December 3, 2015
By Mike Killeen
If Mary Jepperson was coaching a hockey team, a sports writer would say she was starting a young lineup.
Six sophomores would certainly constitute a young team in anyone's book. But Jepperson is a faculty adviser to a team of College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University accounting students, who won a regional competition Dec. 4 in Chicago with a "lineup" of six second-year students.
But don't mistake young for unprepared for the competition.
The CSB/SJU team won a local competition against four other schools in October in Minneapolis, including the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. It was the second year in a row, and third time in the last five years, that the CSB/SJU team won the local competition.
The victory earned them a trip to Chicago and the offices of Deloitte, one of the "Big Four" international audit firms. The CSB/SJU team toppled Loyola University of Chicago, DePaul University, Marquette University, University of Iowa, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to win the regional competition after finishing second in the same competition in 2014.
The team is made up of CSB students Patricia Ambros (Chisinau, Moldova), De'Seria Demeritte (Nassau, Bahamas) and Hannah Manley (Hudson, Wisconsin), and SJU students Danny Foltz (St. Louis Park, Minnesota), Patrick Strom (Fargo, North Dakota) and Cody Wald (Anoka, Minnesota).
"It's a great development opportunity. The students learn so much," said Jepperson, associate professor of accounting and finance at CSB and SJU and chair of the department.
Actually, there is a sound reason why Jepperson put together a younger team. Now in its sixth year of competition, the CSB/SJU team was originally made up of older (read: junior) members.
"In the accounting world, our students are blessed in that they get opportunities as sophomores to do summer leadership programs, and they get interviewed in the fall of their junior year for internships," Jepperson said. "So, by early October, they're well into interviews with the Big Four firms, with other CPA firms and with industry."
Jepperson said the goals of the competition are to develop the students' research and presentation skills and to acquaint students with Deloitte.
"In my mind, if we wanted to accomplish both objectives for Deloitte, it would be probably better for Deloitte to get to know the students a little bit earlier," Jepperson said. "I decided to start leaning my team more heavily to sophomores."
The team was given a case study which "is basically an SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) reporting case, what happens if you're a public company and you make an acquisition" in the health care industry, Jepperson said. Each team makes a 15-minute presentation, followed by five minutes of questions from the judges. All six students need to present and answer questions.
Jepperson pointed out several reasons the team won.
"We were the only team with a two-page handout for the judges; everyone else took the easy route and just printed out their slides," Jepperson said. "Our team went beyond the questions in the case and did some research on the health care industry and the SEC reporting ramifications of the acquisition profiled in the case. They even had a conference call with a senior official from the SEC to learn more about the topic."
Jepperson felt the students had two advantages being from liberal arts institutions.
"In a liberal arts school, you learn how to learn. You learn how to find answers to things you might not be comfortable with," Jepperson said. "Quite frankly, that's the best skill you can take with you in the accounting and finance world, because it's people who are afraid to admit that they don't know who fail. It's a tremendous skill to have."
"I think — also partly by virtue of the variety of classes they take — our students are well equipped to tell a story. So many times, the judges have literally said, 'You took us on a journey. You explained where you were going, and very clearly took us on a journey,' " Jepperson said.