Something Special is Happening in Accountancy at ILLINOIS

by Sarah Small

What happens when incredibly talented faculty work with the highly capable students admitted to the ILLINOIS accountancy program?

They achieve great new heights!

During the past academic year accountancy students were integral to winning four top national-level case competitions in the College of Business. Pitted against the best teams from around the country, ILLINOIS students brought home victories from the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ xTREME Accounting competition, the Deloitte National Student Case Study Seminar, Ernst & Young’s 2010 Your World, Your Vision competition and the Johnson & Johnson national case competition.

“The odds against that happening at any university are really astronomical,” said John Hedeman, dean of the Honors Program, “It’s never happened here before and I doubt if any school has a record like ours; I’m willing to bet that no other business school has done so well.”

“To me, that’s the exciting thing about this: something special is happening here.”

Ira Solomon, head of the Department of Accountancy, suggests there are several reasons for recent student successes. He believes the undergraduate accountancy programs are unique and designed to foster in students the skills most necessary for success.

“The success we have seen in the case competitions is a very strong testament to the three ideas that contribute to excellence at ILLINOIS,” Solomon said. “These are, outstanding students, world class faculty who serve as mentors and educators for the students, and a highly innovated curriculum that focuses on three types of learning objectives: (1) technical knowledge, (2) professional skills, and (3) professional values and attitudes. The latter two foci are unique within accounting curricula-it’s one of the reasons we are generally regarded as the top one or two accounting programs in the country.”

The accountancy curriculum focuses not only on giving students the technical knowledge necessary for careers in accountancy, but also on helping students develop soft skills that help them excel in any professional setting. Critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork are all heavily emphasized.

“Case competitions are great for students to test the critical thinking and presentation skills they will need in their careers,” Hedeman said.

Several students from the winning case competition teams cited strong teamwork as the most important factor for success in the competition. It is common practice in College of Business classes to be randomly assigned to groups at the beginning of each semester, and all of the students praised this practice for the experience that helped them compete.

“There’s a heavy focus on teamwork here at Illinois, in classes and organizations; that teaches students to play to their strengths as part of a unit,” said Angela Jiang, a senior on the winning Johnson & Johnson team. “Teamwork really shows in case competitions; just putting together a group of smart students won’t cut it if they don’t know how to work together.”

Teamwork in competitions also reflects the teamwork performed on the job. Employers recognize the advantages team players bring to their careers.

“I think more and more students are becoming aware of just how important case competitions are,” Jiang said. “Employers are seeing them as one of the best ways to truly assess a candidate’s skill and they are using case competitions to screen which colleges and what students they really want.”

Winning case competitions also helps inspire students to participate in case competitions. Hedeman said he has already observed College-wide excitement surrounding the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ xTREME Accounting competition, where ILLINOIS teams have competed nationally the last three years and placed first the last two years.

“I hope our success shows future U of I teams that winning is definitely achievable,” said Simeon Tzolov, a senior who was on the Deloitte team. “If a team puts in the time and effort then they can achieve great things.”

Stephanie Pazdan, another senior from the Deloitte team sums it up, “At these competitions, you are representing not only yourself, but the entire College of Business as a whole. When so many University of Illinois teams are winning these competitions, it really unites the College of Business because we can all be proud of the school we go to and the college we are associated with.”