Career preparation for WSU accounting students focus of $3.5 million gift

WSU leaders posing with a sign celebrating a $3.5 million gift to the university's accounting department.
President Kirk Schultz (L) celebrates the anonymous $3.5 M gift on November 19 with Carson College of Business members Chip Hunter, Bernard Wong-On-Wing and Marla Meyer, along with Don Shearer, Foundation senior associate vice president. (Photo by Trevor Durham)

A $3.5 million anonymous gift to Washington State University’s Carson College of Business will increase opportunities for accounting majors to prepare for careers, while also funding recruitment efforts and operations within the program.

The gift establishes the Endowed Program for Student Success in Accounting and provides funding to support advising and career consulting to help accounting students develop communication, leadership and networking skills that will give them a competitive edge as they begin their professional careers upon graduation.

“This gift will help us distinguish ourselves as the best accounting program in the Pacific Northwest in terms of matching students with career opportunities,” said Bernard Wong-On-Wing, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Accounting. “We are one of the few universities in the U.S. to have a dedicated accounting career advisor to help students become career-ready.”

Carson College Dean Chip Hunter agreed.

“We are so grateful to have a philanthropist who recognizes that the educational, advising and career placement needs of Carson College accounting students are unique,” Hunter said. “This endowment will help us continue to equip accounting graduates with the skills and experiences they’ll need to meet their clients’ expectations very quickly.” 

WSU President Kirk Schulz also praised the generous and thoughtful commitment to student success.

“At its core, philanthropy is about changing lives,” Schulz said. “This transformational investment demonstrates the far-reaching impact that just one generous donor can make to advance WSU’s land-grant mission and create opportunities for WSU students today and for future generations.”

Game changer for accounting students

According to Marla Meyer—who has served as the Moss Adams accounting career advisor since the national accounting firm established the position with a gift in 2018—the new Endowed Program for Student Success in Accounting will not only cover salary and administration support for the advising position, but will also fund activities to expand options for both current and potential accounting majors.

One of the core options is a series of in-person tours of accounting firms—both top 20 firms as well as smaller, independently owned firms and businesses in Seattle, Portland and Spokane. These tours, which Meyer has coordinated and supervised for three years, are essential because the major employers in this field tend to be located in metropolitan areas, at a distance from Pullman. 

Through these visits, students get a flavor of the varied career possibilities in accounting, make direct connections with potential employers and gain a better-informed sense of what it takes to be fully prepared to interview and become part of an accounting team.

Other services include assistance for students applying for external scholarships, hands-on training in networking strategies, interview preparation and professional presentation. For instance, Meyer supports students in WSU’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi to plan and host the accounting case competition, which will become a regional event in the future. She offers dinner etiquette classes so students learn how to conduct themselves during a recruitment meal. “The employers tell us they love our students because they are so hard-working. But some of them are not as polished as they could be.”

The gift will also support development of an overnight accounting camp for high school students this spring. The one-day program will feature presentations by current accounting students and young alumni working in the field, plus presentations from large accounting firms reps as well as in-house accounting professionals at large corporations such as Amazon and Starbucks.

“The programming supported by these resources will allow us to recruit a more diverse population of accounting students that matches the population of Washington state,” Meyer said. She plans to expand recruiting efforts in eastern and central Washington where there are large concentrations of underrepresented high school students.

Expanding skills and career preparedness

While WSU accounting graduates are successfully recruited for public accounting, industry and government positions, Wong-On-Wing has intensive plans to expand students’ technical skills and professional development opportunities. “Based on feedback from our advisory board and industry partners, we’ll be placing more emphasis on technical skills like data analytics, information systems and controls,” he said.

He intends to bring more professionals to campus to mentor students and help them develop stronger communication, leadership and social networking skills that will add professional polish to their résumés.

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