Warmer side of accounting

UND business students collect hundreds of coats for American Indian kids as part of class that preaches service, blends ethics with cold-hard numbers

Chelsea Moser

UND accounting student and standout volleyball player Chelsea Moser sorts coats that have been donated for delivery to children on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota. Photo by Shawna Schill.

The curriculum for most college accounting courses is fairly standard: debits, credits, cash flow and collateral.

UND Adjunct Professor Mike Hendrickson has added something else to his accounting syllabus — coats — in hopes of teaching his students a lesson in public service.

Hendrickson started the idea of an annual College of Business & Public Administration coat drive in 2012, his first year teaching at UND. That year, his Accounting 494 class gathered nearly 200 coats and winter accessories for those in need.

“People were enthusiastic about it,” said Kyle Simonson, a senior accounting student from Andover, Minn. “There was a lot to live up to because last year (2015) they ended up donating over 600 items.”

Simonson said he and his fellow students worked hard to beat last year’s total. The effort paid off, as this year they collected 722 items,  a record for the fifth consecutive year.

The coats and accessories will be loaded up and delivered by students to the Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, N.D., where they will be distributed to families on the surrounding Spirit Lake Reservation. Every year the coat drive has supported American Indian reservations, and Hendrickson said that will continue.

“There’s such a need there,” he said. “When you look at poverty on our reservations — we should all be ashamed that we haven’t begun to figure out how to solve that problem.”

Mike Hendrickson and Kyle Simonson

UND accounting student Kyle Simonson writes “Thank-you” notes and talks with instructor Mike Hendrickson. Students in Hendrickson’s accounting course blend cold-hard numbers with ethics and service by holding a coat drive each year for area reservations. Photo by Shawna Schill.

From the heart

When one asks Hendrickson about the course catalog title of his class, they won’t get the title; they get the description.

“Here’s what the class is about: ethics, diversity and mostly about life,” Hendrickson said. “They learn about life.”

Ethics-based accounting looks at experiential case studies and opens them up for class discussion, often forcing numbers-focused students into another state of mind.

“From an accounting perspective, we understand how businesses work but we’re not often looking at the ethical, moral side of things,” Simonson said. “After this class, (Hendrickson) really helped me to open up and understand other people.”

“He’s not the kind of professor who [only] cares about you getting good grades — he wants you to get something out of it,” added senior accounting major and UND volleyball star Chelsea Moser. “You’re not learning content; you’re learning about yourself.”

Although the idea of the coat drive was sparked by Hendrickson, the work falls on the students. This year’s group of 26 worked to deliver donation boxes to buildings around campus and the community, spread the word through flyers, personal calls and social media; and will even take the time to write ‘Thank You’ notes to all of the drive’s supporters.

Their push for donations began with family.

“My grandmother in Minnesota sent in a box full clothes and some things she made herself,” Simonson said. “I just picture someone who needs this little hat she made, wearing it, and it makes me feel really warm inside.”

Moser, a native of Willamina, Ore., turned to her UND Athletics family for donation support. And they responded. Her favorite moment came at the end of a long day of traveling from a volleyball game in Utah.

“I had left a box there in the Betty Engelstad Arena for other UND teams to bring in donations,” Moser said. “When we came back from the trip, the box was full. I thought that was really awesome.”

The coat drive is an experience that sticks with students long after they graduate. Hendrickson said about 25 percent of his former students still bring in donations, even if they live out of town.

“Service is a part of moral behavior,” he said. “If you don’t ever do service, then you’re not working from this (pointing to his heart).”

Making connections

Although this year’s coat drive is done, the class hopes its effects will linger.

“The coat drive is not just about getting the coats to Spirit Lake,” Simonson said. “It’s also about raising awareness of what’s going on there, and hopefully making people ask, ‘Why? Why are these disparities there?’ So we’re hoping to start discussions on that, too.”

Simonson is a part of a small circle of students from his accounting class who have formed the “Truth and Reconciliation Group” in response to their coat-drive undertaking. The group sets aside time to meet with students at UND’s American Indian Center for an informal dialogue about their lives.

“We want to get an understanding of what they’re feeling,” he said. “There are certain issues that they want to be known. We’re trying to connect with them and build that One UND, that community, around these discussions.”

Hendrickson is optimistic that this conversation among students and the campus community will grow, but it all starts with putting others first.