Washington, D.C. Broadens Career Horizons for Accounting Students

While most accounting students learn auditing and accounting rules, a new class, launched with support from CliftonLarsonAllen LLP (CLA), takes students “into the kitchen to see how the sausage is made,” figuratively speaking.

Offered each spring, the course—U.S. Institutions Shaping Accounting and Auditing Standards—enables students to spend the first half of the semester learning about important individuals and institutions that wrote the rules governing financial accounting. In addition, students participate in rule setting by writing comment letters on proposed rules, providing input before a rule is finally issued. After establishing this background, the class travels to the heart of U.S. rule setting — Washington, D.C. — to meet with representatives of the various rule-setting stakeholders.

In the pilot year, students met first with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the national association that represents CPAs in the U.S. They learned how the AICPA supports the profession and provides expert assistance to regulators at both the federal and state levels. Next, they visited the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to learn about its broad range of activities and to hear PCAOB professionals speak with care and passion about their responsibility to protect the public.

The following day, students had firsthand exposure to the legislative process at the U.S. Capitol. Wisconsin’s elected representatives welcomed them: U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, the staff of former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, and U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin. As Rep. Moore was just off the floor of an important vote, the excitement of governing was infectious. In Speaker Ryan’s office, students learned that sometimes leaders work at the process of coming to a result at the expense of their short-term goals. Each senator’s office conveyed how policy positions were determined and impressed students with the passion to do the right thing.

This trip to the nation’s capital was the first for many of our students. In addition to a tour of the monuments, students explored the many Smithsonian museums in a scavenger hunt of the most interesting exhibits. A highlight was the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the First Amendment. The students reflected on their visits throughout the week, all of which had been possible because of the First Amendment. Their meeting with the AICPA represented the freedom to assemble, while the meetings with the PCAOB and the legislative delegation represented the freedom to petition the government. The Newseum also showed the role of the media—and freedom of the press—in shaping governmental rules.

The final day was spent at the Washington, D.C., CLA office, where students learned the breadth of career opportunities their accounting training enables. Several students voiced their interest in careers in either government or auditing government.

Sausage making can be messy and time-consuming, involving many ingredients—not unlike the process of making rules and laws. In the end, we want the most experienced and passionate professionals to execute these tasks. With support from CLA, UW-Milwaukee gives future accountants a glimpse into “the kitchen” and a new appreciation for what comes out.

Colleen BolandDr. Colleen Boland, CPA, CGMA, is an assistant professor at UW–Milwaukee. She researches standard setting and the impact of technology on auditing and teaches Accounting Information Systems. Contact her at bolandc@uwm.edu.


(This article appeared in CPA2b, a publication of the Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants.)