A Q&A with Kristy Brooks-Olk, Associate Professor of Accounting, Finance and Business at Colorado Mountain College

Tell us about Colorado Mountain College.

Colorado Mountain College was started by a small group of individuals who wanted rural students in Colorado to have access to post-high school education without leaving their communities. The college has 11 campuses across the state from Breckenridge to Salida to Rifle, Colorado, and uses real-life training and an alternative modality structure to teach classes. You can attend in-person, online or hybrid modality classes (half online, half in-person). This creates a dynamic distance learning environment and exposes students to different economic settings.

How did you start with Calcbench?

I was attending a class taught by Kristine Brands. I took the class to get additional credentials for teaching. Kristine pitched Calcbench as a tool being used in industry. I was sold. I have been using Calcbench for two years in classes that I teach annually: Accounting for Managers, Intermediate Accounting and Financial Accounting for Corporations.

How is Calcbench used in the classroom?

Calcbench is built into the master course plan for my Accounting for Managers syllabus. This is a class for business students who will likely not be accountants when they graduate, but will need to understand how accounting information can help with strategic decisions. The students in this class do a project each week and ultimately deliver a pitch paper at the end of the semester. On the discussion board we pose questions - how can you compare performance of Nike verses Skechers for example? The students need to understand that Nike outsources a lot of production and Skechers handles its own manufacturing and understand how that affects margins, debt, and more. We also ask questions around profitability - students learn, for example, that Costco generates most of its profitability from membership fees versus other retailers, like Lowe’s, that have a different model. I always choose companies that students know (Coca Cola, Home Depot, et cetera) so that the students can relate to the exercises. This keeps them engaged. We use Calcbench to look at companies over time so students can see the base accounting but also how and why choices are made. Students ultimately develop recommendations and justifications on how to improve an organization. In addition, I use Calcbench in Intermediate Accounting and Financial Accounting for Corporations. One is a sophomore class, the other class is for the intent of licensing for the CPA. In the latter, we look at companies like Apple, Google and Amazon. Discussion boards prompt students to look at several areas including cash. For cash, they need to understand all items that relate to cash and tell me how the company is using the cash. Another example is MD&A. I have the student read the CEO notes and see if they can relate them back to news. One of the companies I like to focus on is Energizer Holdings. I ask the students to look back at various hurricane seasons to see if they can predict how they will perform during future natural disasters. We look at ratios. It’s a pretty efficient exercise with Calcbench.

Other financial data tools exist. What do you like best about using Calcbench in the classroom?

For me I like that my students learn basic research skills. In this day and age, it’s easy to just do a Google search. With Calcbench, my students have to work for information (for example, go to various sections of financial statements) to find the information. The click and drill down helps me teach how to dig a little deeper.

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