Nothing reinforces learning like experience. Recent graduates seeking entry-level positions with the struggling U.S. job market fare better if they can demonstrate mastery of technology used by other professionals in their industry. Yet many higher education institutions lack the resources and budget to purchase professional-grade software for student use.
Students taking basic systems courses learn about the challenges of analyzing big data, and the importance of using data analysis in addition to other technologies such as Excel and SAP. Gaining those skills prior to entering the workforce is critical. Accounting professor D’Arcy Becker at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire has consistently used data analytics in her courses to help students understand data outside of statistics.
Dr. Becker began using IDEA in different parts of the accounting and auditing curriculum at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire when it came packaged with an Auditing textbook starting in 2001. In 2005, that textbook changed to a different analytics package and IDEA temporarily was removed from the curriculum.
By 2007, powerhouse accounting firm Wipfli LLP, a major recruiter of students at the University, realized that students they were hiring no longer had the benefit of having learned IDEA at the University. Wipfli was among a handful of Universities who asked whether Becker could reincorporate IDEA data analysis software.
While IDEA returned to the curriculum in 2007, it was not until the 2012 IDEA Academic Partnership program came to the University that IDEA could begin to impact a wider array of courses and students. The Academic Partnership allowed the University to obtain enough licenses for each student, and received an in-kind software donation valued at $75,000. Students taking Fraud Investigation and Advanced Auditing courses were immediately impressed with IDEA’s ease of use and powerful functionality. Becker was able to provide step-by-step instruction to teach her students how auditors use data analytics to uncover fraud within complex data sets. The hands-on experience helped students gain a deeper understanding about how audit functions work, and find things they would have missed without the use of technology.
Becker would instruct students to perform analytics or sample selections by hand, which is required to pass the CPA exam, and then have them use IDEA to get the same answer. Students quickly grasped how much easier and faster tasks can be performed when using a professional tool.
When we’re able to teach students how functions work, they follow along and it’s easy for them to grasp. It makes the concepts more concrete for them, and as a result, they gain practical knowledge that firms like Wipfli look for when hiring and developing their staff.”
D’Arcy Becker, Accounting Professor, University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire
One of Becker’s students quickly realized the importance of learning data analytics, especially for analyzing large data sets and forensic analysis. Jennifer Thompson was introduced to IDEA by Becker, and craved more experience. Thompson began using IDEA for specific class assignments for her undergraduate degree.
Shortly after graduating, Thompson joined Wipfli LLP, which ranks among the top 25 accounting and business consulting firms in the nation. She credits her experience using IDEA to her advancement within the firm. Thompson leads a team of IDEA Power Users that train Wipfli employees in using IDEA to conduct more efficient and effective audits. Thompson is also the subject matter expert in data analysis at Wipfli, utilizing IDEA for numerous projects including forensic engagements, internal control assessments, and electronic data analysis.
“The more time I spent using IDEA, the more it created a desire to find other areas where it could be used. I immediately saw value in using it, and that drove me to where I am today. It gets me excited about going to work. While I use other technologies, IDEA is my go-to tool. We deliver a better work product as a result of using IDEA.”
– Jennifer Thompson, CPA/CFF, CIDA, CFE, MBA
Manager, Wipfli LLP
Wipfli heavily recruits locally, especially at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire. The firm has established a cross-niche internship program to give students a comprehensive audit and tax experience. Thompson and her colleagues make a conscious effort to bring interns and young professionals into the fold to share and grow their utilization of IDEA. Thompson regularly visits the campus to give class presentations, discuss case studies and explain how she uses IDEA in her daily work.
The University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire continues to expand its use of IDEA across four courses including Advanced Accounting Systems where students will learn how to import PDFs and use some IDEA’s advanced functions. When resources are limited, and technology changes at a rapid pace, many universities rely on programs like the IDEA Academic Partnership for software, course materials and resources. Students who gain experience using the tools of their profession prior to gradation have a much higher chance of being hired, and advancing in their careers. Those who have benefited from these partnerships, like Thompson, realize their importance and are sharing their experience with others to build a stronger workforce.