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Data Analytics Immersion Prepares MAC Students For Industry Changes

Students work in Kathy Krawczyk's accounting class.

Students entering the NC State Jenkins Master of Accounting program this fall say they feel ready to dive deeper into their coursework and prepared to talk with recruiters, following a two-week immersion in data analytics that kicked off the semester.

In order to increase data analytics skills for its MAC students, the MAC Curriculum Committee dedicated the first two weeks in each of its four required MAC courses to teaching the first four chapters of the textbook, ‘Data Analytics in Accounting.’ Students split their time between in-class lecture and discussion, followed by lab work to reinforce their skills.

Data analytics represents one of the most significant changes facing the accounting profession in many decades,” said Scott Showalter, MAC program director. “The message we are hearing from professionals in the field is that we need to do this to stay relevant.” As the accounting profession comes to understand how data analytics will shape the profession, Showalter said the entire profession from top to bottom will need to re-tool.

“Historically change is driven by the top of the house,” Showalter said. “However, if you look forward at who’s going to drive a lot of this change, it will actually be the younger employees.” Younger employees will have more experience with data and analytics, thanks to forward thinking programs like the Jenkins MAC program.  “We’re preparing students for the change that they’re going to drive in the accounting profession when they leave here,” Showalter said.

Paul Weeks (Jenkins MAC ‘15) is one of those younger employees, working for CliftonLarsonAllen Charlotte in the firm’s data analytics and insights group. The growth potential in data analytics is huge, especially on the finance side,” Weeks said.

As more of the day-to-day processes become automated, firms will be looking for individuals that can gain perspectives from the data they receive, do in-depth analysis, and highlight trends that perhaps others haven’t seen before, he said. “The accountant of the future isn’t someone who’s doing basic accounting – you’re going to be there for your business intelligence and insights,” Weeks said.

MAC student Chase Riker is in the midst of recruiting, and said recruiters are talking about innovation, with data analytics often a main focus. He’s found recruiters are excited to hear he already has some experience with data analytics. Riker said the data analytics immersion sets Jenkins MAC students apart in the eyes of recruiters.

And in fact, the experience made a bigger impact on Riker, who has shifted his focus from audit to innovation. “It opened my eyes to what I want to do, and where I see myself in the profession,” Riker said. “I realized I want to be involved in more of that innovative thinking.”

Now that students have been introduced to these new skills, they have the foundation necessary for further data analytics cases and exercises that will be added to additional MAC courses. Each professor teaching this fall reviewed and updated their course content to reflect this change.

Jenkins MAC student Jessica Woolfe didn’t have much experience with data analytics when she entered the MAC program, and appreciated the two-week immersion to gain a more grounded understanding of the topic. In her coursework, Woolfe said she’s better able to take a step back to do the analytics and better understand the questions that are asked. “I think it’s extremely important, the whole accounting profession is moving into more of this analytical thinking mindset,” she said. “It’s not just about crunching numbers – with this new technology our roles are shifting. Now we’re interpreting this data a lot better and a lot more efficiently.”

Jenkins MAC student Logan Tucciarone finds the information he picked up during that two-week immersion is always in the back of his mind as he continues his coursework. Tucciarone said the immersion experience created an awareness he’ll use in his studies and as he moves into the profession. “The important thing is getting the taste and the awareness of how important data analytics is – it really is the future,” he said. “From what I understand in recruitment, we’re not expected to know everything but we are expected to have a good idea of what’s going to be set in front of us. Data analytics is going to be something that comes to the forefront in this.”

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