Since 2010, students in the MacEwan University Accounting Club have been holding annual tax clinics to prepare and file taxes for their fellow students and members of the community, including many recent immigrants and refugees. (Photo taken before COVID-19.)

Real-world skills and flexible programming draw students to Accounting and Strategic Measurement program

April 12, 2021 | Business

Graduates of MacEwan University's Accounting and Strategic Measurement program are problem solvers and critical thinkers who find rewarding careers as bookkeepers and accounting technicians – and have the option to pursue accounting degrees and professional designations.

But before they graduate, the students are able to get real-world experience while giving back to the community.

Since 2010, students in the MacEwan University Accounting Club have held annual tax clinics to prepare and file taxes for their fellow students and members of the community, including many recent immigrants and refugees, to ensure they file on time and don't miss out on important tax credits.

Under the guidance of a faculty member, the student club members are trained to put their newly developed skills into action as part of the Canada Revenue Agency's Community Volunteer Income Tax Program.

Past tax clinic events have had over 100 volunteers on campus helping to complete tax returns. This year, the event was adapted for the times with students taking precautions due to COVID-19.

"This year we held our first ever virtual tax clinic," says Michelle O’Brien-Sobus, co-president of the accounting club and a fourth-year Bachelor of Commerce student. "Moving things online has presented some new learning experiences, but we're really happy with how it's come together."

While student volunteers weren't able to meet their clients in person this year, a scaled-down team of student volunteers came together on campus (with physical distancing) to continue filing the returns.

Students are still gaining the same valuable experiences — applying communication skills, promoting the clinic with graphic design and ad copy, managing social media accounts, and of course using their accounting knowledge.

"When we help plan these kinds of events, we're preparing to meet the different requirements of the job we will one day be hired for," says O’Brien-Sobus.

The club also hosts an annual Meet the Firm event to connect its members with accounting firms looking to hire new graduates. O’Brien-Sobus says they are planning to offer a similar event sometime soon to give students an idea of the variety of industries they could find themselves working in.

The accounting club, though voluntary, is an excellent way that students can market themselves to employers and build upon job skills learned in the program.

"The Accounting and Strategic Measurement program offers a general business education, and as a part of that, students develop a strong skill set in accounting software and technology," says Darlene Lowe, associate professor in the Department of Accounting and Finance in MacEwan's School of Business.

In courses on accounting and income tax software, students learn to use multiple accounting software packages, creating financial statements, generating reports and comparing how the different packages work. They also take courses in financial accounting, management accounting, data analytics, economics, law, statistics and more.

And in addition to developing connections and skills through student clubs, students in Accounting and Strategic Measurement have the flexibility to complete their program on their terms — whether they decide to exit with a one-year certificate, complete the two-year diploma or continue into the Bachelor of Commerce for two more years.

Those were options that Alexi Gladue, co-president of the accounting club and a fourth-year student, really appreciated.

"Starting with the diploma let me jump straight into a specialization and helped me get started," says the graduate of the accounting program who is now an accounting major in MacEwan's Bachelor of Commerce program.

It's a path Lowe knows well. Like many of her students, she first completed an accounting diploma before working full time and studying part time to become a Certified Management Accountant. She went on to complete a Masters in Business Administration via distance education through Athabasca University, and in 2015, she became a Chartered Professional Accountant (with the merger of the three accounting bodies in Canada into one CPA body).

Lowe's career can be divided into four sections: working for small employers, working for public bodies like the military and health care, volunteering in the not-for-profit sector and finally working in post-secondary education.

"The great thing about accounting is that every type of business needs some kind of accounting staff," says Lowe.

One day Gladue hopes to be among the 29,900 Albertans employed as accountants — many of whom are MacEwan graduates.

Graduates are career ready for entry-level positions in accounting, with the option of earning a Canadian Payroll Association designation. The association offers two levels of certification: Payroll Compliance Practitioner and Certified Payroll Manager. Part of the certification process, explains Lowe, requires students to complete four courses — one of which is offered as part of MacEwan's diploma.

Many accounting diploma graduates will continue on to earn their Bachelor of Commerce degree. After which, they may decide to pursue a Chartered Professional Accountant designation (CPA).

For career-minded individuals looking to jumpstart into accounting, the Accounting and Strategic Measurement program offers flexibility to build the educational path that suits life's circumstances.

"Being among motivated, hardworking peers offers invaluable opportunities you cannot get anywhere else," says Gladue. "Whether it be a club or the right program for you, success is much more attainable when you are part of a community. That's how I knew accounting was right for me — it's like a family."


Students develop solutions to "real-life problems" through community-engaged learning projects

Students are not just making the grade — they're also making a difference in the community. 

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