Calling All Future CPAs! AICPA's 'Start Here, Go Places' Website

By Deanna C. White

When the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) decided to enhance its Start Here, Go Places website – a platform for high school and community college students interested in exploring a career in accounting – they didn't hire an outside web consulting firm or float the idea in a marketing team meeting. They took it right to the source.
On January 18, the AICPA announced the Project Innovation: Start Here, Go Places Competition of Creative Excellence – a unique opportunity that will allow high school students and their teachers the chance to "crank out their genius" to make the website an even more helpful destination for students who want to explore the possibilities of a career in accounting.
"When we wanted to add a new feature to the website, we thought who could do this better than the high school kids themselves," said Heather Bunning, Senior Manager – High School & Community College Initiatives for the AICPA. "We want to make sure students are getting the information that's right for their generation. The website works best if it's a two-way exchange of ideas."
The Project Innovation competition is a call for ideas to develop a new feature on the Start Here, Go Places website. The competition is open to high school students between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. The students will work in teams of two to four classmates along with a faculty advisor. 
The competition deadline is February 6, 2012. Teams can submit their proposals on the Start Here, Go Places website. A panel of judges will select the top ten finalists from the initial entries. The top ten ideas will be posted to the Start Here, Go Places website for public voting from March 1 through March 12, and the top ten teams will do a presentation, via Skype, for final judging. Winners will be announced April 2.
The winning team will receive a $3,000 scholarship to be split equally among student team members and funds for their high school, which can be used for field trips and resources for the classroom that will allow students to explore the accounting profession.
Students who use the website, can read and hear testimonials from college accounting students as well as practicing CPAs, explore potential universities, and even create customized resources to help them take the jump from high school to college through a personalized college checklist. 
"It's a destination for students to learn about accounting, to explore the career, and to hear testimonials about accounting from college students majoring in accounting and real-life CPAs," Bunning said.
The website also offers educators an exclusive destination where they can exchange ideas and best practices with fellow teachers and obtain additional classroom resources and lesson plans to supplement their curriculum. 
Start Here, Go Places has received twenty-six awards and national recognition from the International Association of Business Communicators, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), and other sponsoring organizations. 
The site originally launched in 2001. Since 2006, the site has had more than 900,000 visitors from 211 countries. 
Bunning said the idea for the Project Innovation competition was generated after the AICPA was wowed by the creativity of last year's high school student competition, the Clearly Pretty Awesome Competition, which challenged students to come up with their best definition of what a CPA is not.
"We saw the abilities these students have, how creative they can be, so we wanted to take it up a notch," Bunning said. "We wanted to give them the ability to work in teams and to do presentations. This will help them prepare for the college level."
The more opportunities the AICPA can provide for students today will only improve their chances for success in the future, Bunning said.
"We're hoping these competitions will help them get excited about a career in accounting. We're hoping it will help them build skills and confidence," Bunning said. "And we're hoping the funds the winning school can secure will help teachers support these educational endeavors in the future."
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