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COAP: My Summer Experience

Mary-Jo Kranacher, MBA, CPA, CFE

In 1987, the NYSSCPA started the Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program to attract young talent into the CPA profession. The program is hosted by colleges in New York State and generally consists of a three- to six-day agenda for high-school students. This initiative primarily focuses on attracting minority students who are traditionally underrepresented in the world of accounting.

During the COAP experience, students learn about the basic accounting curriculum, meet accounting practitioners, visit business and government organizations, and speak with representatives from professional groups. In the summer before their senior year of high school, the students stay in university residence facilities or commute to campus for the duration of the program.

In 2009, COAP programs registered 330 students at 11 colleges and universities in cities all over the state. They engaged in a variety of activities, such as visiting a hospital, a utility company, a baseball game, and CPA firm offices to see the many opportunities that await them in the profession.

This summer, I agreed to launch the COAP program at York College of the City University of New York (CUNY), where I am a tenured professor. Immediately, I began to question the soundness of my decision. Did I really want to take on the extra work and responsibility of running this program? Would these students have the maturity and commitment to appreciate the information, experience, and opportunities that would be offered to them over the course of the four days of planned activities? It would be an adventure for them and for me.

The Society was committed to the success of this venture and provided invaluable support—in terms of financing and personnel—to ensure that we had the resources we needed to succeed. The Society assisted with planning, organizing, implementing, and supervising the program. The energy and creativity of organizers and volunteers helped to make York's program a memorable one for everyone involved.

The Agenda

Our adventure began on a Sunday afternoon in late June and attracted a dedicated group of high-school juniors. I felt pressure to provide an impressive agenda because these students were voluntarily giving us a portion of their summer vacation. The agenda included presentations on forensic accounting, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, and financial literacy.

Among the students' favorite activities was a field trip to a midsize regional CPA firm, where they learned about auditing, taxes, and forensic litigation advisory services from practitioners who are involved in this work. The firm's leadership went above and beyond by pairing CPAs with students during lunch, engaging them in discussions about the accounting profession, and answering the students' questions. Firm professionals spoke about their experience working for large firms and how it differed from a career at a midsize firm.

Another highlight was a visit from Jonathan Mariner, chief financial officer of Major League Baseball. Mariner, a CPA and member of a minority group himself, spoke about finance in the major leagues and his personal success story. He also addressed the ethical issues that have faced high-profile individuals in his industry.

Learning Opportunities

Many of the students came to our program believing that accounting was nothing more than balancing debits and credits—the bookkeeping focus of a typical introductory accounting course. They were pleasantly surprised to discover the many facets of accounting. For some, this could be their first glimpse of what their future might look like—college followed by working in a challenging professional environment. One student wrote to me in an e-mail after the program was finished:

  • While there I felt as if I was a real college student, doing myself a favor by attending the program. I had a great time and learned far beyond what I expected about the accounting profession.

As for my initial doubts, they turned out to be unfounded. These students were not only ready to learn, they were hungry for it.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Mary-Jo Kranacher, MBA, CPA, CFE. Editor-in-Chief.

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