was reached when the group hit a huge milestone with $1.5 million in their portfolio this past spring although the portfolio has dipped slightly with the recent economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another one of those goals was reached today when the group was able to make their first distribution from earnings.
Photo by Jeremy Enlow
Assistant Professor of Finance Dr. Jody Jones, said that the distribution will be “$63,000, roughly 4.5% of the December 31, 2019 balance. Students ‘final’ this Thursday is to make sure they have the cash to distribute back to the endowment. The cash for this disbursement came primarily from gains made this semester on Ford (F), Gold (GLD), and decreasing the holdings in Healthcare Inc (HCA). As of this writing, the fund is $1.3 million (almost to the penny) and STAR is beating the S&P 500 by almost 5% YTD.”
STAR is a student-managed equity fund that is part of the university’s endowment. This semester the students must have $63,000 (4.5% of the 12/31 value) in cash. That money will be used to support the operation of the university as a whole. Jones says that students gain experience that will career over into their professional careers in the future. “Managing over $1 million dollars is something they can put on their resume and shows they have experience – especially this semester when many students lost jobs and internship opportunities.”
Senior Finance major Hunter Jennings said that he learned many things from his time in STAR. “I learned that in order to learn and be successful, you have to be willing to take risks. This experience will translate into my professional career because it pushed me to make decisions and effectively communicate my thoughts and ideas with my peers.”
Photo by Jeremy Enlow
As for learning during a time when the stock market was particularly volatile, Jennings said, “The stock market can be rewarding and it can hurt you. It is all about how you react to those changes. There was a point where we had the fund to its highest value, just to have the market crash and the value go back to where we started.”
Hunter encourages students to consider being a part of the group. “I think that if anyone is interested in getting to work with a team and see real-world results, then they should join STAR. You don’t have to have any experience trading stocks or even be a finance major. Overall, it was one of my favorite classes to take at ACU.”
Jody Jones mentoring the STAR Fund Managers
Do you know about everything that goes on in COBA? We have so many awesome student programs, that chances are, you may have missed a few! STAR (Student Trading and Research) is a program where students learn to research an investment portfolio and trade assets based off their information. STAR began as an idea in 1999 and with an initial gift by a generous donor of $110,000 in June of 2000, ended its first full year of operation in 2001. Today, STAR manages a portion of ACU’s endowment and reports to the ACIMCO Board annually. STAR began as a student organization guided by Dr. Terry Pope and Dr. Jonathan Stewart. Now, students can earn course credit while they earn valuable real-world experience.
That kind of learning is something that Assistant Professor of Finance Dr. Jody Jones, who began teaching at ACU this past fall, is passionate about. Jones took over the STAR course after Dr. Pope retired last spring. Jones feels that one of the greatest learning opportunities that STAR affords is autonomy to the students in learning to make financial decisions. “All decisions are made by students. Although a faculty member helps guide decisions, the buying and selling of assets is dictated by student managers.”
Since inception, STAR has achieved an average return of nearly 50 basis points above its benchmark: S&P 500
Total Return Index. That’s reason enough to celebrate for any advising firm but this week STAR hit a huge milestone – the portfolio currently holds an outstanding $1.5 million.
Why is that such an important milestone? Dr. Jones explained, “The rising value of STAR allows students to better diversify and have more freedom in investment decisions. With the primary goal of the course being educational, students can buy and sell many assets and gain a broad perspective on the market. Also, this year will make it the first year that STAR has made distributions. The fund will return 4.5% of its value to the endowment to support scholarships, campus initiatives, and operations of the university.”
While STAR mainly consists of finance majors, anyone who is interested can join and is encouraged to do so. If needed, students can even apply to receive course credit for being a fund manager.
Dr. Jody Jones loves his profession for more than the numbers. He is passionate about integrating faith into his work and teaching. “While many of the student managers intend to work in the investment and financial services fields after graduation, financial management is important for all organizations and households. Stewardship is also a spiritual discipline.”
As we come to the end of our “Why I Teach” series, we (the student workers, Katie Norris and Maddy Crockett) wanted to take a moment to appreciate the professors.
Each and every one of the professors works endlessly and dedicates their time to us and for us. We have compiled a few comments from students around COBA to give snippets of appreciation for their professors. Many professors are not mentioned-but nevertheless, they are just as appreciated.
Dr. David Perkins
“Dr. Perkins was my first accounting professor in COBA. The thought of taking an accounting class was terrifying to me, but thank the Lord for Dr. Perkins. His heart is so gentle and kind and he cares SO much. He truly wants the best for his students and that is so evident in the way he builds relationships with them.” – Presley Davis, junior management major
“I appreciate Dr. Perkins’ attention to detail when it comes to teaching and making sure the class understands what is being taught.” – Sam Onstead, freshman financial management major
Dr. Dennis Marquardt
“He has given me great advice on pursuing my career and I always loved his class. He is always motivated and excited and he is also very personal with everyone in class.” – Joseph Crockett, sophomore management major
“He always sees the best in everyone and is a great listener!” – Bryce Adams, junior financial management major
Dr. Ryan Jessup
“Dr. Jessup cares deeply about good education and teaching students to think critically. He has challenged me personally to think more intentionally about my education, career, and faith. Furthermore, he has taught me about the importance of making good decisions in business and in life. His classes are rigorous and challenging, but very rewarding. I appreciate Dr. Jessup’s desire to help students truly learn.” – Luke Stevens, senior marketing major
“I appreciate Dr. Jessup because he really cares about his students and he does a great job of keeping us engaged throughout the semester. He is willing to help his students when we ask. Dr. Jessup is a great example of a professor who teaches us about marketing as well as challenges us in our faith.” – Sloan Polvado, senior marketing major
Dr. Andy Little
“It is clearly evident that Andy cares about his students by the way he shows up and shares his knowledge with us. His class made me love learning about law! I appreciate him!” – Emily Goulet, junior accounting major
Dr. Don Pope
“I appreciate how Dr Pope creates intrigue behind business stats and engages his class in exercises to better understand the advertising and business world we live in through stats.” – Ben Fridge, sophomore financial management major
Dr. Katie Wick and Dr. Monty Lynn
“Shoutout to Dr. Wick and Dr. Lynn for making my mornings really awesome!” – Jose Rodriquez, Freshman