“They knocked it out of the park!” says Beth Murphy (’74, ’77), associate professor, College of Commerce, of this year’s winners of the national accounting case competition for Hispanic students, sponsored by the KPMG-Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA).

This year’s team — Jasmine Villagomez (’14), Karen Tellez (’13), Evelyn Baños (’14), and Jahangir Khandwala (’14) — was the youngest in the competition and the youngest ever to win. The DePaul students beat out 27 other college teams.

In the competition, the teams are asked to assume the role of a professional audit team: they tackle a real company’s complex audit problem, then present their findings to an “audit committee” (a panel of KPMG partners and ALPFA members).  After their 20-minute presentation, the students are grilled in a Q&A period.  The students had to understand the financial reporting and auditing implications of relevant accounting policies and more: they also had to identify the competitive risks that could keep the company from achieving its goals.

“This competition is really difficult – the students work like a professional audit team,” says Terry Kenney (’80), KPMG practice leader, financial services audit practice, and member of the DePaul Commerce Advisory Board. “This year, as always, I was impressed by the DePaul students’ hard work, energy, and dedication.” 

Sweat equity

As the faculty advisor for DePaul’s chapter of the Midwest Association of Hispanic Accountants (MAHA), Murphy has helped to prepare a DePaul team for the competition each year since 2000. (Student participants are MAHA members). In 11 years, the DePaul team has taken the top prize four times. This year’s team was particularly impressive since the students — three of the four were freshmen — had not yet taken any advanced accounting classes.

“The students did the equivalent of multiple crash courses in difficult topics,” says Murphy.  “But they knew they’d have strong support. In addition to selecting the team after an interviewing process, the MAHA organization does a superb job of helping the students get ready for the competition by providing tips and tutoring. MAHA upperclassmen and competition veterans, as well as a few professionals from KPMG’s Chicago office, also sharpened the student’s skills during practice presentations and mock Q&A sessions.”

“When we started we didn’t even know what we were reading. We’d read something 10 times and still not understand it,” says Villagomez. “But eventually it clicked. We learned so much —about how business works, about how accountants work, and about how a team works.”

“In the summer, we were meeting every day, working our way though intermediate-level accounting books, the CPA review, and the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles,” says Khandwala. “On the weekends, we’d put in 12 hours; our longest day was from 10 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. the following morning — just us and the security guards, all night.”

Sammy Delgado (’03), from the winning team of 2002, remembers the challenge: “The topic was above-and-beyond anything we had learned in class: it was like the text books were in one language and the accounting pronouncements in another. We had to prioritize: what was relevant? We had to understand a highly technical topic, summarize it in a short presentation, and answer questions – and that’s what I do every day now, as an accountant.”

Tellez agrees about the leap between theory and practice: “We had to think not in a ‘classroom’ way but in a ‘real world’ way. Now, I’m more certain than ever about my major.  By the time we made it to the first round in the competition, I said to myself,  ‘okay, I’m good to go’ — now, I have a better understanding of what it will mean to be an accountant.”

The big day

“At MAHA I’d heard prior winning teams talk about their experiences,” says Baños. “I thought to myself, ‘I can do that —I want to do that.’  When we got to the competition, DePaul’s reputation was already really, really high: we had a standard to maintain! By the end, all our hard work came together; together, we were confident, and we were actually having fun.”

Murphy says that the students carried themselves like professionals:  “They had business cards that identified each one’s role equivalent to those in a professional accounting firm; their presentation was bound like a real-world work product; and they shared their opinions with poise, humor, and intelligence.” 

“Initially, of everything we had to do, I was most intimidated by the presentation,” recalls Khandwala. “But we practiced so much that it became effortless. Even better, we figured out how to work: we understood the value of collaborating, communicating, and meeting deadlines.”

Fabiola (Salcedo) Delgado (’05), who participated in the case competition three times, says the whole experience prepares a student for a career:  “In the competition, everything matters – understanding the accounting topics, being resourceful, organizing complex ideas, speaking in public, developing relationships –  it’s all beneficial and applicable to the working world.”

Amazing achievement

“I’m really proud of this team and of all the past DePaul teams that have competed in this event,” says Kenney. “Each year, the team members walk away from the competition knowing a lot about accounting principles, but even more about building friendships, working on a team, and networking with professionals and students from other schools. This experience is all about learning on many levels: technical, professional, and social. The students who participate are the future leaders in our profession.”

“My goal was that they do the best they can, and they ended up doing better than I could have imagined,” says Murphy.  “The 2011 team a great job representing DePaul.”
 
Jasmine Villagomez is in KPMG’s pre-professional program.  
Karen Tellez will work as an intern with KPMG this summer.
Evelyn Baños has a marketing internship with PriceWaterhouseCooper.
Jahangir Khandwala is interning with KPMG; during the summer, he’ll be working as an intern with PNC Bank in Pittsburg, PA.