USC alum returns to speak about white-collar crime

first_imgFew USC graduates picture themselves ending up in prison, but that is exactly what happened to alumnus Justin Paperny, who became involved in unethical business practices and is returning to campus Monday to caution students against making the same mistakes he did.Paperny, a former Trojan baseball player who graduated from USC in 1997 with a degree in psychology, was sent to federal prison in 2008 and served an 18-month term for crimes stemming from unethical business actions committed while working as a junior partner at UBS Wealth Management, a financial management firm in Century City.This problem is not unique to Paperny.Kenneth Merchant, Deloitte & Touche LLP chair in accountancy and professor of accounting, said at least one Leventhal School of Accounting graduate each year experiences problems associated with illegal business decisions.“The worst is felonies, and then they’re getting sanctioned,” Merchant said. “It happens to at least one [former student] a year.”Paperny, however, has decided to use his experience to help warn others.Inspired to turn his life around by a fellow inmate, Paperny started a blog from prison in October 2008. Paperny would write blog entries and mail them to his mother, who would retype them and post them on the Internet. The blog became “Lessons from Prison,” which was published as a book in 2009 and is now required reading for business classes at several universities, including USC.Paperny, who now tours the country to speak to business students, said he had never intended to become involved in illegal activity.“My bad behavior, or unethical behavior, really started slowly. Nobody wakes up and says, ‘Today is the day I’m going to commit a white-collar crime and commit fraud,’” Paperny said. “I had this singular focus toward work and making money. I wasn’t able to discern the sort of person I was turning into.”Paperny said he made his first unethical decision six or seven months into his career, when a senior broker advised him to pad his sales numbers so he could qualify for a $10,000 bonus.“I can’t blame my senior brokers ­— I don’t blame anybody — but my senior brokers were teaching me the practical aspects,” he said. “I didn’t have enough patience or enough discipline at the time to decide there was a better way to do things. I knew it was wrong, but I figured the culture allowed it, so it must be OK.”Arvind Bhambri, associate professor of management and organization at the Marshall School of Business, said, like Paperny, most people who become involved in illegal business dealings have no intention of doing so initially.“People don’t set out to break the law,” Bhambri said. “It starts incrementally. It’s like riding a tiger, and you don’t know how to get off without getting eaten.”Bhambri said it is vital that students who enter the business world have full awareness of what they are doing at all times.“What I’ve found in my conversations [with former students] is that a lot of people will be engaged in unethical behavior, rationalizing it in their own mind, ‘This doesn’t benefit me, it’s for the company, if everyone else is doing it, it must be okay,’” he said. “And that’s a dangerous path. Just because something has been done a particular way before doesn’t make it right.”Bhambri said USC business students discuss ethics in almost every course, and the university also offers a course strictly on ethical behavior.“The debate that has gone on for a long time is whether we should have a separate course for ethics or if we should integrate it in [to all the courses]. We try to do it at both levels,” Bhambri said. “In the MBA program in particular, we try to get some exposure to ethics in the first couple of weeks.”Nathan Lowenthal, a freshman majoring in business administration, is currently taking a philosophy course called the Professions and the Public Interest in American Life (PHIL141), taught by Professor Dallas Willard. Lowenthal said the class is a popular choice among business students.“We talk about situations professionals are put in that require them to make tough ethical decisions,” he said.Paperny said it is possible for students entering the business world to succeed while holding on to their morals, despite an environment that “tacitly approves” of unethical or even illegal practices that would benefit a company’s bottom line.“I’m convinced you can,” he said. “You have got to be prepared to be different and know that it’s okay to say no to people.”Paperny said the ability to make the right decision in tough situations requires daily effort.“When I was a baseball player, I played every day and I got good. It’s no different being ethical. If you cultivate those habits daily and do it and not just talk about it — evaluate whether your words and actions correlate with the kind of person you want to become,” Paperny said. “When you practice doing the right thing, it will be so easy to make the right decision. But if you don’t cultivate those habits, it’s so easy to cross the line.”last_img read more

Viterbi lab shoots to send rocket into space

first_imgWarren Poh | Daily TrojanRocket man · Neil Tewksbury, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, works on the nose cone of a rocket at the Viterbi lab.The Rocket Propulsion Laboratory of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering allows students of all experience levels to participate in design teams where they complete projects for competitions.Their ultimate goal, though, is to create the first university-built rocket to go to space.Each year, the team aims to make improvements on their rocket from previous years to increase its distance and height. “Our goal, to be the first university to go to space, is an ambitious goal. It’s a feat that takes faithful people,” Chief Composite Engineer Roberto Lopez said, in an email to the Daily Trojan. “The kind of people rocket lab attracts are internally motivated and excited about going to space.”Members of RPL can work with a number of sub-teams that specialize in order to work more efficiently. Chief Propulsion Engineer Damian Balla co-heads the propulsion team, whose main function is to design and build motors. Members in that sub-team focus on improving the motors to gain more altitude by collecting data on the performance of the propellant.Over the remaining semester, Balla and his team will find ways to improve the propellant. “We have several performance improvements to make to the propellant, which include making denser propellant that burns longer and has a different ‘thrust profile’ which allows us to gain massive amounts of performance,” Balla said in an email to the Daily Trojan.Last semester, RPL came in with the goal of testing their newest rocket, Fathom II, on the ground and in the air successfully in September. The plan proved too ambitious when the front end of the rocket burned through during static firing. “This made us push back our launch date until we had a working case design,” Lopez said. “After redesigning, we came back a month later only to have the same thing happen on the aft end of the vehicle.”While the first two tests were demoralized, Balla said that they were able to make progress with new member training and building hardware. Despite these setbacks, the team was able to regroup by November and attempt a third test. This time, the case they tested did not burn through. “With this new qualified design, we have built another case and attached fins to it getting ready for our much deserved flight March 4,” Lopez said.Balla said that the ability for RPL to press on in spite of hardships is emblematic of USC. “The ‘Fight On’ motto is extremely important for us because after all, it is rocket science, and it’s extremely difficult,” Balla said. “Because we continue to make improvements and iterate our designs at a rapid pace, we are able to truly ‘Fight On’ and achieve amazing things.”Lopez also believes it is the Trojan spirit that makes it possible for RPL to continue to make progress. “RPL produces engineers that are skillful and ambitious like Trojans. At RPL, we like to do things ourselves,” Lopez said. “We are more than just designers. We are builders. We machine all the metallic components on our manual mill and lathes. From this attitude, we gain valuable hands-on skills that help us design better components.”last_img read more