Program encourages minority accountants - Catholic Courier

Program encourages minority accountants

HENRIETTA — When an East High School teacher informed senior Rafael Mart√≠nez about a summer program for minority students to learn more about accounting careers, he jumped at the chance to participate.

“I found a lot of it useful,” 17-year-old Rafael said about the program following a July 1 session about forensic accounting. The session was held at Eldredge, Fox & Porretti, a firm of certified public accountants and business consultants on Canal View Boulevard.

The Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession program, sponsored by the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants’ Foundation for Accounting Education, was held at 10 colleges throughout the state, said Cara Patterson, a society spokeswoman. According to Patterson, the program exposes students to college life and offers them insight into what is required to become an accountant and the different types of companies and agencies that hire them.

The program was first offered in 1987 at Pace University, and the Rochester program began five years ago, said Antoinette Spina, a CPA with Bailey, Carr & Co. and chairwoman of the committee that oversees the local program. This year, 18 high-school seniors from such schools as Greece Arcadia, Dr. Freddie Thomas, School of the Arts, John Marshall, Edison Tech, Gates and Greece Olympia took part in the five-day local program while living in dormitories at SUNY Brockport.

Amandalys Ramos, 17, also an East High School senior, said that she wasn’t sure if she would benefit from the accounting sessions since she wants to pursue a career as a fashion designer. She said that she was pleasantly surprised to learn how accounting pertains to her career goals, noting that having accounting skills would help her manage her fashion-design company when the time comes.

“It’s an excellent program,” she said. “Now I think I may pursue (accounting) further on.”

The program’s value is evident, Spina said, based on the fact that she had difficulty locating minority accountants to speak to this year’s students.

“Any minority accounting students that graduate with a 3.0 or above are so wined and dined by the big international accounting firms that it is extremely rare for a local firm to get a chance at hiring them,” she said. “This is a nationwide industry issue.”

According to information from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Web site, www.aicpa.org, minority student enrollment in accounting college programs is up 19 percent. But a column published in January on the NYSSCPA’s Web site, www.nysscpa.org/cpajournal/2008/108/perspectives/p7.htm, encourages more outreach since 23 percent of new CPA hires last year were minorities, with Latinos at 8 percent and African-Americans at 3 percent.

To get the word out to local students, Spina said that NYSSCPA’s Rochester chapter works with area high-school guidance counselors, teachers and such community groups as the Urban League to identify potential program candidates. Spina said that chapter members also visit high schools to elicit interest in the program.

This year’s students expressed interest in the forensic-accounting session presented by Tom Niles, a certified internal auditor with Stonebridge Partners, but he initially cautioned them to not confuse the work he does with those of forensic investigators on television shows.

As some of the students’ ideas about his line of work veered off course, Niles even joked, “Don’t confuse forensic with dead people.”

He explained that just as forensic police investigators seek out evidence to lead them to what caused someone’s death, forensic accountants look for evidence that leads to how money or resources have been stolen or misappropriated from a company or individual, he added.

“A lot of the work we do is with embezzlement cases,” Niles noted.

Forensic accountants are hired, he said, by banks, insurance companies, attorneys, government agencies and such law-enforcement agencies as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which also caught the attention of many of the students.

Such accountants often investigate cases of fraud, most commonly committed by employees in middle management who are motivated by opportunity, pressure or their own attitude, Niles added.

Rafael, who plans to become an engineer or an architect, said that he is familiar with fraud through a friend who found himself in trouble. He said that hearing Niles’ presentation helped him understand why it’s important to maintain good business practices, and noted that learning accounting and business skills will help him no matter what career he chooses.

“I can … make something out of myself,” he said.

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