This content was published: March 18, 2019. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
Longtime accounting instructor applies life experience to support her students
Photos and Story by James Hill
Usha Ramanujam lights up when she reviews numbers and budgets.
And while they may not elicit the same reaction with most college students, the Portland Community College Business Administration Program instructor thinks they should.
Armed with an associate degree or short-term certificate from PCC in accounting, graduates can land good positions as payroll specialists, bookkeepers or assistants with accounting responsibilities at law firms, for example. If they continue their studies at a four-year school, they can become accountants, move up the ranks of management, and earn professional certifications, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA).
“They can take these classes and get one step ahead in their education, and it’s definitely cheaper,” said Ramanujam, who has been at the college since 2005. “Accounting isn’t just number crunching. It needs technological competence, like working with data and programs, and having soft skills to complement them. With this associate degree, students are ready to enter the workforce.”
- PCC’s program offers associate degrees in accounting, management, marketing and business administration. Credits transfer to a four-year college or university for students wanting to study business and earn bachelor degrees.
- In one year or less, students can earn short-term certificates in: Accounting Clerk, Marketing, Accelerated Accounting and Entry-Level Accounting Clerk.
- Courses are offered at each of PCC’s comprehensive campuses — Sylvania, Rock Creek, Cascade and Southeast.
At PCC, Ramanujam teaches accounting, which is a core course in the college’s business program. In her class, students learn the leading computer application software programs to become proficient in managing accounts and budgets. Once they’ve completed their studies, they can enter the workforce or transfer to public or private universities like Portland State, Oregon State, or Reed College.
Speaking of budgets — PCC and the state’s community colleges are advocating for a 2019-21 biennium budget of $787 million to help the 17 two-year Oregon colleges excel at serving the state. Part of the budget is $70 million to bolster student support services, like advising and counseling, to ensure students complete their degrees or certificates.
At a recent Portland Business Journal awards luncheon, PCC President Mark Mitsui said, “State funding for community colleges is literally a matter of life and death for some of our students. It’s a difference between having a future and not having a future.”
Student support is a hallmark of the Business Administration Program, which is offered at all four comprehensive PCC campuses. In addition to teaching, Ramanujam advises students on their academic and professional careers and underscores just how critical it is for students to have the support they need to move through the program and graduate.
“For first-generation college students, feeling supported makes all the difference in the world,” she said. “It’s time wasted if they get shuffled from one general advisor to another. There are a lot of steps ahead of them, and connecting them to the right people at the right time is crucial.”
Ramanujam grew up in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, in India. Her father was a judge, which meant the family moved often as he was assigned to different regions of the country. Eventually, they would settle in Bengaluru (Bangalore), which is the capital of the south-central state of Karnataka.
“In my family everyone is a lawyer, but business interested me from the start,” admitted Ramanujam.
At the age of 19, she started working in India while simultaneously earning her first master’s degree in business. In 1988, she left India and went on to earn her second master’s degree, in accounting, at State University of New York, in Albany. She found work in IBM’s internal audit department, and as an accounting instructor at a New York community college. She moved with her husband to Austin, Texas to work in IBM’s microelectronics division before taking time off to raise her children. When they moved again, this time to Portland, she completed the CPA examination.
“With my experience, I definitely know what PCC students are going through,” Ramanujam said. “They are working hard to support their families while in college, which I’ve done myself.”
Her professional expertise and lived experience serves her well at PCC. Ramanujam strives to make her program welcoming while incorporating curriculum needed by industry, such as steering the college’s internationalization efforts. To be successful, she said accountants and those working on their business degrees need to have a world view.
“In the workplace, you collaborate with culturally diverse groups of people,” said Ramanujam. “That’s why internationalization is important. Global cultural competency is an essential skill needed in today’s job market.”