By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.) – Three corporate professionals, including two well-placed IU Southeast alumni, visited campus last week to share the secrets of their success.
Hosted by the IU Southeast accounting club, the panel discussion and information session featured Kristina Merrill, chief financial officer of Sky World Racing; Dawn Williams, assistant controller at Key Electronics; and Matthew Monteiro, vice president of finance and treasurer at Farm Credit Mid-America. Williams and Monteiro are IU Southeast alumni who have risen to leadership roles within their companies within just a few years of graduation, and are committed to helping other IU Southeast accounting students get ahead.
All three appeared as representatives of the Louisville chapter and Lincoln Trail Regional Council of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). Besides sharing their own unique experiences, the three presented information about the organization’s new mentorship program, which links six students – five from IU Southeast – with local accountants for a true insider’s perspective and professional coaching.
A means to a different future
According to Lisa Book, lecturer in accounting at IU Southeast, about 75% of all accounting graduates end up working in business, in roles such as financial analyst, cost analyst, accounting manager, controller, treasurer or CFO. The panel’s presentations reflected this reality, urging students to look at accounting as a skill set applicable in a myriad of contexts, rather than as a job description.
“A degree is not an end, but a means to a different future,” Book said. “Events like this create a time and space to wrap your head around what you really want to do with your accounting or finance degree.”
The panelists underscored this open-ended approach.
“Accounting is the filter for any organization,” said Williams. “Because of this, we have a unique position to see trends and suggest solutions that can benefit the entire company.”
Williams graduated in 2014, but was still a student when a summer internship turned into a job as staff accountant at Hitachi Cable. As an adult learner already used to balancing family and school, she jumped at this opportunity, even though it was not her initial career goal. A series of promotions and moves has seen her arrive at her present position of assistant controller, with management responsibilities.
Monteiro was also an adult learner, juggling numerous responsibilities while earning his degree. He urged students to take advantage of every opportunity to expand their skills through the certification examinations for accounting and related fields, and to not become too fixated on accounting itself. Instead, they should be ready and willing to get a foot in the door wherever possible. Monteiro’s first job out of college was an hourly position at UPS, yet within a short time he had moved into an area that allowed him to leverage skills valued at higher levels.
Both Williams and Monteiro credit IU Southeast with preparing them for the real world.
“I am able to demonstrate my well-rounded business education any time I am involved with inter-departmental meetings,” said Williams. “I am also able to hire IU Southeast grads and students with confidence, knowing that they have been exposed to the full gamut of the business world.”
Merrill echoed the need to take a broad view of accounting’s many possible applications. She urged students to maintain a customer-service approach, and to refuse to take “no” for an answer when pursuing their goals, underscoring this advice with examples of success owed to her “bulldoggish” persistence.
Mentoring the next generation
The IMA’s mentorship program is the brainchild of Merrill, who felt her road to the top could have been accelerated by more professional guidance as a student. She reached out to IMA colleagues Book and Doug Barney, professor of accounting, whom she knew to be constantly creating opportunities outside the classroom for their students.
Barney selected five students, and after meeting with them to learn about their backgrounds and aspirations, Merrill paired them with professionals in the area. The mentorships help the students learn about different careers in management accounting, practice interviewing, networking and other soft skills necessary to advance in business, and pave the way for involvement in the IMA, a resource for technical expertise and professional development.
While only two months into the pilot project, the students are already seeing results.
Jacob Lyons, a senior majoring in business with concentrations in accounting and finance, credits the resume tips he received from his mentor with helping him secure a position as auditor with the Indiana State Board of Accounts, beginning after graduation.
Ladybird Nwogo, also a senior business major with concentrations in accounting and finance who is also vice president of the accounting club, has improved her resume and interpersonal skills, learned about professional opportunities such as the CMA license, and polished her marketing strategies, due to the mentorship.
“The further you get in your career, the more you recognize how much you don’t know,“ said Book. “You have to have a way of figuring it out and also having a strong network to draw upon.”
“The real world is not multiple choice”
The IMA panel discussion is just the latest effort of accounting faculty members Book and Rick French, professor of accounting, to expose IU Southeast accounting students to both the opportunities and challenges awaiting them in the real world.
As working accountants, past presidents of the Louisville chapter of the IMA and active members of other professional organizations, both Book and French are able to bring state-of-the-market insight into their classrooms, and to provide reliable advice and guidance for accounting students when it comes to internships and jobs.
Events like the IMA panel, the Accounting Career Day networking event coordinated each fall by the Career Development Center, and presentations by associations such as the Kentucky Society of Certified Public Accountants and Institute of Internal Auditors are just some of the ways that students are encouraged to gain an extracurricular toehold in the industry while still working towards their degrees.
For Book, accounting is dynamic yet challenging. On one hand, it is the foundation for encompassing any business, and so demand will always be strong. On the other, regulations are constantly changing, demanding an ongoing commitment to learning. Preparing students to enter this market means helping them develop the habit of thinking beyond the basic requirements of coursework.
“The real world is not multiple choice,” Book said.
Homepage photo: Matthew Monteiro, Dawn Williams and Kristina Merrill.