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You’re Never Too Old to Ask Your Former Professors for Advice

It’s not unusual for Washington and Lee students to keep in touch with their favorite professors after they graduate. Faculty love the e-mails that bring news of big promotions, the thick linen envelopes that bear wedding invitations, and the refrigerator magnets that proudly announce the arrival of another generation of Generals. But what they really love—no matter how long their students have been out of school—is being asked for advice.

When Ramsay Kubal, ’13, found herself face-to-face with a classroom full of high school students at Uplift Williams Preparatory School in Dallas, Texas, the Teach For America corps member e-mailed her former business administration professor Scott Hoover.

“I remember his Financial Statement Analysis class,” said Kubal, who was an economics and psychology major. “He broke us into groups and we looked at four different shoe companies. We studied their financials from the last five years and tried to paint a picture of where the company had been and where it was going.”

In Dallas, Kubal teaches Algebra II to high school sophomores and juniors. Uplift Williams Preparatory is part of the largest network of charter schools in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Charter schools are privately run public schools; they tend to be smaller and can offer teachers more flexibility to be innovative with the curriculum and their teaching methods. Kubal says that flexibility is what inspired her to reach out to Professor Hoover.

“Students don’t typically see accounting in high school and I wanted to incorporate business models and elementary accounting principles into my algebra lessons. I wrote to Professor Hoover and asked him what he thought I should do,” said Kubal.

Hoover recommended the students perform a “DuPont Analysis,” which is a performance measurement first undertaken by the DuPont Corporation in the 1920s. Analysts measure a company’s return on equity by multiplying its profit margin by its total asset turnover by its equity multiplier. The measurement can deliver good insight into a company’s operating efficiency, asset use efficiency, and financial leverage.

Kubal took the idea back to her students in the form of a long-term project. As a class, they voted on a publicly traded company to analyze—the students picked Nike—and Kubal pulled Nike’s financial statements. Hoover provided the project outline he’d used in his own class.

The project proved to be a tough one. Not only did Kubal’s students have to do the math to complete the analysis, but they also had to do a fair amount of writing, looking at the ratios and explaining why the numbers moved.

Some of the biggest lessons Kubal’s students learned had little to do with the algebraic equations they used to interpret Nike’s balance sheet.

“Before this project, my students didn’t understand how stocks were bought and sold. They didn’t understand that someone like them could buy stock. They also had this misconception about debt. They’d only ever heard of family members or other people they knew going into credit card debt. They’d never heard of companies issuing debt as a strategic move,” said Kubal.

Now, Kubal’s students are following Nike’s stock performance daily. Next year—Kubal’s second and final year as a Teach For America corps member—she plans to grow the project. Students will analyze the performance of four companies over the course of the year.

Hoover is proud of the initiative Kubal took to deliver something out-of-the-box to her students, “I wish I’d had teachers like her in school.”