For college students of all kinds, there is one piece of advice that faculty, academic advisers and professional staff can always agree on: maximize your academic experience. This past summer, eight students in the honors accounting program (and one in the graduate accounting program) not only took that advice and ran with it, they supersized their UB experience by making their mark on London, home to some of the world’s most respected accounting minds and the place where the science of accounting got its start.
This was no ordinary trip abroad — this was a learning experience of a lifetime, including an invitation to observe the International Accounting Standards Board’s annual meeting, presenting thoroughly researched contemporary accounting issues at the University of Oxford, visiting The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, the Bank of England, and visits with partners from the London offices of “Big Four” KMPG and Deloitte.
Getting to London was no small feat, according to Dalton Tong, B.S. ’73, M.B.A. ’75, professor of accounting, academic adviser to the honors program and UB’s unofficial ambassador to the UK. Tong says it took time and effort to build credibility for the program in the U.S., as well as a persistent desire to open up new worlds for these students.
“Professor [Jan] Williams, M.S. ’95 and I escorted our accounting honors student to the headquarters of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the U.S. equivalent of IASB, a year ago, and on our long ride back from Connecticut, I said to the group, ‘Now that we met with AICPA and FASB, wouldn’t it be cool to visit the IASB in London’,” Tong recalled. “We had some cynics in the group, but we all agreed that it would be an experience that none of us would ever forget, including me.”
With inspiration to make this visit happen, Tong began ringing the phones of every contact they had—anybody who they thought would help with logistics, contacts, etc. In time, the credibility they gained during their visit to AICPA and FASB opened doors, and an official invitation from the IASB was extended. But it didn’t stop there. The invitation included an offer from Richard Barker, a professor of accounting at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. Barker, an expert in the specialization of financial reporting that includes international accounting standards and investors’ use of financial statement information, talked to Tong and Williams about the students presenting at Oxford. And that, as they say, was that: The group had plenty of reasons to put together a trip to London. It was time to get the approval from the dean.
“We approached Dean [Darlene] Smith about our plans and she was as elated as we were, to make this happen,” said Tong. “We all knew that if we wanted to take the accounting honors program to the next level, support from the administration and the advisory board was going to be essential. We had already established some strong relationships locally and regionally, but now we wanted to go global.”
As preparations began, the students worked together on presentations that focused on topics in lease accounting, revenue recognition, impairment, financial instruments and ruled-based versus principled-based accounting. They spent hours researching and practicing their presentations. Along the way, another American-based business school asked to partner with UB. The Honors Accounting program at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University would travel and present at Oxford on some of the same contemporary accounting topics.
“The Honors Accounting program at Fisher has a well-established and larger program than we have here at UB, and I thought it could be a good opportunity to have a bit of cross pollination between the programs,” said Tong.
With the added pressure of having students from another U.S. business school alongside him, junior accounting major Taylor Wilson knew that he and his research partners, Matthew Ho and graduate accounting student Aaron Woodward, would have to bring their “A game” to the big Oxford stage.
“We felt pretty good about our original topic on revenue recognition, but two weeks prior to our departure we found out that some of Ohio State students were planning to present on the same topic, the one we had worked on all summer,” Wilson said. “Matt thought perhaps we could present it, but I thought we should switch our focus. I saw it as ‘you only go to Oxford once,’ and I don’t want to share the same topic. So with little time left, we decided to develop a presentation on impairment, which is when a company's assets are worth less on the market than the value listed on the company's balance sheet.”
Even with the quick adaptation of a new topic, the pair dug in and worked night and day to craft a presentation worthy of the historic and prestigious institution they would visit.
“Let’s just say there was some last minute polishing to the presentation,” said Ho, a senior accounting major and current president of the UB chapter of the Beta Alpha Psi honor society. “We thought our presentation was in good shape before we left Baltimore, but since we were able to observe the discourse and debates on the topic of impairment during the IASB’s annual meeting just days before Oxford, that experience definitely strengthened our presentation. Attending the meeting gave us some good perspective and talking points that were essential for our presentation’s success.”
As it turns out, the pair did a phenomenal job presenting their topic, earning an acknowledgement from Barker.The trip’s attendees agreed: That’s like Babe Ruth complimenting you on your batting stance the very first time you step up to the plate.
Each of them came away from this experience with an enhanced understanding of the leading issues — indeed, global — in the profession of accounting. For many, the trip was life-changing.
Sara Guscott a senior accounting major, had an especially powerful point of view, which she presented to the Accounting Advisory board in October. She told the group that the Accounting Honors program and the extracurricular activities helped to lift the curtain on her academic pursuits, revealing the practical, real-world perspective that will ready her for an accounting career.
“Hearing the perspectives of practitioners connected what we hear in the classroom to what the profession is really like,” Guscott said. “It was the icing on the cake. My thanks go out to Professors Tong and Williams and all the people in the Merrick School of Business who created such a meaningful experience for all of us.”
The Accounting Honors program was established in 2010 and is designed to augment the classroom material with interactive experiences and professional development. The students have had many meaningful experiences since the launch, visiting regional and “Big Four” accounting firms as well as governmental agencies like the G.A.O and S.E.C. This year the students also received individual citations and a public acknowledgement during a meeting with the Baltimore City comptroller for their accomplishments.
View photos from the students’ London trip.