As a child growing up on the South Side of Chicago, there were two things that were just “givens” for Michael Trendell, Senior University Lecturer in the College of Business at Governors State University.
The White Sox ruled (of course). And, he would follow in the footsteps of his father—or his friends’ fathers—and be a Chicago firefighter or police officer when he grew up.
“It was expected of us to become a policeman or a fireman,” said Trendell, whose father was a firefighter.
He took both exams. The Chicago Police Department called him first. He was 25.
“I really loved being the police,” he said looking back on his CPD experience.
But six years into his job, he knew it was time for a change.
“I realized there had to be a better way to make a living,” he said.
During his time as a police officer, he went back to college to earn his bachelor’s degree and an MBA. His accountant brother encouraged him to go into auditing—a career path that eventually led him to work for Chicago area hospitals first as a senior auditor and later as the director of internal audit.
But once again, Trendell’s career interest began to shift. This time, it was teaching. And after teaching as an adjunct professor for a few years, he realized he had found a new calling.
In July of 2012, Trendell was hired to teach Accounting full-time as a senior lecturer at Governors State. Today, he teaches four classes each semester and two in the summer.
In 2016, he was recognized as “Educator of the Year” by the Chicago Chapter of the Institute of Internal Auditors.
When he talks about the different career paths he has had over the years, Trendell speaks about each with pride and enthusiasm. Trendell counts himself blessed to have had three careers he has thoroughly enjoyed and tries to bring that same enthusiasm for his work to the classroom.
GSU Newsroom: What is a personal mission statement or motto you try to live by?
Trendell: I try to treat every student as if they were my son or daughter. When a student comes to me, I think to myself, ‘This is my daughter or my son asking me these questions.’
When I teach, I’m thinking I’ve got a class full of my kids—my actual kids—and this is how I would want the professor to teach them.
I do a lot of references for my students and a lot of times they’ll check back with me after a couple of years. When you get those emails or calls that come back and they say, “Hey, thank you. The things you talked about I’m actually doing now.” It makes you feel good.
GSU Newsroom: What special bonus will students get in your classes?
Trendell: Rarely, very rarely, do I teach something in class that I didn’t actually perform in the real world. I bring a lot of real world experience to my students.
Whatever we’re talking about, I bring real world examples from my days in accounting and auditing. If we’re talking about a schedule, I bring in an actual schedule from one of the hospitals I worked with. If I’m talking about an audit, I bring in that part of an audit from one of my hospitals.
When they go out there as an accountant or an auditor they will touch or see things and they’ll say, “Oh, I remember this from Trendell’s class.”
GSU Newsroom: What bit of advice do you give students to carry with them after graduation?
Trendell: Professional skepticism. The auditor must have professional skepticism and know that, no matter who they are dealing with, there’s a risk that there’s fraud or error involved. I harp on my students about professional skepticism and tell them to know that there’s always a risk associated with alterations or errors in documents given to you.
(Laughing) People come out of my class not trusting anyone.
GSU Newsroom: How has auditing changed through the years?
Trendell: When I first came up as an auditor, I would come in, and they wouldn’t want to see me. I would come in and say ‘Oh, I’m here to help you,’ that wasn't true. They would say, “We’re happy to see you,” and that was the also was not true.
The new school is ‘Hey, let’s work together. If we identify a weakness, let’s fix it together.’
When I was in a hospital and did an audit, the departments would be skeptical, but a lot of times when I was done, they would make me honorary members of their team. As an auditor, I was there to be a resource to that organization so that was my number one goal.