Students Score Prime-Time Win in AICPA Competition

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By Deanna C. White

Move over CSI

A team of high school students from Batavia High School in Batavia, Illinois, recently came up with a new idea for a prime-time TV drama based on forensic accounting that earned them first place in the American Institute of CPA's Project Innovation: Start Here, Go Places.® Competition of Creative Excellence.

On March 18, the AICPA announced the Batavia High School Team won the 2012–2013 Project Innovation competition for their proposed TV pilot that revolves around a forensic accountant who relies on financial histories and spreadsheets, instead of DNA samples and carpet fibers, to solve fictional white-collar crimes.

The team, dubbed Accounting Pros, won $4,000 in scholarships and $3,000 in grant money for their school.

The AICPA's Start Here, Go Places. website created the annual competition last year. This is the first year organizers have challenged high school students to tackle this new format of developing a hit TV show focused on the accounting profession.

The competition asked students to delve into the dual but distinct worlds of television production and the accounting profession by calling on teams of two to four high school students to take on the roles of TV writers and producers and create a concept for a new show centered on the world of accounting.

Students were asked to develop a proposal, production budget, and short video preview of their TV pilot that they then pitched to a "network" – a panel of judges appointed by the AICPA.

"Our goal with this year's competition was to challenge high school students to learn more about the accounting profession in a way that encouraged them to be as creative as possible through a medium they were quite familiar with", said Heather L. Bunning, AICPA senior manager, High School and Community College Initiatives. "What better way to challenge the number-crunching stereotype of an accountant than to develop a TV show based on the accounting profession?"

Bunning said the competition pushed students to communicate effectively, think creatively, and work within a team – all skills vital to getting ahead in the accounting profession.

According to the AICPA, student teams from around the country entered submissions, with the top entries selected by a panel of judges to participate in the finals. The finalist's video teasers were posted to the Start Here, Go Places website where the public had the opportunity to cast fan votes for their favorite. 

Following the public vote, the finalists presented their ideas via Google+ Hangouts to the final round judge, John Digrado, CPA, executive director of finance at Sony Pictures Television Networks International, who evaluated their videos, budgets, and their ability to present their idea as the winning concept.

The winning team from Batavia High School, comprised of team membersDavid Madrigal, Stanley Walden, and Zach Thilges and faculty advisor, Jeffrey Miller, created a concept for a show starring character Dominic Clark, a young SEC agent with his CPA license. 

In the pilot, when Dominic's character gets a position with a toy company, he exposes fraudulent activity, leading to a highly coveted position with the FBI. In his role at the FBI, Dominic goes undercover to expose white-collar crimes as a forensic accountant, while secretly investigating the agency's financial history.

Accounting Pros' hard work certainly paid off. Their video garnered more than 1,000 fan votes, and judges were wowed by the creativity of their concept and the business savvy that backed their production skills.

"I was really impressed with their idea. I could genuinely see how it puts accountants in a heroic light and generates interest in the profession with the broadest audience possible. Their pilot did a great job setting up the central plot points of the show, and their budget was well considered", Digrado said. "The team did an excellent job explaining their idea in their final presentation and really selling their show." 

The second place team from Pine Ridge High School in Deltona, Florida, won $3,000 in scholarships and $2,000 for their school for their show depicting six accounting experts tackling the responsibility of managing a business on the verge of closing down due to lack of account monitoring.

Students from Foxborough High School in Foxborough, Massachusetts, took home third place, garnering $2,000 in scholarships and $1,000 for their school, for their "dramady" revolving around central character Bill Bailey, a young CPA who has been privately employed as a personal accountant to manage the "money mayhem" of wacky actor Reef Taylor.

In total, $15,000 in scholarships and grant money was awarded to the top three teams.

Accounting Pros team member Stanley Walden said the competition was fun and rewarding because it allowed the team to break away from the books and practice their accounting and budgeting skills within the fictional context of a real-world industry. It also helped them explore CPA career possibilities and how to portray to others the CPA profession in an exciting and accessible light.

"We got to apply accounting to life and try to figure out a way to make CPAs stand out", Walden said. "It was a great opportunity to gain experience by putting a project like this together. I think, if the show were a real show, it would help people understand the roles accountants play in major corporations and give them a greater appreciation of how much CPAs do for the world."

For more information on the winners or to view their submissions, visit the Start Here, Go Places. website.

Start Here, Go Places. is an interactive website for students interested in exploring accounting as a viable career path. Students can read and hear testimonials from college accounting students as well as practicing CPAs, explore potential universities, and even create customized resources to help them take the jump from high school to college through a personalized college checklist. The website also offers educators an exclusive destination where they can exchange ideas and best practices with fellow teachers and obtain additional classroom resources and lesson plans to supplement their curriculum. 

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