By Deanna C. White
There's little doubt that Ali Paul, leadership and outreach manager at the Indiana CPA Society (INCPAS), is truly "inspiring" people.
For the second time in less than four months, Paul has been honored for her efforts to increase diversity in the accounting profession.
On February 27, College Mentors for Kids named Paul the 2013 Inspire Awards winner in the Accounting, Legal, and Finance category for her groundbreaking work with the INCPAS Scholars program. The INCPAS Scholars program, created in 2011, is a unique, year-long career awareness program for Indiana's minority high school students with a nascent interest in business and accounting.
The Inspire Awards celebrate mentoring in the workplace and community. Paul was one of seven Indiana business and community leaders honored at the 2013 Inspire Awards luncheon.
College Mentors for Kids is a nonprofit mentoring program that operates on twenty-three college and university campuses in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky.
Paul says she's humbled and honored by the recent outpouring of professional recognition for her role with INCPAS Scholars, but her main concern is making sure the program leaves a lasting impression on just one audience – the students – who, without the program, may never realize the doors a degree in accountancy can open for them.
"I hope the INCPAS Scholars program helps past, current, and future students understand the value of the CPA designation and to know that they're capable of reaching their educational and professional goals", Paul said. "Years from now, I hope the students are CPAs, active in their communities, and encouraging other minority students to consider accounting as their major and become a CPA."
The INCPAS Scholars program pairs high school students with a CPA mentor and a college accounting student mentor for a year. Students also attend monthly events, which focus on important topics that will prepare them for educational and professional success. Monthly events include college nights, visits to CPA firms and companies employing CPAs, and a trip to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
According to INCPAS officials, in just two years since its inception, thirty-five diverse students from high schools across Indiana will have completed the program by August.
Although, Paul said, the ultimate test of the program's long-term success will come when the INCPAS Scholars alumni enter the profession, organizers are already seeing hallmarks of success among the first group of students who participated in the program. The entire inaugural class of INCPAS Scholars seniors has graduated from high school, is enrolled in college in Indiana, and is majoring in accounting, Paul said.
In less statistically verifiable but perhaps even more telling measurements, parents and students say they're thrilled with the program. Students continue to "return home" to utilize the resources and networks available to them through the program, said Paul.
Paul said she believes the consistent, enduring mentoring the program offers is the key to that success. "When developing the program, we looked at what obstacles students might face as they move from high school to college. We saw a need for consistent, hands-on mentor events to drive home the message the mentors had to share and a need for college and university involvement", Paul said.
Students like Yakov Adelfinskiy, now a freshman at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, said that consistency and follow through definitely made an impression on him.
"Before my senior year, I honestly had no interest in going into a career in business, but after going through the INCPAS Scholars program, I came to realize that I wanted to major in accounting", Adelfinskiy said. "I understood that if I stayed on course, took in all assistance, and seized every opportunity that I could, I would be able to achieve my goal and pave a path to a bright future ahead of me."
Paul says the program has also helped her strive for a whole new definition of career satisfaction and purpose. When she fields texts from program alumni – telling her about exams they've aced or questions about internship programs they're passionately pursuing – Paul says she and the program are making a tangible impact on student's lives.
Her fondest memory, Paul says, is the day she learned that all seven seniors in the first graduating of class INCPAS Scholars were planning to stay in Indiana for college and all were planning to major in accounting.
"These students had scholarship opportunities at schools that didn't offer accounting or had planned to go to a college out of state; some were even being challenged with personal issues", Paul said. "However, when it was time to make a decision, they chose accounting in Indiana."
A year later, Paul said, those INCPAS Scholars are still on track – all wrapping up their first year of college, all still accounting majors, and all serving as buddies to the new class of INCPAS Scholars.
It's what some might consider, if such things were measurable, a 100 percent rate of success.
"Hearing that the students are doing well shows me that they're applying what they've learned in the program. It reminds me that we're making a difference in their lives", Paul said. "That's the ultimate reward. "