By Deanna C. White
From the time he was in the fourth grade, Edwin Jones always knew what he wanted to do in life. He wanted to work in finance, and he wanted to be an accountant.
Jones had a natural agility and fluency with numbers that went beyond simple arithmetic. The traditional "take your child to work day" shadowing his mother, an accountant for the State of Ohio Highway Patrol, left him feeling even more certain about his career choice.
Later, at seventeen, his hands-on education, learning the basic intricacies of business culture and business software at Eastland Career Center in Groveport, Ohio, only reinforced his goal.
But it wasn't until he attended the Accounting Career Awareness Program (ACAP-Ohio) that he really understood the depth and breadth of opportunities that come with a degree in accounting or finance.
Now in its eighteenth year, ACAP-Ohio is presented by the Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA), the Ohio CPA Foundation, and the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), and it's hosted at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. The Accountancy Board of Ohio provides major funding for the program as part of its initiative to encourage diversity in the accounting profession.
Jones said ACAP-Ohio left him feeling that studying accounting could lead to a career that was exciting, vibrant, and an integral part of many cutting-edge industries.
"The most valuable thing I took away from ACAP-Ohio was knowing that an accountant doesn't have to be a boring, typical pencil pusher; that this field was no longer my grandfather's type of accounting", said Jones, who is now an investment services accountant for Limited Brands in Columbus and chair of the ACAP-Ohio planning committee.
"The mentors at ACAP-Ohio helped me see that at the end of every movie there's an accountant listed in the credits, that sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys have a CFO who is most likely a CPA, that athletes like LeBron James and musicians like Bruno Mars have an accountant who helps manage their careers", Jones said. "I didn't know these opportunities existed when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, and that's what I try to show the students who attend ACAP-Ohio today."
According to OSCPA, ACAP-Ohio is an annual program that helps minority high school students from Ohio explore accounting and business career paths and understand the value of the CPA credential.
The 2013 program will be held June 9 through June 14 at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business in Columbus. The application deadline for the program is April 1.
The all-expense paid residency program will host forty-five top-performing high school students from Ohio, who will explore business and accounting careers and compete for college scholarships. The week includes interactive workshops, tours of CPA firms and local businesses, and mentoring sessions with leading minority business professionals.
"ACAP-Ohio gives students the opportunity to experience all that the accounting and finance world has to offer", said Kevin Johnson, the ACAP-Ohio 2013 executive director. "Students come away with a working knowledge of what a business career can do for them, thanks to the personal interaction they experience with CPAs and other business leaders that week."
Jones said this year's students also will participate in a case study competition, receive basic accounting instruction from Ohio State University faculty, and network with accounting and finance professionals from the Big Four and regional accounting firms in the Ohio region.
Jones believes reaching out to ethnically diverse students at an early juncture in their education through programs like ACAP-Ohio is critical to promoting ethnic diversity in the accounting and finance professions.
"For some students, this profession is something that might not have even been on their radar", Jones said. "But I think if we catch students' interest early enough, we can expose them to the profession as much as we can in five days, so they can explore whether it's something they really want to do with the rest of their lives."
Ultimately, Jones said, he hopes students walk away with the same takeaways he did: a strong knowledge of the hard and soft skills the profession demands; the networking opportunities that pave the path to the future; and, ultimately, the insight that accounting and finance careers are much more than mere desk jobs – they can be the key to a exciting and fulfilling vocation and life.
"When I interact with students, I tell them that I'm responsible for millions of dollars of financial activity, but at the same time, I'm not a bean counter", said Jones, who is currently pursuing his MBA. "I enjoy my career managing construction finances where I learn about costs that aren't usually considered by a typical customer, such as lighting costs and shipping costs, and I'm excited by the jobs and challenges that await me as I progress throughout my career. I don't know exactly where I'll be (in the future), but I have a finance degree and will soon have an MBA, and both are always in demand."
ACAP-Ohio is made possible through the support of corporate sponsorships and grants. Interested students must submit an application, a 200-word essay, one letter of reference, and an official high school transcript by April 1. Applications can be completed online. For more information about ACAP-Ohio, contact Emily Bice, assistant manager of student initiatives, at [email protected] or (800) 686-2727, ext. 952.