The newest undergraduate major in the School of Business, accounting and analytics (A&A), has only a handful of alumni. Yet each of those alumni are working at top-tier firms, including PwC, Deloitte and KPMG.
What’s the secret to this job-placement success? A&A is a forward-looking, analytics-driven accounting program with a curriculum built according to advice from industry practitioners and target employers. It has a diverse group of experts as faculty, and its self-starting students take to and run with what they’re taught. That’s a combination that nearly guarantees academic and career success.
In 2015, a task force of Stevens faculty set out to develop a modern accounting curriculum, one that would leverage technology and the analytical expertise of their Stevens colleagues. It would incorporate existing courses in data visualization, statistics, regression and statistical modeling. Dr. Elaine Henry, associate professor of accounting, and Dr. Ann Murphy, associate professor of management, were the co-chairs of the task force. “There’s a nice synergy at Stevens because of the different skills that faculty have,” said Henry. “We have the domain-specific knowledge, whereas some of our colleagues have the technical knowledge and lack the [accounting] knowledge.”
By meeting with industry experts, asking what they’re looking for in future hires, and referencing white papers and official guidance on the future of the accounting field, Henry and the task force solidified a curriculum that puts equal weight on accounting knowledge and technical skills. With this program, “you’re not acquiring dated skills,” said Henry. “You’re not taking the accounting program of the past but one that is forward-looking” and always evolving.
The School of Business approved the proposed curriculum, and the first class of accounting and analytics majors arrived at Stevens in 2017. The first graduating class (’21) had four A&A majors and the next 12. Among the current graduating cohort are students Ana Marija Micevska ’22, Doris Vazacopoulos ’23, Taylor Whitlock ’22, and Beata Mirtchouk ’22. Each of them has secured a position at one of the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young) — a group of industry-leading accounting and consulting firms.
Vazacopoulos understood the merits of the A&A program even before she enrolled. “I liked how small it was — that it was newer and still in the works. And it seemed like something that had a lot of potential. That’s what drew me to the program, and what’s made me stay are the professors.”
James Biagi, teaching associate professor, reciprocates that appreciation. “I find that all students at Stevens are really engaged, interested and bright. They want to learn. It makes it easy for me because they’re self-motivated, and I enjoy interacting with them.”
Whitlock spoke about the quality and applicability of the curriculum, specifically how helpful it was to analyze real-world cases and 10-K statements. “[The courses] were all put together well. You would’ve never known it was the first time they were running them. When there were occasional hiccups, the professors made sure to ask for our feedback and would adjust accordingly to make it easier to learn new concepts.” While Stevens’ accounting professors have taught similar courses at other universities, the developing A&A program offers an opportunity to refine and update course content to incorporate analytics.
It’s clear that small class sizes and a collaborative approach have catalyzed relationships and created a community within the program — bringing peers together and strengthening connections between students and their professors. “We’ve become closer — all of us — because of it,” said Micevska.
The first graduating cohort and their professors were a tight-knit group too, explained Mary Ruane ’21, who is now an international tax consultant at Deloitte. “Dr. Henry is one of the biggest champions of accounting students. She was there every step of the way to answer the questions I had and provide guidance on what I should do next,” she said. “Walking into Professor Biagi’s classes, I always knew it would be a good time. He is possibly the funniest professor at Stevens, telling jokes to ease the load of the material in tax classes. My peers and I definitely had a ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality.”
Specialized Study, Broad Application
Faculty mapped the curriculum to the needs and expectations of the accounting industry, and the A&A courses drill into specific skills and explore rigorous accounting concepts. Yet, because of the nature of these skills, a degree in accounting and analytics can lead a student anywhere they’d like to go in business.
“People often overlook the fact that accounting prepares you for a variety of careers,” said Henry. “It gives you not only the opportunity to have a well-defined profession but also the opportunity to build yourself a portfolio of skills.” Henry and Biagi, who both studied accounting as undergraduates, exemplify the versatility of these skills. Henry applied her accounting background to a career in corporate and investment banking and earned her CFA charter. Biagi, following his undergraduate education, coupled a CPA license with a law degree to pursue an entrepreneurial career in taxation. It’s also typical for CFOs to have studied accounting.
Citing Dr. Murphy, one of her Stevens mentors, for this advice, Vazacopoulos said, “You can learn the finance aspect of things while working in accounting, but you’re not going to learn accounting working in finance.” Vazacopoulos and Micevska have followed through on that promise, becoming the first A&A majors to be a part of the Stevens Student Managed Investment Fund.
The accounting and analytics curriculum continues to evolve, adding new, specialized courses, and the school is hiring more full-time faculty members for accounting. “We’re building in different specialties along with analytics — we have the tax specialty, audit, and now we’re doing forensic accounting. We’re trying to grow the program so that there’s a lot of room for people to decide what they want to do,” said Biagi. Henry and Biagi’s accounting colleagues include Dr. Jing Chen and Dr. Andrea Rozario, and two new accounting professors will be joining Stevens this coming fall.
Whitlock and Mirtchouk are getting their master’s degrees at Stevens and studying for their CPA exams. Vazacopoulos, who’s in her third year, plans to stay at Stevens for her master’s and pursue her CPA, too. And Micevska will begin her career this summer as she works toward her CPA. Mirtchouk and Vazacopoulos have summer internships at KPMG in state and local tax and audit for financial services, respectively. And, after graduation, Whitlock will start her career at PwC in risk and regulatory internal audit and Micevska at Deloitte in internal audit for risk and financial advisory.
Mirtchouk credits her analytics courses and the unique nature of the A&A program for improving her job prospects. “When companies would come on campus, they’d be impressed that analytics is intertwined with accounting because that’s becoming more prevalent — technology applied to accounting. Companies are attracted to students with that extra experience.”
Story written by Garrett Kincaid.