By Anne Louise Cropp and Steve Neumann
Bean counters. Number crunchers. Mathmagicians.
Penn State Smeal College of Business accounting instructor Ed Babcock, who also serves as the director of Smeal’s Master of Accounting (MAcc) program, is familiar with the stereotypes often associated with accountants. When people think about Smeal’s accounting graduates, he would rather they think of savvy problem solvers — individuals who are rooted in integrity, critical thinking skills, and the intellectual curiosity to be lifelong learners.
A generous $4 million gift from the estate of late alumnus Fred Schaefer will move Smeal closer to that goal by creating the Fred H. Schaefer Scholars Program in Accounting.
Schaefer, who passed away in 2018, earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1966 and an MBA in 1968, both from Penn State. He began his career at Arthur Andersen and was subsequently offered a job at Triarc Companies Inc., a conglomerate with interests in propane, fast food, and more. He was a former senior vice president and chief accounting officer at Triarc, which acquired Wendy’s International Inc. in 2008, and he retired as senior vice president of Wendy’s in 2010.
Friends and former colleagues describe him as “the quintessential CPA.” A good guy with a relentless work ethic. Completely dedicated to success in every way.
“Mr. Schaefer always spoke highly of his accounting degree and MBA from Penn State, and he was always quick to credit Smeal with giving him the right tools to have a prosperous career in accounting,” says Michelle K. Houser, senior director of development and alumni relations, who worked closely with Schaefer to develop his vision for the Schaefer Scholars Program.
“When we first met, Mr. Schaefer shared his concern about the rising cost of a Penn State degree, particularly for out-of-state students. Over time, our discussions evolved from scholarship support for students to creating a prestigious and transformative program that would truly reflect his values.”
The program will provide scholarship support for participants while also encouraging leadership and ethical standards, a commitment to community service, and a study abroad or international internship experience.
“I am thankful to [Fred] for his decision to create the Schaefer Scholars Program,” says Henock Louis, KPMG Professor of Accounting and chair of the Department of Accounting. “I understand how important it was to him to help Smeal develop new generations of ethical leaders, and I look forward to the impact the Schaefer Scholars Program will have for our students.”
Babcock believes that beginning a career in accounting provides a great foundation to do just about anything students will ultimately want to do. Babcock’s own career is a living example of that.
“I was just like them 38 years ago,” says Babcock, “but my career wove through these different fascinating places and has landed, as a final resting spot, teaching at Penn State.”
“Students are intrigued by that,” he says, “and they can go down the hall and hear another story that is different but has that same theme.”
Accounting students were invited to participate in a competitive application process for the program in May and will be evaluated on qualifications such as academic merit, community engagement, and extracurricular and leadership experiences. Financial need will also play a role in determining eligibility for the program. Once accepted, students will remain in the program if they remain in good academic standing.
The program will enroll its first cohort of 10 to 20 students at the beginning of the fall semester of 2021.
Schaefer Scholars will be required to attend up to three ethics lectures per semester and will be expected to assume leadership roles in student clubs and organizations across the University. They will also receive a one-time travel grant to support a required international internship or semester abroad, designed to broaden their worldview and prepare them for business in a global economy.
“Fred wanted a substantial portion of the financial support to enable students who perhaps could afford to come to Penn State but really couldn’t afford that incremental experience,” says Babcock.
“He recognized that experiencing something outside of the United States almost definitionally helps people have a broader perspective on life, on aspects of diversity, and the importance of high ethical standards,” he says.
Service to others will also be emphasized: Schaefer Scholars will be expected to complete a minimum of 10 hours of community service each year.
“The community service aspect is about helping students embrace the ‘pay it forward’ sentiment that’s innately in all of us, and which is already a tenet of the MAcc program’s culture,” says Babcock.
“Smeal is arguably among the most highly recognized colleges in the University,” said Babcock. “And just as the Paterno Fellows Program is a very unique opportunity within the College of the Liberal Arts, we think this program will become a prestigious recruitment tool for the accounting department within Smeal.”
Earlier this year, Schaefer was posthumously named the Department of Accounting’s Distinguished Alumnus of the year in recognition of his long and distinguished career and his commitment to the future success of Smeal’s accounting program.
“As someone who was considered a wonderful coach and mentor, who had a strong work ethic, and who was committed to the highest ethical standards himself, this program will be a terrific legacy for him,” says Houser