Accounting internships serve city and students

pie chartsBy Douglas Esser
An accounting class project turned into summer internships for two University of Washington Bothell students, advancing their career goals and helping the city of Federal Way connect with it citizens.

The project for students last spring in Associate Professor Rajib Doogar’s B ACCT 505 Financial Statement Analysis class was to analyze city financial reports and make them easier for the taxpayers to see where their money goes – how police are paid and roads repaired.

Cities are required by law to prepare comprehensive financial reports. Many also produce citizen-friendly versions of these document but even the best intentions can make a citizen’s eyes glaze over. The UW Bothell students found ways to shorten and clarify text and to display more information in easier-to-understand charts and graphics.

“I was so impressed with them, I hired two for this summer,” said Ade Ariwoola, the finance director for the city of Federal Way.

Federal Way logoThe “fresh eyes” of Rebecca Nyanjui and Trinh Nguyen condensed hundreds of pages of data and budget jargon into an 8-page report for the Federal Way’s website and for use as printed handouts. Their charge was to highlighted items local citizens would like to know. With awareness that citizens are concerned about public safety, for example, they highlighted data about the crime rate and number of police officers per 1,000 residents in Federal Way.

“They did a terrific job on that,” said Ariwoola.

“My goal is to speak in a way citizens will be able to understand, and this is what the students brought to bear,” said Ariwoola, who plans to continue the “mutually beneficial” relationship with UW Bothell and recommend its students to other city finance officers and state auditors.

Nguyen and Nyanjui, both Master of Science in accounting students who are graduating next June, say the class and the Federal Way experience move them toward their long-range goals of working as government auditors.

“Working for government is all about integrity and common good, and this is what we want to be part of,” Nguyen says.

Their classroom work prepared them for the office work. They realized, “Oh, this is what professor Doogar was talking about,” Nguyen says.

Doogar hopes to continue the city report projects in an elective governmental accounting class. Project-based learning jibes with many master’s students who are working professionals. It’s also a way to engage with the community, serve the public and connect the classroom with real clients. Students “are seeing the practical effect of it,” he says.

Like Doogar’s forensic accounting class, governmental accounting is becoming a signature program in the UW Bothell School of Business. “Our goal is to specialize in some areas of accounting other schools are not doing and then get our students into the thick of it,” Doogar says.

Most schools’ accounting classes concentrate on private businesses rather than governments and nonprofits. Focusing on accounting for federal, state and local agencies can give students another pathway into good jobs. “Government accounting is a viable career,” says Doogar.

“We look to the rest of the world as much as to the rest of the United States,” Doogar says. “My market for accounting at UW Bothell is a global market. It’s actually about sending our students out to the highest levels.”