For three months last year, some of UNLV’s brightest future accountants were trying to figure out how to sell more empanadas.
That was the problem posed to students in a national competition sponsored by the Institute of Management Accounts, which asked teams to help a fictional business owner named Angie grow her organic empanada stand. Charged with improving Angie’s profit margins via a business plan presentation, UNLV’s team won in part by targeting a new potential customer base — college students like themselves.
It was the third straight win for UNLV in the annual IMA competition, especially impressive because the school only began competing three years ago.
But last year’s winners stood out in coach Danny Siciliano’s mind because of their age. While many other teams at IMA are comprised of grad students, UNLV’s squad was exclusively made up of undergrads — one just 18 years old.
They say their relative inexperience was a bonus in the competition, allowing them to bring in interactive elements like student surveys while other teams’ presentations stuck to more traditional number-based presentations.
Team member Annie Lu said the skills they applied, like scaling a business feasibly or gauging customer demand, are skills that will help them after graduation, as they pursue careers as managerial accountants.
Now mostly seniors, the team members are recruiting other students to keep up the winning tradition by reviving the school’s student chapter of the IMA. This year’s student case competition focuses on a winery.
Ingrid Zarate said though her peers in the accounting department are often busy with studying for licensing exams on top of their other schoolwork, an IMA win can make employers take notice.
She credits her experience in the competition with giving her an edge during the cutthroat recruitment season that future accountants face to land jobs at top firms. Zarate said she saw at least 50 other finalists interview for the most coveted positions, with just two students eventually hired.
“Definitely it’s competitive,” said Zarate, who has a job with Big Four firm Ernst & Young lined up following graduation. “There’s nothing like the IMA.”
Siciliano, a Deloitte Faculty Fellow, said that while good grades might have once been enough to land a job at a Big Four firm, students face more pressure these days to show employers something beyond a strong GPA on their resumes.
“What you do outside the classroom matters as much as what you do in the classroom,” Siciliano said.
Moreover, he said there is a perception among Clark County high school students that they’ll have to leave town for academic or career opportunities. But accounting is one field where Las Vegas shines as a magnet for jobs and companies, Siciliano said.
“UNLV doesn’t have the reputation it deserves among high schoolers,” Siciliano said. “But if they go out of town, to other schools, they’ll miss out on this program.”
Siciliano said 95 percent of students in the department have a job in accounting waiting for them upon graduation.
“Because of our success, there are a lot of opportunities available,” Zarate said. “Our students are as competitive as students from the bigger schools.”