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This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
Bentley faculty took center stage to bring business cases to life for the undergraduate course Financial Reporting and Analysis. The skits were a lighthearted approach to teach students some serious lessons about how accounting principles play out in the real world.
“The objectives were to further explain and reinforce different components of financial accounting, and to show students the various roles of accounting professionals,” explains Associate Professor of Accountancy Elliot Levy, who coordinates the accounting course and worked with colleagues to develop its special evening component. Skits and other elements of the Accounting Profession post-Sarbanes–Oxley program took place over two nights to accommodate 800 sophomores.
Levy’s collaborators were Karen Osterheld, senior lecturer in accountancy and internship coordinator, and Jay Thibodeau, associate professor of accountancy and the Gibbons Research Professor at Bentley. Case studies from Thibodeau’s co-authored book Auditing After Sarbanes–Oxley: Illustrative Cases (Irwin/McGraw–Hill, 2007) provided inspiration for the skits, as professors dramatized improper reporting of financial data by WorldCom, Waste Management, and Sunbeam.
“We want to make sure that, rather than just reproducing homework, students truly understand the theories that underpin accounting principles such as revenue recognition,” says Osterheld.
Adds Thibodeau: “People actually learn well from examples of failure.”
Indeed, demonstrating the threat of criminal penalties sent a strong message to students about the evolution of accounting practice in recent years. The bulk of changes derive from the strict guidelines for auditing and financial reporting established through the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002.
A Model Network
When the curtain closed on the skits, students heard from a panel of accounting professionals – many of them Bentley alumni. Speakers ranged from first-year staff accountants, to partners in private and public accounting firms, to members of the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit.
Beth Sticklor ’10 was impressed by panelists’ diversity. “They all had something different about them, whether it was gender, race or career level,” says the ccccccccc major. “It taught me that anybody could be well suited for a job in accounting.”
Presenter Leonard DiCicco Jr. ’77, a principal at DiCicco, Gulman & Company LLP, underscored the importance of having staff accountants as his first line of defense for detecting possible problems in clients’ financial reporting.
“The commitment that the accounting profession requires, at all levels, was well demonstrated by the cases,” DiCicco says. “Students got to see the future of what they’re being invited into if they choose a career in accounting.”
The program also included an activity typically reserved for college juniors: networking. “It was a unique opportunity for the sophomores to meet with some big names in the field,” says Osterheld. “Plus, the professionals wanted to meet the students at a point when many are declaring a major. It was a win-win all around.”
Students also gained a powerful reality check on Hollywood portrayals of accountants.
“Typically, accountants are depicted as people who just sit behind a desk and are afraid to come out of a room,” Thibodeau jokes. “This perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Today’s accountants are not simply number savvy – they’re required to have the skills to interact with clients.”
Along with the skits and panel presentation, the evening featured videotaped discussion by CPAs who work for organizations such as the New England Patriots, New Balance, and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Information on professional certification, career paths, and salary progression proved enticing to students who are considering a major in Accountancy, Information Systems Audit and Control (ISAC), or Corporate Finance and Accounting.
“I plan to declare the ISAC major before the end of the [fall] semester,” says Alex Hintlian ’10, who credits the program for affirming what he already knew about the marketable skills that the major provides.
“We took accounting out of the classroom and validated it,” confirms Osterheld, who joined Levy and Thibodeau in receiving a 2007 Innovation in Teaching Award for the program.
Leslie Vitale ’74, ’01 MST nominated the professors for the prestigious honor. “It was clear to anyone in the audience the value of the profession and the importance of ethics, independence, professional skepticism and sound judgment – not to mention the need to clearly understand business information systems and industry practice,” says the alumnus, who serves as vice president at accounting firm Vitale, Caturano & Company Ltd.
Indeed, Financial Reporting and Analysis is one of many Bentley courses retooled to provide the knowledge and skills needed for the post-Sarbanes–Oxley business world.
“Students are more aware of the roles of top management and auditors in the financial reporting process,” says Levy. “They are also more aware of the penalties that have been imposed on individuals who have been involved in fraud.
“When what we teach in class is echoed by professionals, it gives the theories so much more credence,” he adds. “These are really things that happen every day in accounting.”
President Larson, along with guest experts, joined Bloomberg’s Carol Massar and Cory Johnson, to talk about how college and universities are preparing graduates to navigate diverse environments.