With a doctorate in accounting and more than 25 years of experience in the corporate world, Elizabeth Rescigno knows exactly what it takes to build a successful business career. Now, as the program director of Northeastern Junior College’s business program, Rescigno is passing on her experience and knowledge to the next generation of business professionals and entrepreneurs.
"I'm a full-time educator now, and that's cool," says Rescigno. "But the really cool thing is, having just come out of industry, I understand business and what the markets are looking for. I think that's very useful to my students.”
Rescigno, who describes herself as an "accounting nerd to the max," believes that her unique experience allows her to offer a more flexible approach to teaching the kind of skills students need to launch their own business careers.
"When I'm teaching accounting, I'm not just teaching out of a textbook," says Rescigno. “Experience tells me that not everything you read in the textbooks is used in practice, and in practice, you tend to do things a little bit differently than the people who write the textbooks. We make sure that our students focus on the skills they need to transfer to a four-year university or what they need to go directly into a business career. We talk to each and every student and ask, ‘What's your next step?’ You just don't see that anywhere else.”
Multiple Routes to Business Success
Northeastern offers two different degree programs in business and accounting. The Associate of Arts (AA) degree is designed for students who plan to transfer onto a four-year program after their two years at community college. The Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree is for students hoping to go straight into the world of business.
Rescigno explains that students looking to transfer to a four-year program have a different set of priorities than those going directly into business.
“We look at our transfer students in terms of what skills we can give them and how we can help them get their university prerequisites out of the way,” says Rescigno. “The AA transfer degree has more math and English. You might as well get some of those prerequisites out of the way at community college, rather than doing it at a four-year university because we are much cheaper.”
According to Rescigno, cost is a significant differentiator when considering where to start your business degree.
“Every student in Colorado should be going to a community college first,” says Rescigno. “I don't think there is a better bargain on the face of the earth than the Colorado Community College System.”
Rescigno explains that Northeastern has a number of transfer agreements in place.
"In Colorado, there is a whole system built around transferring to university from community college," says Rescigno. “As long as you're taking what's called a guaranteed transfer course — it goes right into another Colorado course. You can transfer 60 credits out of a 120 credit program, taking you into the third year of a four-year school.”
For students who are not planning to transfer to a four-year college, the two-year AAS business degree is designed to give them the skills they need to enter the workforce and succeed in a business environment.
“We have a whole group of students who don't want to transfer anywhere,” says Rescigno. “They just want to learn the skills they need to go into their family business or set up in business independently. The non-transfer program covers communication skills, some math, and then goes into those subjects that you need to know like business accounting and economics.”
Students in the non-transfer degree program also have the opportunity to branch off and take various certificate programs. The certificates present an opportunity to widen their area of interest and potentially explore the different kinds of jobs you can get with a business degree.
“Some of our students come in, and they want to do marketing because they think it’s an exciting opportunity,” says Rescigno. “Then they discover there are many other exciting business professions to work in. The availability of these various certificate programs demonstrates to our students how diverse and exciting the world of business can be and how there are many different routes to launching a successful business career.”
Business and Accounting Certificate Programs
“I have one student in the wind energy technology program,” says Rescigno. “He’s very ambitious and understands that he needs to have a business background if he is to succeed in management in the wind industry. He's in one of the certificate programs and hopes this will help him advance more quickly in his chosen career field.”
The certificates are also popular with adult learners looking to make a career change.
“We have some older people who are coming back and saying that they love their jobs in construction or engineering, but it’s beginning to take a physical toll,” says Rescigno. “They look to the certificate program to help them find a less physically demanding job in their industry. Some even go on to join the degree program.”
Wanted: Business Job Skills
The Northeastern certificate programs make very tangible connections between the classroom and the workplace and help students develop essential business skills they can immediately put to work.
"For instance, in the accounting certificate program, we teach you to become a bookkeeper," says Rescigno. “Seriously, what a concept — we teach you a skill that enables you to go out and get a business job!”
Even before they graduate, students have the opportunity to get their hands on real-world work.
“We have a program here called Tax Help Colorado,” says Rescigno. “Students who take the tax class prepare and e-file taxes for anyone in the local community who makes less than $60,000 a year. The Tax Help service is free of charge, providing a fantastic resource for the community, while giving our students hands-on, real-world business experience."
Rescigno attributes much of the Northeastern business program's success to the college’s small class sizes.
