Lisa Artymowycz (’12), a recruiter with the New York State Office of the State Comptroller, meets Accounting major Erika Hines (right), a junior majoring in Public Accountancy.
Accounting is all about numbers — and at SUNY Fredonia the numbers of students choosing Accounting and other School of Business majors are adding up.
Fredonia has tripled its Accounting majors in the last decade, in part due to the Professional Preparedness Program, which the School of Business and Career Development Office created to help students succeed.
Its signature “Meet the Accountants Night” is a rite-of-passage each fall which, not coincidentally, is the prime recruiting season for Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firms.
“It’s like a job fair, but a little different. It’s just for Accounting majors, and the employers are primarily CPA firms in Western New York or Northwestern Pennsylvania,” says Accounting Associate Professor Ken Plucinski, who notes that state governmental agencies have been added in recent years.
“Students start attending the event as juniors, and if they’re interested in a career as a CPA, they end up going through this process three times,” explains Plucinski, who notes that students often pursue a fifth-year to achieve the prized 150-hour Public Accountancy degree, which prepares them to take the Uniform Certified Public Accountancy Examination.
Students get to meet recruiters and learn about their firms and their job and internship opportunities.
“For juniors, it’s mainly about getting internships and starting to network,” says Assistant Director Chris LaGrow of the Career Development Office (CDO). “For seniors, it’s the first step in the recruitment process.”
Weeks before the big night, LaGrow conducts a workshop that addresses résumé preparation and ways students can best present themselves. Proper dress, etiquette and suggested questions to ask (and avoid) are among the tips offered.
Polished résumés are entered into the “Look Book” that’s sent, in print or digital format, to participating firms, as well as hundreds of other firms across upstate New York. Interviews typically follow within weeks.
Many of the recruiters are also Fredonia alumni, so the evening gives them a chance to reconnect with favorite faculty members.
Another signature component of the Accounting degree is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. After completing training, testing and certification, students assist low-income, elderly or non-English speaking taxpayers in Chautauqua County in preparing income tax returns.
“Students get real experience working with taxpayer/clients in a professional setting,” says Professor Linda Hall. “They learn interviewing skills and use their tax knowledge and return preparation skills.”
It’s not just the students who benefit. With roughly 200 tax returns prepared each season, resulting in new or larger refunds, Fredonia students are literally adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the local economy. Service learning of this kind often promotes future volunteerism in students, Hall adds.
Accounting students are a tightly knit group. “They take the same classes. They’re in and out of our offices, looking for counsel about job offers,” Plucinski says. “Some have received and accepted offers before they even graduate.”
With this proven formula, the School of Business and CDO are well positioned to serve more Accounting students. This year’s rise in freshmen Accounting majors is part of an overall enrollment increase in the School of Business, which also offers majors in Management, Finance, Marketing, Management Information Systems and Business Administration. There are currently 143 freshmen in the school, nearly twice the total in 2003.
“The School of Business has become our second most popular college for freshmen,” reports Admissions Director Chris Dearth.
Some graduates who’ve gone on to successful careers include: James Kincaid (’90), partner at Lougen, Valenti, Bookbinder & Weintraub, LLP; Timothy Santo (’98), global customs process leader at General Electric Co.; Josh Kasmer (’12), of Brock Schechter & Polakoff; Douglas Telban (’86), director, Corporate Compliance, Internal Audit and Operational Audit at Fidelis Care; and Heather (Poliseno) Chudzik (’06), corporate tax supervisor, Dayco Products LLC.
Betsy Thayer, hired by Erie, Pa.-based Schaffner, Knight, Minnaugh & Company before graduating in 2012, credits professors Hall, Plucinski and Assistant Professor John Olsavsky for her success. Thayer says, “They challenged their students. I felt like they really wanted to develop great future accountants.”
Stephanie (Derby) Widzinski, a senior manager at Watkins Meegan, one of the nation’s top accounting firms, said the degree she received in 1988 was “top notch,” and prepared her for the real world.
“What stands out the most for me about my Fredonia experience is that I was able to build relationships with my professors,” says Widzinski. “I never felt like just a number or a student. I knew my professors well and they knew me.”
Widzinski is not the only Fredonian at Watkins Meegan. Scott Damiecki (’98), Robert Hambrecht (’98) and Elise Wilkin (’12) are colleagues, and Wanda (Skelly) Zazzara (’89) is with W.J. Technologies, an affiliate.
LaGrow reports the accounting job front is very good. “Our recruiting program has grown. About a dozen CPA firms in Western New York, including Buffalo and Rochester, request résumés every fall. Our students are very competitive and are getting offers — sometimes before the end of their (senior) fall semester!”
“Those who do internships are often at a major advantage, as they can be an ‘inside’ candidate for a full-time position.” LaGrow adds.