UW-Eau Claire: Accounting Students Provide Financial Reviews to Area Non-Profits

EAU CLAIRE — Seven Chippewa Valley non-profit agencies are receiving free financial statement reviews this year thanks to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire accounting and finance students.

The students — under the guidance of accounting and finance associate professor D’Arcy Becker — are working with several area churches, United Way-supported agencies and other non-profits, providing financial reviews to assure boards of directors that the organizations’ financial statements are being properly prepared.

“These are volunteers — students who have completed an auditing class and are looking for a chance to see what it’s like to work with an actual company,” said Becker, who involves about 10 students a semester in the 6-year-old project. “It gives them experience and it gives them something to talk about when they are interviewing for jobs.”

The students divide into teams of two, with Becker matching student teams with agencies requesting services. Over a period of several weeks, students meet with the clients, review records and documents, provide advice about operating procedures and prepare a written report.

“The students work very hard,” said Becker, noting that the services would likely cost several thousand dollars if provided by professional accountants. “They put in a great effort and as a result they put out a very good product.”

Try Mediation, a non-profit Eau Claire-based organization, is always looking for ways to save dollars while maintaining quality, said director Melinda Smith. Having students complete financial reviews has helped the agency meet its needs without the usual cost, she said.

“The financial review services provided far exceeded our agency’s expectations,” said Smith. “In addition to providing a review of year 2004 financial operations, the students made recommendations with regard to accounting and internal control issues. They took the time to understand agency operations and to focus attention on the areas of what might be termed accounting vulnerability.”

Chad Roehl, a senior accounting major who worked on the Try Mediation review, said he volunteered because he wants to gain as much accounting experience as possible as a student.

“This was a great experience,” said Roehl, a native of Galesville. “I was very happy with it and wished I’d have had time to do it for other organizations. I learned the auditing theories in classes but this gave me a chance for hands-on experience in the field and to learn the ropes of a business. And I could do it when I had a teacher to fall back on for advice.”

Roehl, who plans to teach high school business, said the project will make him a better teacher because he’ll have actual experiences to draw on when talking with his students.

Participating in the auditing project already paid off for accounting and business finance major Travis Johnson. “After my first project, I received an e-mail about an auditing internship in town,” said Johnson, a senior from Osceola. “I believe my experience in these projects made me a prime candidate for the internship. I applied and was accepted. I don’t know if it would have been the same outcome without the experience I gained through these projects.”

While his auditing class was interesting, Johnson said, “The only way to learn the auditing business is to do it and ask questions. This experience was outstanding.”

For senior Ann Walker, an accounting major from Markesan, the projects she completed for area churches helped her succeed in her first internship. “My employer was pleased that I had exposure to these audits while in college and was impressed with the experience from them that I was able to apply immediately to my internship,” she said, adding that the work also helped her develop the professional skepticism that’s necessary to be an effective auditor.

Peter Monn, a senior business finance and accounting major from Appleton, said the work helped him better define what he wants to do after graduation. “I enjoyed the task and that’s essential because I’d never performed a financial review for a real company,” Monn said, noting the real-world experience also will make him more marketable. “This project was on a smaller scale than a multi-billion corporation, but I enjoyed it and I want to find a position that I enjoy.”

The program is an example of how UW-Eau Claire faculty use community connections to help enhance their students’ college education, Roehl said. “I’m very happy with the different things UW-Eau Claire has allowed me to do,” he said. “The out-of-classroom experiences — like this auditing project — have been incredible and have added a lot to my time here.”

The auditing project also provides students with opportunities to give back to the community, said Becker. None of the students receive academic credit for their work with the project but some do earn service-learning hours, she said.

“The people at these small churches and agencies are very, very appreciative of what our students do for them,” Becker said. “They are getting quality information without having to pay thousands of dollars. And our students are getting great training. It benefits everyone.”