In April 1992, Tom Lopez, then a certified public accountant in California, started thinking about switching careers. "I decided that the thing I really wanted to do was teach at the college level," he said. And that would mean earning a Ph.D. in accounting.
But Lopez, who is now an associate professor of accounting at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, had a wife and three young children at the time. How could he possibly afford to quit his job and go back to school?
Enter the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the 340,000-member national professional association for CPAs in the United States. The AICPA Foundation has Ph.D. fellowships and undergraduate and graduate scholarships for minority students who want to study accounting, Lopez was told. Why not apply? (Lopez's grandparents immigrated to the United States in the mid-1920s - his grandfather from Cuba and his grandmother from Mexico).
Lopez did apply and was awarded an AICPA Foundation fellowship that allowed him to enter the Ph.D. program in accounting at Arizona State University. Receiving the fellowship was "like winning the lottery," said Lopez. "It made all the difference. We wouldn't have been able to make it financially otherwise."
Four-and-a-half years later, Dr. Lopez had his doctorate. He and his family moved to College Station, Texas, where he taught accounting at Texas A&M. He later joined the faculty at Georgia State University in Atlanta before coming on board at USC's School of Accounting in the spring of 2004.
In October 2006, Lopez was one of the stars of a promotional video made by the AICPA Foundation and shown at the AICPA Council's semi-annual meeting in Las Vegas. The video and other promotional materials are a way of showing AICPA members "real-life examples of what the scholarships mean" to the people who receive them, says Sharon Reilly, Video Producer for the AICPA Multimedia Group. The AICPA Foundation is in the midst of a fundraising effort focusing on diversity, faculty development, and financial literacy.
Lopez, whose personal story for the video was filmed on the USC campus in September, told the filmmakers that his Mexican grandmother — the wife of a baker — realized how important education was to getting ahead. She was determined that, unlike her husband and herself, their three children would go to college. They did, as have all 10 of their grandchildren - most of whom have earned advanced degrees.
"My grandmother broke the cycle," Lopez said, "and once you break the cycle, it's probably broken for good. That's what it's all about, breaking the cycle."
The AICPA scholarship and fellowship programs for minority students are designed for African-American, Hispanic, Pacific Island-race, and Native American/Alaskan Native students who are enrolled in university accounting programs.
Current students at the Moore School who are recipients of AICPA Foundation minority scholarships or fellowships are Nelson Alino, Josette Edwards, Sharon Ray, and Amber White.
The Moore School is also doing its part to attract and retain minority students. A recent $1 million gift from the Wachovia Foundation will provide educational grants as well as funds for work-study assistantships for underrepresented students wishing to attend Moore, especially African-Americans and Hispanics. The money will also support numerous other initiatives to recruit and retain minority students, including summer programs, workshops, and mentoring programs.
The first Wachovia summer camp for minority high school students in South Carolina interested in studying business in college will be held in 2007. Professor Lopez is the program coordinator for the "Wachovia Scholars Business at Moore" summer camp.
Here is the AICPA Foundation page featuring the Tom Lopez video, "AICPA Foundation: Supporting the Ph.D. Fellowship," as well as many other video presentations.
You can find out more about the AICPA Foundation.