Accounting for excellence: Preparing future leaders

Stephen Moehrle, professor and chair of the Department of Accounting at UMSL

Stephen Moehrle, professor and chair of the Department of Accounting at UMSL, discusses financial practices with students in his Financial Accounting and Reporting IV class. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When the economical downturn occurred, Benjamin Taylor’s material business in the construction industry felt the impact.

“I knew it was time for a career change,” says Taylor, who had always been good with numbers, doing the books and taxes for his business for many years. “I started looking into accounting programs and it was an easy choice.”

Taylor chose the Department of Accounting at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“I wanted a program that was accredited, accomplished and would prepare me for a career,” he says. “I found that program at UMSL.”

Taylor earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting in May 2013. He then spent the spring working a paid internship at Ernst & Young in St. Louis, one of the big four firms in the area.

“My internship, which UMSL helped me to earn, was amazing,” says Taylor, who is currently working on a master’s degree in accounting and was named the 2011-12 LEAP Student of the Year by the Missouri Society of Certified Public Accountants.“I was offered a full-time position when I graduate. I credit a lot of my success to the program.”

So, what makes the accounting program at UMSL so unique?

“It’s hard to point to just one thing when discussing the impact the department has had on students and the community,” says Stephen Moehrle, professor and chair of the department. “It’s a combination of things, a tradition of excellence.”

Moehrle, who earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from UMSL, said the foundation for the program was started by some of the first faculty members of the department.

“The tradition of excellence dates back to professors such as Dave Ganz (professor emeritus of accounting) and his colleagues in the 1970s, who established a rigorous program and a community around it, that prepares every student for a career,” he says. “When I was here as a student, there was already a very special morale among accounting majors. We were all very proud to be a part of the UMSL accounting community and most everyone landed a very special career.”

The accounting program in UMSL’s College of Business Administration has a long-standing reputation for preparing exceptional accountants. The department offers an undergraduate and graduate program, both of which are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the most prestigious business accrediting organization in the world.

UMSL is the only program in St. Louis and one of only five in Missouri to hold AACSB accreditation in both business and accounting. The dual accreditation places UMSL among only 10 percent of universities in the United States to have such distinction.

Many graduates are partners in CPA firms or chief executives and financial officers at well-known companies. And the department’s success rate of graduates who score high on the four-part Certified Public Accountant exam is unmatched throughout the region.

In fact, in the last five years three UMSL accounting students have received prestigious honors for their abilities.

The Elijah Watt Sells Award is a national award given annually to candidates earning the cumulative highest score on the CPA exams. Brighton Ranney, MAcc 2012, earned the award in 2012. Nguyen Ngo, BSBA 2010 and MAcc 2011, earned the award in 2011 and Chris Leon, BSBA 2007, earned it in 2008. All three are currently working at renowned firms. Only a handful of universities in the world have had more students win this prestigious award during these years.

In addition to an outstanding curriculum that prepares students for the work force, the program has partnerships with area firms and businesses, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst &Young, Moneta Group, Edward Jones and many others.

“Community outreach is another big component of the entire academic experience for our students,” Moehrle says.

For more than 40 years, UMSL students have participated in the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Students undergo several weeks of tax preparation training, testing and certification. And then for several weeks, they offer their services to the community, preparing tax returns at no charge.

“It’s these types of real-life experiences that give students the confidence and knowledge to enter the work force,” Moehrle says.

Sue O’Leary, BSBA accounting 1988, chief financial officer of Total Hockey in St. Louis, says a degree from UMSL has meant a career doing what she loves.

“My favorite class and most impactful professor was my auditing class taught by Jack Cox,” O’Leary says. “During that class, Professor Cox shared his passion for auditing and numerous real life examples. Part of the class involved working through a complete audit of a company. As we worked through the audit as a class, I knew at that time, that my first job after graduating would be as an auditor.”

O’Leary, who was recently named one of the “Most Influential Business Women” by the St. Louis Business Journal, worked her way up the ranks at a couple of accounting firms and Wallis Cos. before joining Total Hockey, a company expected to top $45 million in sales this year.

“UMSL has a proven track record for quality job placements for graduates with business degrees with an emphasis in accounting,” she says. “That reputation is what sets it apart from others.”

This story was originally published in the fall 2013 issue of UMSL Magazine.


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