Some students took Friday off of school to protect tomatoes.
High school and community college accounting students from 22 area schools worked together during the 15th annual Accounting Challenge in the university’s Recreation Center for a chance to earn a $500 university scholarship. As students collaborated on projects, teachers and university volunteers marveled at the event’s impact on area students. Participants collaborated to create a tomato case using designated materials. Cases were then struck by a hammer to test each group’s case resilience. Each group had 30 minutes to construct their case under teacher supervision.
“The primary goal is to showcase the School of Accountancy and SIU,” said Marcus Odom, director of accountancy. “We hope that students who attend will get a chance to experience the campus and consider coming to SIU.”
Odom said the event was former faculty member Dr. Randy Hahn’s idea, and it was intended to attract area students to the university. He said the tomato drop has expanded from around 50 participants when it began to around 300 students this year.
The Accounting Circle, an organization composed of School of Accountancy alumni, funds the event every year, he said. The challenge would not exist without the group’s help, he said.
“We have had some corporate sponsors some years, but The Accounting Circle was the original sponsor and has provided support every year,” Odom said. “Every year, the Accounting Circle awards between $2,500 and $3,000 of scholarships at the Accounting Challenge.”
Flora, Crab Orchard, Marion, and Mount Vernon High Schools won this year’s basic and advanced team categories. Individual winners included students from Flora, Hamilton County, Carterville, O’Fallon and Marion High Schools as well as one from Kaskaskia Community College.
The event attracts multiple people every year, including former participants.
Scott Polczynski, senior volunteer from Du Bois studying accounting and former challenge competitor, said the task changes year-to-year. While the “tomato smasher” project was employed four years ago, Polczynski said, it was long enough ago that this year’s participants had not seen it before.
However, Polczynski said the impact is the same no matter which project is chosen.
“This is a great opportunity for prospective students to get to see SIU, see what it’s about,” he said. “It’s good for students to get to experience what accounting is about and talk to professors and students to see if they’d be interested in studying accounting.”
Polczynski said the challenge was a success if one student is motivated to attend the university.
“Every year, the number of students keeps on rising,” he said. “We had four students who attended the challenge last year who are currently (SIU) students this year.”
Some area teachers were impressed by the event’s student influence.
Jennifer Haislar, an accounting teacher at O’Fallon High School, said the project helps students feel more connected with college life and challenge themselves to meet or exceed their expectations. She said it also allows them to challenge themselves more.
“It brings a connection outside of the classroom and outside of the textbook,” she said “It’s great to have that collaboration with their peers and that competition aspect.”
Drew Lawrence, a Vienna High School business teacher, said the challenge serves as a great opportunity for students to attend, and it encourages them to apply to the university.
“I think it gives an opportunity to students that probably never come to Carbondale a chance to see the campus and have a fun day, fun activities, and so they associate SIU with being fun,” he said.
Lawrence said the event gives students a chance to have a day of off school to work on a fun team-building project that does not cost the high school money.
“It gives them an opportunity to see when they get into college, they’re probably going to be competing against people for jobs,” he said. “If they’re going to do well in whatever field they go into, (there) are a lot of different people to compete against.”