Chicago CPAs Offer Distinctive Internship Program

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By Deanna C. White

From the minute Pawel Szeliski began taking business classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), he says he was instinctually drawn to the "fluidity and creativity" of accounting. He has passionately pursued his dream of becoming a CPA ever since.

This spring, he earned his bachelor's in accounting from UIC and was recently accepted into to the school's graduate program where he will earn his master's in accounting as well. He plans to take the CPA exam after graduation, and after learning the ropes at a small to midsize accounting firm, he hopes to open his own practice.

So it's no surprise that when Szeliski decided to select an internship, he wasn't looking for the typical tax season gig making copies or filing paperwork to help a firm ease its workload. 

Szeliski said he really wanted to gain a working knowledge of the profession from industry leaders, and the Weltman Bernfield 2012 Summer Internship program, a new internship debuting in the Chicago area this June, provided him exactly that opportunity.

Unlike traditional internships that simply put students to work for several weeks, the Buffalo Grove, Illinois‒based CPA and business consulting firm of Weltman Bernfield initiated the internship program to provide meaningful, real-life experience to college students. 

"This internship was designed with a totally different mind-set from conventional internships, which are usually meant to help firms reduce their workload and increase their billable hours", said Allen Bolnick, managing partner at Weltman Bernfield. "Our internship is strictly designed to be an educational forum . . . to expose the students to what we do on a daily basis and put a positive spin on the profession."

Interns will learn the basics of QuickBooks, interact with senior partners and professional staff members, develop their networking interviewing skills sessions, and attend presentations given by such industry leaders as Steven Masur, CPA and discussion leader for AHI Associates, and Mark Rosenberg, management consultant to the CPA profession and originator of the nationally recognized Rosenberg Survey.

The program begins Tuesday, June 5, 2012, and will last for eight weeks. Eight students were selected to participate after going through a competitive application process. Each student will receive a $2,500 college scholarship. 

One of the most unique aspects of the internship, Bolnick said, is that students will be able to experience the distinct work cultures at the five small and midsize Chicago-area accounting firms that are participating in the program. In addition to Weltman Bernfield, those firms include: Porte Brown LLC of Elk Grove, Village; Hechtman Group Ltd of Skokie; Brown Kaplan + Liss LLP of Evanston; and Silver, Lerner, Schwartz & Fertel of Skokie.

The accounting industry has also offered support for the program: Intuit has donated copies of the QuickBooks Fundamentals Learning Guide 2012; AHI Associates, CPA staff training specialists, has contributed training materials; and the Illinois CPA Society has donated student memberships to interns for the duration of their college years.

"The students are all very excited to work with the staff and the partners and managers of these firms. It's a very valuable experience to be exposed to different personalities and the chance to do the hands-on work, like using QuickBooks and learning the basics of individual tax prep, that we really do", Bolnick said. "The internship will provide them with the basic knowledge of the profession, and the opportunity to see the different cultures of these firms in operation on a daily basis." 

Szeliski said it's exactly that real-world experience that drew him to the program. 

"I'm excited about the fact that I'll learn about the business, not just show up and do busywork during February, March, and April", Szeliski said. "I'll have the opportunity to learn from experienced people with a vast knowledge of the profession and see how the different partnerships conduct business in their own individual way. Because I'd like to eventually open my open firm, that's very interesting to me."

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