There are many ways CPAs can make a difference on a college campus, including speaking to a class or student organization, serving as a judge for a class presentation, attending a career fair, and teaching a course (Yvonne Hinson, “Inspiring the Next Generation: How CPAs Can Contribute on Campus,” Journal of Accountancy, September 2017, http://bit.ly/2OU2azd). But for CPAs whose current schedule does not permit these activities, who do not work near a college campus, or who simply feel too far removed from the college environment, there are still many often overlooked opportunities to contribute to both accounting students and faculty, all without leaving the office.
Ways to Contribute
Providing materials or data to be used in the classroom.
Real-world materials serve as invaluable tools for enriching students’ educational experiences. Items such as working papers, process flowcharts, data sets, or memos (all redacted of private client information, of course) can greatly aid professors in showing students what accounting in action looks like.
Speaking to a class or student organization virtually.
Most classrooms are equipped with the technology required for hosting virtual speakers; practitioners would simply need a computer or mobile device with a camera and a reliable Internet connection to participate remotely.
Donating money for scholarships.
With supply always lower than demand, scholarship funding is a key need for most accounting programs. To donate, practitioners should call a university’s accounting department and ask to speak with the accounting director about current scholarship funding needs or about starting a new scholarship fund. Any amount of funding will be greatly appreciated by both the students and faculty.
Participating in a faculty member’s research endeavors.
In addition to teaching, part of the job for many accounting professors involves academic research undertaken with the intent to advance professional knowledge, with results often incorporated into class lectures and discussions. Research fieldwork often involves sending surveys or situational case studies to practitioners. These surveys and case studies generally are not long, and professors greatly appreciate the time taken to complete them.
Collaborating with a faculty member on a research paper.
Accounting professors engaged in academic research are always looking for new research questions to examine and often collaborate with practitioners on papers. CPAs with an interest in pursuing a certain research topic (e.g., the implications of a new tax policy or auditing standard) can reach out to accounting faculty members with whom they have relationships (e.g., a shared alma mater) or contact the accounting department of a local college. Most accounting professors would welcome the opportunity to collaborate.
Encouraging a state society or other accounting group to sponsor or coordinate events for college students.
Such events could include a seminar, a networking event, a writing contest, a tutoring program using graduate students or senior accounting majors, or a team competition. For example, the Kentucky Society of Certified Public Accountants (KyCPA) sponsors and coordinates a two-day Leadership Institute for Kentucky and southern Indiana college accounting students to enhance their professional skills and network with accounting professionals. They also sponsor the PEAK (Promote and Encourage Accounting in Kentucky) competition each year, in which teams of university accounting students from all over the state participate in a Jeopardy-style contest that pulls questions from Becker CPA study materials to test students’ accounting knowledge.
Hosting an event.
Companies or firms located near a college campus should consider inviting an accounting class or student organization to tour the office and have a Q&A session with the accounting staff.
Writing recommendation letters.
Volunteering to write a recommendation letter for a college student (e.g., a current or former employee) can make a real difference. Accounting students encounter scholarship opportunities that often require the submission of one or more letters of recommendation. Some students feel intimidated to ask employers to write these letters and as such may not apply.
Providing feedback to professors regarding desired skills or competencies in new accounting graduates.
If accounting professors are made aware of which skills are most valued in the workplace, they can devote more of their class time to developing or improving those skills in their students. For example, the ability to write clear, concise memos may be valued more highly than a mastery of Microsoft Excel.
Accounting professors are always looking for new research questions to examine and often collaborate with practitioners on papers.
With many accounting programs now encouraging or requiring accounting majors to complete an accounting-related internship before graduation, accounting students are always on the lookout for great-fitting internship opportunities with firms, companies, and organizations of all types.
Mentoring a college intern.
Practitioners should check with their human resources department to see if it has a formal mentoring program in place for college interns and, if so, volunteer to participate. If not, take the initiative to meet the interns at the start of their internship. In the course of working with and getting to know them better, a natural mentor/mentee relationship may arise with certain individuals.
Providing feedback to professors regarding expected performance of interns.
Providing such feedback allows professors to impart that knowledge to current and future students in order to improve future internship experiences for both students and employers. Knowledge of practices to avoid and to emulate are both welcome.
Each of the above items can be accomplished without leaving the office and can have a lasting impact on accounting education. Many students do not begin their freshman year with the goal of majoring in accounting, but rather arrive at that decision later through the influence of friends, family members, professors, or employers. Thus, whether on campus or from the office, all CPAs should strive to be champions for the profession and take advantage of any opportunity to talk to young people about the importance of accounting and why it is such a great profession.