In 1987, the New York State Society of CPAs (NYSSCPA) developed the Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program to "expose promising, underrepresented minority high school juniors to accounting and business careers." In addition to the exposure to the career options, the NYSSCPA seeks to support minority students and inspire them to pursue the CPA license. For the past two years, I have spoken with a group of these juniors at St. John's University in Queens, New York about career options in forensic accounting.
I and 32 students from all over New York City discussed forensic accounting as a possible career path that a CPA can follow. Despite the endless law and crime shows on television, including shows that focus on forensic work, there is very little mention of forensic accountants. So, my challenge was to give the juniors an idea of what a forensic accountant is and some of the work that a forensic CPA might engage in.
I approached my COAP session with a mix of nerves and excitement. I do get nervous, and a touch fearful, at the though of standing before 32 teenagers. I want to be able to hold their attention enough so they can learn the value of the CPA license and the many places, professionally, the CPA designation can take them. I know when they are not interested in what I have to say - teenagers tend to be people who will not pretend to be interested if they are not. Because I feel strongly about the information I am sharing, I want to be sure they are listening.
After covering the basics of what forensic accounting means, with the help of references to popular culture, we moved on to an interactive discussion on interviewing as part of a financial forensics investigation. The students learned that there is more to forensic accounting than looking at numbers; an understanding of the business and interactions with those in the workplace are vital parts of an investigation.
We closed out the session with an interactive, and enjoyable, case study where three students volunteered to play roles in using interviewing skills in order to solve a theft. The class was very responsive and asked thoughtful questions that expanded the scope of our conversation. This is when I get very excited. I am inspired by the interest and passion with which the juniors participate during the COAP session. Every student that I spoke with is thinking about their future and options and they are intrigued by the new career paths that they discover during the COAP session.
Recently I attended my college reunion at Mount Holyoke College and a current student asked me what a CPA is. I also have countless stories, as do fellow CPAs, about fiends and family who believe that the sole and core skill of a CPA is tax preparation. I welcome the opportunity to let young people, especially those who are underrepresented in the profession, know that there are a myriad of career options that open up with the CPA credential. Knowledge is power and I am always honored to be able to share with people planning their futures and let them know that they have access to the support and encouragement provided by our State Society.