Monday, November 4, 2013

The Student's Perspective: An Unlikely Turn of Events

By Paul Fitzsimmons
President, Beta Alpha Psi, James Madison University

Editor's note: This is part of a series of guest posts from members of the James Madison University (JMU) chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an honors fraternity for accounting students. These posts will cover topics of interest to accounting students. If you have a question you'd like a Beta Alpha Psi member to cover, please email VSCPA Communications Specialist Chip Knighton.

Growing up, I always struggled with the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I could never quite picture myself as a businessman, let alone an accountant. Actually, the only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to be an accountant. As far as I was concerned, anything else was a possibility. My dad is a CPA, and when I was younger I’d go into work with him occasionally. I remember thinking how boring it looked to have to sit in a desk all day and crunch numbers. This stereotype of the accounting profession is one that I think is shared by a lot of people and can deter otherwise potential CPAs from pursuing the career.

I entered JMU as a Justice Studies major; I thought being in the FBI would be pretty cool. It was only until I took my first Justice class that I quickly realized the major was not the path for me. In fact, the teacher emphasized the fact that the program at JMU was designed to be completely different from traditional criminal justice tracks. I began to peruse other majors but continued running into the same tough question- what did I want to be when I grew up?

I eventually made the decision to become a business major- marketing actually. My rationalization was that if by the end of my freshman year at JMU I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, I couldn’t go wrong with getting a business degree and figuring it out later. After all, everyone I knew who was a business major had been able to find pretty good jobs. As I embarked on the string of required pre-requisite classes for the College of Business, I had my first interaction with accounting. I was kind of dreading the class to be honest, with the stereotype of the work still fresh in my head.

I performed well in both of the introductory accounting classes and realized that there was way more to the profession than I thought. I remember doing some research and learning that accountants could become fraud examiners, do forensic investigations, and even help solve crimes. I was intrigued, and saw this as an opportunity to incorporate my interest in criminal justice with the accounting skillset I’d developed. I changed my major to accounting that spring. I would have never guessed I’d wind up as an accounting major, but what I’ve slowly learned over time is that the skillset you develop through the courses we take equips you with a marketable set of analytical skills that are transferrable to nearly any profession.

I had the opportunity to intern with Baker Tilly’s Consulting practice last summer in Mclean, VA, where I worked with the Government Contract Advisory Services team. I participated closely on a project that involved litigation support for a compliance infraction facing one of our client’s. I recently received an offer to join Ernst and Young’s Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services team in Washington, DC next summer. Among the services offered by the team are fraud investigations, litigation support, and data analytics. I have been able to take the skills I’ve learned in the classroom and pair them with career opportunities that I find fulfilling and challenging. My advice to any student in a similar position is to never let a stereotype cloud your judgment and prevent you from trying something new. I would have never guessed that I would wind up in accounting; however, the skills I’ve developed as a result have allowed me to find success in incorporating my personal interests into meaningful career opportunities.
Paul Fitzsimmons is a senior accounting major at James Madison University and Co-President of the Eta Delta chapter of Beta Alpha Psi. He will return to JMU next fall to embark on his Masters of Science in Accounting before starting full time work in the fall of 2015.

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