Accounting students accountable for more than just the numbers

Executive in Residence, Alissa Choi, MBA, CPA, leads the integration of current practice into undergraduate and graduate accounting courses, providing students with experiential learning opportunities that not only enhance practical skills, but also develop critical thinking and communication capabilities.

From the very beginning of the curriculum, AC 201 Accounting Principles 1, that is required of all business majors, Ms. Choi introduces data analytics through hands-on learning experiences in the new Boler Data Analytics Lab. She developed the project for AC 201 in collaboration with Karen Schuele, Ph.D., CPA, Professor of Accountancy, and Joanna Garcia, Ph.D., CPA, Associate Professor of Accountancy.

Reinforcing concepts first learned in BI 100, Business Analysis with Excel, students in AC 201 calculate, categorize, and summarize the information needed to create an accounts receivable (A/R) aging report. The students then work in groups to visualize and analyze the data in order to make business recommendations for the company.

For accounting majors, the experiential work continues in AC 303, Intermediate Accounting 1, as Ms. Choi bridges education in the classroom to application in practice through a project that introduces professional judgment concepts and a framework for decision-making. She acknowledges that Albert Nagy, Ph.D., CPA, Department Chair, KPMG Professor of Accountancy, Dr. Schuele, and Arthur “Tripp” Petzel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Accountancy, were instrumental in providing their input and support to make the project a success.

Students are assigned a case that requires them to determine an appropriate allowance for doubtful accounts at the end of a financial reporting period. Initially, students work with data in Excel on their own to prepare an initial analysis and estimate. In a subsequent meeting, the case is discussed at a high level before the students are put into groups. Within their groups, students discuss their individual analyses and begin working towards developing one estimate for the group.

“It is important for students to consider alternatives, practice professional judgement, and substantiate their conclusions,” says Choi. “In a following class meeting, each group is provided an opportunity to participate with an experienced practitioner.” 

The groups come to the working session prepared to articulate the decisions they made and their rationale. The practitioners then review the analysis with the group, ask questions, make suggestions for consideration, and share relevant experiences from their own practice.

“I smiled when a student asked if their scenario was ever seen in the real world,” said Amanda Davis, Manager, Technical Accounting Consulting, RSM, “I responded with ‘every job I work on.’ I think the project did a great job of bringing together the classroom work and the application of skills in the workplace.”

“This [work] really starts the students down a path of critical thinking that appears to be at a minimum these days,” said Katy Allen, Controller, Ideastream Public Media. “It’s a shame because critical thinking is so crucial for success in the working world, whether it’s public accounting or industry.”

After the working session, students complete their final analysis, prepare an executive memo and Ignatian reflection.

“I am much more confident in my ability to make accounting and financial decisions that require professional judgment,” said student Stephen Bannon. “I have a much better understanding of the process and how to better position myself to make the best decision for the company.”

“Presenting our conclusions to a practitioner helped immensely in improving our professional decision-making as well as giving us an idea of real-life situations,” said Logan Chiller.

AC 305, Intermediate Accounting 3, presents students with another opportunity to practice professional judgment. Ms. Choi developed a second project with the support of Dr. Petzel that maintains some familiarity from the previous project, while increasing the level of technical difficulty in the accounting issue, challenging the students, and further expanding their critical thinking skills.

After a review of professional judgment concepts and a framework for decision-making, students are assigned a case that requires them to determine whether a company’s deferred tax asset requires a valuation allowance and, if so, the amount of the allowance.

Students work individually, then in small groups, using a framework for professional judgment, data in Excel, relevant authoritative literature, and a variety of other information.

Experienced practitioners are, again, brought on the scene to conduct working sessions with the groups, review their analyses, listen to their decisions and rationale, and make suggestions for consideration, while sharing their own relevant experiences.

“It’s invaluable to have this sort of preparation for the workplace,” says Choi. “It brings the material to life and helps the students become comfortable in presenting their work and answering questions. I can’t thank our practitioners enough. The students truly appreciate the experience and expertise that is shared with them.”

“Continue putting together these sorts of exercises,” said Lori Kalic, Partner and Senior Healthcare Industry Analyst, RSM. “It allows for independent, critical thinking and, while the students may not appreciate it now, they will!”

Prior to joining the Boler College of Business, Alissa Choi spent over twenty years in practice.  She served as managing director of a D.C.-based forensic accounting and litigation consulting firm, providing accounting, financial reporting, auditing, and internal control expertise to clients in a variety of industries.  In that role, she served as a consulting expert to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, United States Department of Justice, Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, Fortune 500 Companies, and prominent law firms throughout the United States.  Ms. Choi has also managed a corporate finance department, was a senior manager in the audit practice of a regional CPA firm, and began her career as an associate with a national CPA firm.

Ms. Choi is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.  She was named to the task force that rewrote the AICPA Property and Liability Insurance Companies Audit and Accounting Guide and continues to serve as a technical reviewer of annual changes to that guide.  She previously served as a contributing author and technical reviewer of the AICPA’s Audit Risk Alerts and as a technical reviewer of the AICPA’s Fraud Practice Aid.