On a typical June day, Kentucky high school students David Wagner, Kayla Cook, and Michael Kiraly would be kicking back, enjoying all the pleasures of summer—playing video games, hanging out by the pool, or binge-watching Netflix.
But this summer was anything but typical for these teens, and 29 of their peers, who spent the waning days of June at summer camp; and not your standard canoes on the lake, bug-infested cabins in the woods, first crush, s'mores type summer camp either.
These teens, all of whom share a budding interest in accounting and business, spent their time at the Kentucky Society of CPAs' (KyCPA) BASE Camp for high school students.
This is the ninth year the KyCPA has hosted BASE Camp, which stands for Business and Accounting Summer Education Camp, an intensive five-day business program for high-performing high school juniors, seniors, and recent grads who have expressed an interest in majoring in business or accounting.
KyCPA CEO Penny Gold says BASE Camp is the perfect way for teens who have a nascent interest in becoming CPAs to explore the profession, boost their business skills, and have a little fun with peers who have similar interests while doing it.
"With Baby Boomers heading for the exits this decade, we could see it was critical to help high schools students realize the great career opportunities open to them in accounting", Gold said. "Strengthening the pipeline of talented CPAs is a business imperative for public practice firms and for business and industry, and this five-day program gives students the time to really learn about the profession, how important these skills are to the business world, and build their confidence and business skills."
Program organizer Becky Ackerman, career development and outreach manager for the KyCPA, and the dedicated CPA volunteers of the BASE Camp Task Force, said BASE Camp was unique because it truly is a "camp" experience. During their five days at camp students live in the dorms at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., and are fully immersed in all things business and accounting for the entire week.
Staying away from home, however, is where the similarities to the lazy, hazy days of "old school" summer camp ends, Ackerman said.
"There is nothing passive about this experience", Ackerman said. "It's a really intensive week. We try to expose students to as many career experiences, environments, and business professionals as possible, and we ask them to practice the business and accounting skills they are learning through educational workshops and games culminating in a final case study competition."
During BASE Camp 2014, held June 15 through June 19, campers were busy from breakfast at 8 a.m. to "lights out" at 11 p.m. Dressed in casual business attire (no flip flops here) they visited four college campuses and four CPA firms in the Louisville-area including Ernst & Young LLP, Stothman & Co., Mountjoy Chilton Medley, and Deming Malone Livesay and Ostroff.
They toured the international headquarters of Papa John's Pizza, and the FBI Headquarters in Louisville.
They participated in panel discussions with business leaders, young CPA professionals, student accounting majors, and a fraud and forensics special agent from the FBI, to get a feel for accounting profession.
Students learned about proper business decorum and business attire, and instructors at the legendary University Club at University of Louisville put Emily Post to shame when they schooled campers in dining room etiquette and formal table manners during a formal business luncheon.
KyCPA staff, or "counselors", also gave them some of their first accounting lessons in the form of fun activities and games, and participation in group presentations on topics like a company security breach, minimum wage increases, and even an "ice-cream audit."
All those lessons coalesced in a case study competition on the final day of camp.
BASE Camp wasn't all about career prep, however. Organizers made sure to squeeze in a little fun as well, hosting tug-of-war matches, visits to the indoor trampoline park, and improv lessons.
Students said the hands-on practice with business skills like networking and public speaking was a great prep for college and their future careers, while the knowledge they gained about the accounting profession, and the doors a CPA designation can open, was invaluable.
"My favorite part of BASE camp was touring the different accounting firms like EY and Deming Malone Livesay & Ostroff. This helped me look forward to becoming a CPA", said David Wagner, a senior from Radcliff, Ky. "I also enjoyed the chance to talk to some of the employees to pick their brains about their careers and their professional experiences."
Senior Brady Dean of Fort Thomas, Ky., said he already knew accounting was a "broad subject" and the major could open many doors, but BASE Camp made him realize just how valuable that an accounting degree really is.
"You can do practically anything with an accounting degree because the degree and the skills are so universal", Dean said. "I also learned many CPAs will be retiring over the next six years, which leaves an even bigger opportunity to step up and excel in the work force after college."
Kayla Cook, a junior from Brandenburg, Ky., discovered she really enjoys auditing-and that she isn't afraid to admit it. "Auditing seems like a job where there would never be two of the same days. There would always be something different to make it interesting", Cook said. "And I like analyzing information and investigating to make sure everything is accurate."
Michael Kiraly of Louisville was happy to learn accounting isn't a traditional desk job, but rather one that opens up numerous opportunities for travel and interaction with clients, while Perseverance Sani, a recent grad also from Louisville, discovered she could parlay her "secret" passion for law enforcement and desire to be a detective, into a career as fraud and forensics special agent for the FBI (a transition she believes her parents will wholeheartedly support).
Without exception, all 32 BASE campers, say they relished the personal side of the experience as well, particularly the chance to bond with new friends who shared the same passions, goals, and aspirations as them.
"From a personal standpoint, the best part of BASE Camp was the opportunity to meet other students from across the state who had the same interests as I did. We all knew we were considering a degree in the business or accounting field and that was just a conversation starter", Cook said. "But as the week progressed we bonded and made lifelong friends."
"Friends", KyCPA organizers say, they hope will also become successful "colleagues" one day—as CPAs, or in whatever fields they choose to pursue.
"Of course we're hoping BASE Camp will lead to these students choosing the accounting field of becoming a CPA someday, but the bottom line is when they leave they've been exposed to so many areas of business they'll be prepared for whatever they choose to be", Ackerman said.
About Deanna White
Deanna Arteaga is a professional freelance writer and public relations specialist who for the past six years has covered CPA industry trends for AccountingWEB. She also writes about CPA firm marketing, higher education and professional development for CPAs, and workplace trends in the accounting profession. She has more than 20 years of journalism and public relations experience, including her tenure as a former newspaper reporter in suburban Chicago where she covered breaking news, municipal politics, and state legislative issues.