Student 'Explorers' venture
into world of accounting

When Rochester Chapter member Kenneth O. Hall presented “The Anatomy of an Annual Report,” a detailed look into his own company’s summary, it was no ordinary speech at a conference or committee meeting. Instead, Hall was giving back to the program that led to his first accounting job out of college by speaking to a group of 15 high school students participating in the fall 2011 Accounting Explorer Program.

The nationwide Explorer program, established by the Learning for Life organization in 1998, partners with businesses to connect high school students with a variety of career fields through interactive seminars, to “provide positive and meaningful real-world career experiences and leadership development opportunities for all teenagers and young adults in their chosen field of interest,” according to the program’s website.

Through the Explorer program, local businesses or organizations can to establish a “post” to introduce area students to the career field that business specializes in—from aviation to communications and social services. The Rochester-area students of the Explorer Post 1040, which was dedicated to business and accounting and sponsored by EFP Rotenberg LLP, met every Wednesday for 90 minutes during five weeks from October through December 2011.

As a former Explorer himself, Hall said that after studying accounting in college he went back to work with the same firm that sponsored his Explorer Post. In turn, he reconnected with the program as a speaker.

“I enjoy sharing personally what a great career accounting has been for me,” he said. “I think that’s kind of fun, to share with them what the rewards might be if you’re moderately successful.”

While one student asked a very technical and analytical question, other students had more personal inquiries, including how much money Hall makes per year. It’s typical, Hall said, to find both types of students in the Explorer program—those already considering a career or college major in accounting, and those who are simply curious about the field.

 “The goal is to expose them to a number of different disciplines within the field of accounting,” Hall said. “There’s clearly an emphasis on becoming a CPA.”

The meetings were held in the company’s offices, where local professionals spoke to the students and fielded questions about financial topics, including fraud investigations, government compliance and managerial accounting.

“Most presenters had a PowerPoint. There were handouts, freebies, calculators, cookies, pizza,” said EFP Rotenberg LLP Manager and Rochester Chapter member Mary T. Murphy, who organized this year’s seminar.

An Interactive Approach
During his presentation, Hall used actual copies of his company’s annual report to explain each section and related SEC requirements. To teach the Explorers about the importance of keeping their own personal balance sheets, he tried to “correlate that to high school students,” and asked about their own personal bank accounts, cars or Pokémon trading cards.

“I think the trick is sometimes you have to get them going, and once you get them opened up, then they get a little more courageous to get a back-and-forth dialogue,” Hall explained. “But they do ask some pretty good questions, and it’s an indicator of how interested they are in the career of accounting.”

Rochester Chapter member George J. Scharr said that posing questions to the Explorers was a technique that worked for him during his presentation. “If you ask them questions about their own goals and ambitions and why they’re attending the presentation and what they hope to get out of it,” this method works even better, Scharr said.

Although the accounting seminar has ended, Murphy said about 10 Explorers have signed up to visit Flower City Printing Inc., where Scharr serves as CFO. They will listen to an introduction about the printing business and then take a tour of the plant, Scharr said.

“They need to see some examples of what the real world is like, from people outside their usual span of importance,” he explained.

A Lasting Impact
 As the economy improves, students who join the profession will have an array of options and job offers, Hall said. And students in the Explorer program can get ahead of the game by gathering information now, Murphy said.

The 2011 group of Explorers was “very attuned to wanting to know more,” she said. They asked questions about financial hardships currently facing the country, such as, “Is it the economy?” “Is it what they’re seeing other people struggle with?”

Hall predicted that more than half will probably end up majoring in accounting in college.

“Ultimately I hire into my company … maybe 10 people a year because of growth and promotions,” Hall said. “I really look forward to the day when somebody that I touched in an Explorer Post shows up for a job.”

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