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Accounting Seminar Offers
Taste of Professional Life
September 27, 1999

Understanding the nature of different career opportunities is a critical part of the undergraduate experience at UConn.

On Tuesday evenings, starting at 6:30 p.m., some 135 students gather in the Dodd Center's Konover Auditorium for a two-hour-long seminar, capped with a cookie and lemonade social in the foyer.

The students must sign in, pick up a name badge, and be seated by 7 p.m., when the class begins.

They have been warned that arriving late is "unprofessional and unacceptable,"and that "shorts, jeans, caps and T-shirts are inappropriate." Printed instructions on the seminar's etiquette also make clear that the social "is an integral and important part" of each class meeting, and participation is expected.

Welcome to ACCT 205, also known as "Introduction to a Profession," a one-credit course that two years ago earned a national award as the most outstanding course in the United States involving academics and practicing CPAs.

Created in 1993 by Richard Kochanek, professor and head of the Department of Accounting in the School of Business Administration, the class is required of all junior accounting majors and is an elective course for any UConn student. One of the course objectives is to allow students to explore all aspects of an accounting career.

"Sometimes students think of accountants as people quietly working by themselves, keeping records of what's happened in a company somewhere. This course is designed to introduce potential accounting majors to today's professional side of accounting outside the classroom," says Kochanek.

Students who choose accounting careers are entering "the highest professional level" of a business curriculum, Kochanek contends. "This seminar begins to expose them to both career options and build relationships with senior year accounting students, graduates and members of the accounting profession.

"The class I graduated with in 1965 entered a job market rich with opportunities and devoid of competition," Kochanek recalls. "Although our accounting knowledge came more from textbooks and less from interaction with practicing accountants or exposure to the real world, everyone in my class, regardless of grade point average, obtained an entry-level position."

Students graduating today face a vastly different market, he says. They are expected to be knowledgeable about accounting standards. They are also expected to be able to interact with and provide advice to top industry leaders.

Today, clients expect many more services from accountants than the traditional auditing and tax work, Kochanek says. Clients now want CPAs to identify a company's problems during an audit, and suggest solutions, advise them about systems changes needed to meet marketplace demands, and warn them in advance about the effect accounting changes will have on financial reporting.

Part of the format of the seminar, which spans five evenings, is to showcase approximately 20 different accountants - many whom are UConn alumni - who share a variety of experiences with the class, ranging from what they would have done differently when searching for a job, to the pros and cons of working in different sized accounting firms.

Kochanek believes that by treating students as customers and providing them a real world focus on career options, provides them the optimal basis to choose what they want to be in their professional lives. "We've set up a course here that's totally geared to meeting customer requirements," he says.

Another unusual component of the class involves the annual report project paper. Each year, during the last class, a different Connecticut-based company is selected for financial analysis and a simulated shareholders' meeting.

This year's designated company is Gerber Scientific Inc. of South Windsor. On October 12, the firms's top financial officers, accompanied by their independent auditors from KPMG, are scheduled to attend the class, sit at the front of the room, and submit themselves to an intense financial grilling.

"Students are required to ask tough questions," says Kochanek. "The key component of ACCT 205 is realism."

What advantage does all this candid advice and real-world exposure provide? A sample of student opinion suggests plenty.

"The chance to dialogue with practitioners has really given me better insight into what accountants actually do," notes Michael Giampapa, a junior from New Milford, Conn. "It's also interesting to hear from them the different perspectives and outlooks they have on the profession."

"I should have taken the course sooner," admits Sarah Ruglia, a senior from North Haven, Conn., who already has a job lined up with Arthur Andersen in Stamford when she graduates. "I'm learning just how varied are the professional opportunities open to me with my accounting degree."

David Bauman