“I remember when I was at university in Maryland, one of my classes took place in the basketball stadium," says Rescigno. “At those bigger research institutions, professors have to spend half of their time researching, so they do not teach the class. That's unheard of here. Our only requirement is service to the students and the college.”
Northeastern’s business students are each assigned to a business professor who acts as their advisor.
“We're out there talking to them, doing college clubs with them, and even going to games with them," says Rescigno. “Students are always welcome to come in and talk to the business professors. I had three students sitting with me just five minutes ago. They were doing their homework, and every once in a while, they'd call out a question, and I'd help them. The individualized attention here is just amazing. I think that's one of our key differentiators.”
Putting Business Careers Into a Real-World Context
The small class sizes also provide an excellent opportunity to introduce more flexible learning.
“We are encouraged to bring in real-world situations,” says Rescigno. “By focusing on business issues that are current and in the news, it makes for a richer learning experience.”
Rescigno recalls a recent class where students followed the frenzied trading by amateur stock investors in the computer game retailer GameStop following a series of posts on the online discussion site Reddit.
“We have the freedom to not necessarily follow the textbook and say, ‘OK, this is a relevant topic,'" says Rescigno. “What a great opportunity to teach students about shorting a stock and why you should never mess with gamers.”
Students were also encouraged to understand the consequences of the rally.
“In the business classes, we talked about how this is impacting the company and asked, “Is GameStop really a great business?’” says Rescigno. “Then in accounting, we talked about how is the business going to account for this? When you are learning how to become an accountant and figuring out just what does an accountant do, this kind of experience is incredibly relevant. Finally, we looked at marketing and considered how a group of people was able to get together and make this all happen.”
According to Rescigno, a group of students was so inspired by the class, they started talking about opening an online trading account and investing their Covid-19 stimulus checks in the stock market.
Rescigno explains that this more involved style of learning is rarely available in larger institutions.
“Typically, in a big university, you're going to stick to the textbook," says Rescigno. "We call it 'chalk and talk' — where you just get up there and lecture. We're encouraged to do things a little differently around here, and the students love it."
Rescigno believes it's essential to introduce students to the real-world consequences of business decisions because there is always an element of risk in any business venture.
“I think the reason why so many businesses fail is that a person doesn’t have the business background they need to be an entrepreneur,” says Rescigno. “It’s a great thing to be good at fixing a car, but you need many other skills to be able to run your own business.”
Rescigno explains that Northeastern’s business programs bridge people to success rather than just throwing them out there.
“In business, things might not always go the way that you think they are going to go,” says Rescigno. “So we teach a little bit of flexibility and try and make our students well-rounded. As an entrepreneur, you need marketing, you need sales, you need accounting, you need general business, and you need to understand economics. You also need to understand what’s going on in the world. So it’s not really teaching students how to be entrepreneurs — it's more teaching them the skills that an entrepreneur needs.”
Rescigno attributes much of her students' success to their dedication to their studies and ongoing hard work.
“People talk about an ‘entitled generation,' and that’s just not true of the students who come here,” says Rescigno. “I think that’s because of the family values they grow up with. Our students work hard. As professors, we see how they really want to learn; that makes us step up and take our dedication to a new level. It’s amazing. students are always coming into my office, asking, ‘What do you think of this?’ ‘What do you think of that?’ ‘We're thinking about an investment club.’ I just love it.”
But for students at Northeastern, it’s not just about hard work; it’s also about college life. One major factor that differentiates Northeastern is that it offers plenty of opportunities to live the “full college experience” on the college's modern campus, located in the small town of Sterling, Colorado.
“Most of our students live in dorms on the campus,” says Rescigno. “It is a beautiful campus. We've got a dining hall, we've got a student center, we've got an events center and a thriving college sports scene. A lot of athletes come here, and they are just so dedicated. The students here are getting the full college experience I enjoyed at university, from sitting on the lawn and studying to the parties.”
According to Rescigno, Northeastern’s community spirit extends well beyond the college campus.
"Sterling is a small town, and I see my students everywhere," says Rescigno. “I'm in Walmart, or at the restaurant, or food store, and everybody says, 'Hey, Dr. Rescigno. How are you today?’ I don't think it gets any better than that. You only get that kind of experience in a smaller town.”
To learn more about how a business degree or certificate from Northeastern Junior College can help you launch your business career, or read about the types of jobs you can get with a business degree, visit the Business and Accounting program page on our website.