AICPA's 'Start Here, Go Places' Competition Winners Announced

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By Deanna C. White

Ask JaJuan Carter and Jordan Middleton, students at Hoover High School in Hoover, Alabama, why they're interested in pursuing a career in accounting and they'll give you the same answer. They're both good at working with numbers, and they think becoming a CPA seems like a perfect fit.

But now, thanks to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), they have two new talents to add to their future resumes: web-concept design and marketing.

On April 2, the AICPA crowned the Hoover High School team – Carter, Middleton, and their faculty advisor Madge Gregg – winners of Project Innovation: The Start Here, Go Places® Competition of Creative Excellence. 

The competition called on high school students to submit "one big idea" that could be developed as the next feature on the AICPA's Start Here, Go Places website – an interactive website for high school and community college students interested in exploring the possibilities of a career in accounting. 

Hoover's winning team received a $3,000 scholarship to be split among team members as well as a $3,000 educational grant to their school.

"The AICPA is dedicated to educating high school students throughout the United States about the amazing opportunities a career in accounting can offer", said Heather L. Bunning, AICPA senior manager, High School and Community College Initiatives. "We appreciate all the students who submitted their ideas to the competition and their interest in helping us ensure Start, Here Go Places is the best possible resource for students exploring the accounting and the CPA profession."

More than forty eligible student team submissions from around the country were evaluated, with the top ten selected by a panel of judges to participate in the finals. The finalist teams' written proposals were posted to the website, where the public had the opportunity to cast a vote for their favorite. Following the public vote, the finalists presented their ideas via Skype to the final-round judge, who evaluated their ideas as well as how well they were able to present their ideas as a winning concept. 

The Hoover "Mighty Morphin' Flower Arrangers" team's submission focused on the idea of taking one of the best-selling board games in America, Monopoly®, and converting it into an accounting-based version of the game.

Their goals in creating this new component to the website were to drive more teenagers to the site and increase the time they spend there by engaging them in an interactive game that has a dual benefit: it's fun and educational.

"Being a teen and knowing how games are such a big part of teenage life, we felt this was the best way to enhance the website", Carter said.

The name of the Hoover team's version of the game is Perfect Competition. The players use members of the accounting Big 4 as their characters. The objective is to be the first to buy and control the smaller accounting firms on the board. There are obstacles that make it harder for the players to win, such as "chance" cards. On the cards are "accounting scandals" that result in players losing money. 

"Aurmaudra T. Bradley, CPA, senior internal controls analyst at Cummins, Inc., who judged the final round of the Project Innovation Competition, said she felt all the finalists had impressive, comprehensive ideas, but the Hoover team stood out through their use of visuals, their enthusiasm for their proposal, and their ability to sell their idea.

"They didn't just present the facts, they really made me believe it would work", Bradley said.

It's the AICPA's intention to explore the potential of the winning idea over the next few months, per competition rules, AICPA officials said, and to determine if the game can become a sustainable feature on the website.

Gregg said beside the obvious benefit of the scholarships and educational grant as well as the chance to put the competition win on college applications and future résumés, the Project Innovation Competition also taught her students invaluable lessons critical to their success as future business leaders.

"The competition allowed them to think outside of the textbook and think outside of the traditional business side of accounting", Gregg said. "Accountants need to know all aspects of the business, not just numbers, and Project Innovation gave them a chance to realize they need to be well-rounded."

Besides learning about web concepts and marketing, Gregg said, the competition helped her students build the vital abilities to work in teams and to present their ideas in front of an audience.

"It taught them how to think on their feet . . . how they have to be able to anticipate every little detail or question to defend their work", Gregg said.

Hoover accounting student Middleton said the competition was valuable to her in another way as well – it was fun.

"This was something I had never really done before, and it's the kind of stuff I like to do. I like to create neat and different things", Middleton said. "It was exciting and new to me. It was worth the deadline."

The second place team, also from Hoover High School, was awarded a $2,000 scholarship to be split among team members and a $2,000 educational grant for their school. Students from Caddo Mills High School in Caddo Mills, Texas, claimed third place and were awarded a $1,000 scholarship and a $1,000 grant for their school.

More information on the finalists and their submissions can be found on the Start Here, Go Places website

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