December 18, 2013 | Amanda Greenhoe

This semester marks the kickoff of a revamped accounting program, now with three available majors in the field. Professor Julie Voskuil tells us about the new options for students and what makes accounting at Calvin unique.

Throughout your time at Calvin, how have you seen the accounting program grow and change?

I have been at Calvin for 14 years. Over the course of that time, we have had changes in faculty and changes in curriculum. The curriculum changed first to meet requirements, from outside the college, that CPAs needed to have 150 credit hours of education. We added a Bachelor of Science in Public Accountancy (BSPA) degree in 2002, to address these external needs.

Over the last few years, we've added some great new faculty members: Marilyn Stansbury joined us from Taylor University, and Casey Cooper came from Gordon College. Having a strong accounting program helps us attract quality faculty. The fact that both Marilyn and Casey joined us from other Christian Colleges is evidence that we are doing something well here.

Another big change has been the increase in accounting internships. Today, approximately 80% of our accounting students have internships in either industry or in public accounting before they graduate. Calvin has a great internship program that helps students find internships, and helps them grow and develop during these experiential learning opportunities. Last semester alone there were six junior accounting majors doing full-time internships in public accounting. The growth of internships, particularly during what is known as "tax season" (January 1 to April 15), has caused us to reorganize the courses we offer during the spring as well as the times our courses meet. Because we recognize the great value of internships, we encourage students to seek out experiential learning opportunities and so we work to make these possible for our students.

Tell us about the recent changes in the accounting program.

We recently proposed small modifications to our existing BSA and BSPA majors including adding a course in not-for-profit and governmental accounting, as well as a course in financial statement analysis. We also proposed an accounting minor, and a new major designed to meet the needs of non-US citizens who come to study at Calvin. These changes were approved in the spring and put in place this fall.

It is wonderful to serve students pursuing international careers with a major that better meets their needs. Honestly, they don't need to spend as much time learning U.S. tax regulations, U.S. business law, or U.S. governmental accounting, but, given their ability to travel and relate to people of different cultures, they are more likely to be involved in international transactions and international financial reporting.

How do you give students hands-on accounting experience?

Again, as noted above, the best way to get hands-on experience is through internships. Calvin also has a very strong Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). Calvin has performed this service for low-income members of our community for over 25 years. Last year, we had more than 20 students working with several community service organizations. These students work three to four hours per week to assist low-income neighbors in completing tax returns.

Calvin students have impressive first-time pass rates on the CPA exam. What do you attribute this to?

I attribute the impressive first-time pass rate to the strong academic program at Calvin. Our students work hard here. I love watching them develop their skills and gifts, and mature in confidence as they discern their calling. Calvin has a significant liberal arts core which encourages all Calvin students to develop their writing, thinking and analytic abilities. All of these things help them in their accounting coursework.

I also think that the strong work ethic of Calvin accounting majors provides them a great foundation for their future lives of service, and it helps them stick to their studies, even after graduation, while they are preparing and sitting for the CPA exam. I like to think that the encouragement they receive from the accounting faculty also provides the motivation to pass the CPA exam, and the commitment to work through this very challenging set of tests.

Finally, all of our accounting faculty have the CPA designation. We have all worked in public accounting and in various positions within different industries. We understand the expectations of this field, and we strive to develop our students into accounting professionals during their time at Calvin.

How do you see students and alumni living out their faith in the field of accounting?

Calvin's accounting majors form a community within the larger Calvin community, which is probably true for other students on campus as well. I see this community as one way they express their faith. They are very welcoming to transfer students. They are encouraging to one another in the classroom and in study groups. The work they do on VITA is a valuable partnership in the community.

The accounting alumni are a great bunch of faithful servants. Accounting is all about stewardship, honesty and wise use of resources. Accounting is a great field for Christians because there are so many opportunities to serve God with your gifts. By sustaining the organizations in which they work, accountants help provide jobs for employees, and goods and services for customers. They understand the challenge of balancing the needs of various stakeholders in many different organizations. I hope that they are able to bring a bit of shalom to what can be very challenging situations.

Finally, as I tell my students, because of their expertise, they will all be called on to serve on charitable boards or as treasurers of churches and charities. These are big responsibilities, and we want them to think about how they are preparing for these future roles. During their first few years out of college, they will likely be most focused on developing themselves within the profession; but very quickly, opportunities arise to give back and to provide lay-leadership. I'm pretty sure we will continue to be proud of them, for more than just their scores on a test.

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