By Marci Grossman
Although the stereotype of accountants is that they sit alone at their desks counting beans, this isn't the reality of their profession. Jennifer Dorigo, an accounting teacher at Kenmore East High School in Tonawanda, New York, decided she wanted her students to learn firsthand what the accounting profession is really like. She also wanted her students to strengthen their communication skills and increase their business knowledge.
Her first step was to arrange for each student to interview a professional accountant. One of the accountants she approached was Cheryl Prout, a partner at Gaines Kriner Elliott LLP, who she knew from college. As a result, some of Gaines Kriner Elliott's staff members recently spent time with the students to help them gain insight into the profession.
Students first conducted phone interviews with staff members and then wrote reports about their interviews. Later, students followed up with e-mails to discuss financial topics. Eventually, students and accountants met face to face at an informal gathering at the school.
Linda Robertson, CPA, and supervisor at Gaines Kriner Elliott, was glad to participate. "I think many students don't understand what you can do with an accounting degree or how much hard work it takes to achieve your degree. I enjoyed being able to share my experiences and struggles with them in hopes they got something out of it."
This wasn't just a one-time deal for the firm. "Based on the positive feedback received from both the students and the staff involved, we plan on continuing this in the future," said Prout. "Some of the students graduated and are off to college. We all left them our contact information and, hopefully, at some point in the future, they'll contact us. We left the door open for possible internships."
Participating in a program like the one at Kenmore East High School allows firms to gain the personal satisfaction of meeting with students, to build positive publicity for the firm, and to establish relationships with future potential firm candidates.
The firm's staff time was billed to its community service/marketing time, which the firm commits to on an annual basis. Although the school generated the publicity, the project also was mentioned in the Buffalo Business First newspaper and in the Focus, Gaines Kriner Elliott's monthly newsletter. Because the school made the initial contact, it was responsible for gaining the permissions necessary for the students to participate.
This was a great opportunity for students to have telephone and face-to-face interaction with business professionals to get an idea of what the profession is really about, and it gave the staff at Gaines Kriner Elliott the chance to reach out to the next generation of potential accountants.
Robertson noted, "I hope I was able to give them a real insight of what accounting is and what they can expect. I wish I had the opportunity to do something like this when I was in high school."