Group of high school students pose in front of Zumberge pond

More than math

Accounting camp reveals truth about careers and supports talent pipeline

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Nerds, who sit alone at a desk all day, doing repetitive work with no hope of promotion. Yikes!

That is how some high school students describe accountants.

Courtnee Raybon, a senior at Wyoming High School, believed that myth until she attended an accounting careers awareness camp at Grand Valley.

“I thought accountants just sat around crunching numbers all day and had to be really good at high-level math,” said Raybon, who hopes to start her own business someday. “The camp opened my eyes to what a degree in accounting can do for me.”

Fifteen students from eight area high schools were housed in living centers on the Allendale Campus during the five-day camp in June, sponsored by the School of Accounting in the Seidman College of Business.

David Cannon, assistant professor of accounting and camp director, said the first-of-its-kind camp at Grand Valley focused on the real-life responsibilities of an accountant and served as a way for local business leaders to coach and develop young talent.

He said Grand Valley is a strong pipeline for businesses and accounting firms across the country, and the camp helped support their recruiting strategies.

People sitting at tables in an office

During the five-day camp, students visited area firms and participated in mock interviews.

Students were taught that accounting is as much a communication discipline as it is a measurement discipline.

“Accountants need to be good communicators and writers,” Cannon said. “And, accounting is numbers — not math. I tell high school students they already know the necessary math, which is algebra 1. You won’t see trigonometry or calculus in accounting at the undergraduate level.”

Victor Martinez, who graduated from Grand River Prep High School in Grand Rapids in May, said after his camp experience, he decided to pursue a degree in accounting at Grand Valley.

“My favorite part was visiting area firms and learning about all that is involved with an accounting career,” said Martinez. “I thought accountants worked alone in cubicles. I didn’t realize how much teamwork is involved.”

Martinez said his eyes were opened to a crucial role of accountants: taking information generated by a company and putting it in a form that is useful for decision makers, like investors, lenders and bankers.

Cannon said often, students don’t realize that accountants give insight to managers and executives.

“Accountants can determine if it’s profitable to cut production by a certain percent during a specific time, or whether it’s more profitable to buy materials at a certain point in time,” he said. “They can determine how much overtime you can have in a particular department without losing money.”

Correcting misperceptions was just one goal of the camp. Cannon said there is a need to increase diversity within the industry and to educate students about the lifelong value of a college degree.

The camp is based on the National Association of Black Accountants’ Accounting Careers Awareness Program model that helps direct underrepresented groups to accounting and business careers.

The camp was free to students and supported by several area businesses. Business leaders and alumni served as counselors to help students build resumes, plan careers, practice proper lunch etiquette and learn how to dress for success.

Students also participated in mock interviews and took field trips to area accounting firms and businesses, including Plante Moran, Gordon Food Service, and Crowe LLP. Other sponsors were BDO, Dan Carter Advisors, National Association of Black Accountants, EY, PwC, and Whirlpool.

Several Grand Valley departments supported the camp, including the Career Center, Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Life and the Seidman Undergraduate Advising Center.

Danica DeWaha is a senior associate at PwC; she earned both a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in accounting from Grand Valley in 2016.

DeWaha served as a camp volunteer conducting mock interviews and helping students craft a resume. She said PwC has a strong Grand Valley alumni staff, ranging from intern to partner.

“I thought accountants worked alone in cubicles. I didn’t realize how much teamwork is involved.”

Victor Martinez, first-year student majoring in accounting

“This camp was great for us because we are always looking for new ways to engage with Grand Valley,” said DeWaha. “Students learned important skills they will need for the future, like how to represent themselves in an interview and maintain eye contact. Their resumes were reviewed by three professionals so in the end they were top-notch.”

DeWaha taught students about new tools, technology and software (like bots and alteryx) that they might not think are used in accounting and auditing.

Katie Harris, ’10, ’11, risk assurance manager at PwC in Detroit, said her company recruits from Grand Valley, and programs like the accounting awareness camp help sustain a strong pipeline.

“With these types of experiences, students can better understand the expectations for an internship and employment,” said Harris. “This stage is not about getting it right, it’s about practice and getting real-time feedback. Students get to see what their career path might look like.”

The career path for Raybon may include opening her own business, perhaps a medical spa. She said the camp gave her the knowledge and confidence to apply to colleges and follow her dreams.

Martinez is now a first-year student at Grand Valley and will soon complete his first semester of classes.

“Grand Valley has a reputable business college with excellent programs,” he said. “Learning about accounting and college from the camp counselors, and visiting area firms made me believe I can do it.”

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