At the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, students are discovering that the William & Mary Master of Accounting program's experiential learning opportunities are leading to long-term career advantages. The D.C. Trek, a faculty-led exploration of the Washington, D.C., financial markets, invites students to meet with national and international experts and immerse themselves in the hot topics in the accounting profession.
This year’s trek, held Oct. 18-20, was led by Kimberly Smith, Chancellor Professor of Business, who describes the trip as a one-of-a-kind experience that brings the curriculum to life.
“Visiting these organizations in person, and meeting such high-level professionals, provides our MAcc students with a unique perspective, one that allows them to stand out from the crowd, and feel prepared to take on the most challenging projects,” said Smith.
Bridging coursework and real work
The group of 64 students began their journey with a visit to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, an organization that "audits the auditors," according to Smith. They met with senior members of the organization who shared insights into new auditing standards, investigation regulations and enforcement procedures.
"We were one of the first universities to bring students to the PCAOB," said Smith. At the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the group was able to meet with a number of top professionals including a commissioner. Students had the opportunity to learn more about enforcement, the impact of new technologies, and the challenges of securities regulation. Graduate student Luoyi Chu appreciated the hands-on perspective.
"It's amazing that we get to visit agencies like the PCAOB and the SEC and get to talk to the people who work on the issues that we read about," said Chu.
"Everything I learned in Professor Picconi's class about derivatives and hedging is valuable in the real world, and you will use it," said graduate student Alunique Smith.
The day also featured a panel discussion hosted by KPMG in its Washington, D.C., office and was led by several William & Mary alumni including Doug Williams '89, partner at KPMG. They introduced the group to a new accounting standard, "Current Expected Credit Losses," that was implemented as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. Students and faculty were especially excited to learn how accounting firms such as KPMG use sophisticated analytical techniques to make the estimates required by these new standards.
"We were at the center of the accounting world, interacting with some of the most influential people," said student Campbell Cooksey. "It was great exposure — and experience."
On Oct. 8, students gathered at William & Mary's Washington Center to hear from alumnus R. Scott Bell from the U.S. Treasury Department. He summarized the Financial Report of the United States Government and answered questions from enthusiastic students. Learning opportunities did not stop for lunch. Instead, lunch was shared with a senior legislative tax attorney from the United States Senate Finance Committee who provided firsthand insight into the Senate's efforts to implement tax reform. The United States' budget had narrowly passed the day before, so students were thrilled with the real-world connection.
"It was like being on the front lines of learning," said graduate student Michael Kelly.
Other distinguished experts included a member of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board who discussed the importance of transparency in disclosing risks and opportunities related to Environmental, Social and Governance issues. For the final session, international experts from Ernst & Young's Office of Professional Practice offered a summary of the role they play in supporting their clients during the implementation of new accounting standards.
Experiential learning with a payoff
For many, the experience had tangible benefits. For instance, students have already credited the trek with job offers.
“The trek experience put us ahead of the competition," said graduate student Albarou Sabi. "Because we are more knowledgeable about the trends in the industry, as well as the overall mechanism of the capital market,” said Sabi.
Professor Denise Jones, chair of the accounting department, who, along with Smith, designed the trip back in 2004, believes the Mason School's commitment to real-world experiences sets students apart.
“Our MAcc program ranks in the top five for small schools for a reason," said Jones. "We remain committed to these types of invaluable experiential learning activities.”
The students agree.
"The D.C. Trek is a perfect example of what makes the William & Mary Master of Accounting program so special," said Bella Kron '17. "You have the unique opportunity to engage with top thinkers and expand your understanding of relevant accounting issues. This is hands-on learning at its finest," she said.
Jacob Headley '17 is thankful for the opportunity, too. "I had a blast! I can't believe how much I learned in two days."