For the second year in a row, The University of Texas-Pan American's accounting team won first place in the National Student Case Study Competition sponsored by KPMG, one of the world's largest accounting firms, and the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA).
UTPA President Blandina Cárdenas said she learned of the victory while at a UT System Board of Regents meeting and immediately exercised "presidential bragging privileges."
"I am so proud of our team and their advisers. They truly bring great honor to themselves, this University and this community," Cárdenas said.
The elite group of teams at the national competition won regional contests in which 27 universities participated including Rutgers University, New York University, University of California-Berkeley and Florida State. UTPA gained an automatic trip to the national competition based on the team's first place win last year.
Members of the 2005 team - all senior accounting majors - are Nereyda Bartolo, Olivia Lopez, Mariela Molina, Amy Claudette Guerra-Ochoa, and Gloria Proa. The team was selected by faculty for their outstanding academics and motivation. All but Bartolo, who was unable to attend, traveled to Miami in August for the competition.
Preparation for the event began in mid-May when the team was assigned a unique case, which was researched and to which relevant and practical accounting guidance was applied to develop a solution. At the competition, the case solutions were presented to the panel of judges consisting of KPMG partners and executive level ALPFA members.
"The case study involved accounting for a renewable license to operate a casino. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has realized that there are inconsistencies in their rules governing this type of situation and are trying to work out a solution," said team adviser Dr. John Darcy, assistant professor of accounting and business law.
Team members said the time commitment during the three months of preparation for the competition was challenging. "After our first meeting, May 14, we first practiced for two hours three times a week, then the last month it was almost every day," Proa said.
During that time the women all had other responsibilities - two are married with children, three had full- or part-time jobs; and all but one were taking summer classes and faced a competition out of state the week of UTPA's Summer Session II finals.
Team members said they were guided "from start to finish" by Darcy, who "never stopped believing in us."
"From day one he said 'you are going to win.' Never did he say 'if you win,'" Lopez said.
Dr. Dora Saavedra, associate professor of communication and UTPA Honors Program director, also assisted the team, helping with their communication and presentation skills. Dr. Ray Landry, associate professor in accounting and business law, assisted the team in Florida. Locally they also received advice from the accounting firm of Burton, McCumber and Cortez, which hired two of last year's team members.
Darcy said the team's professional approach to the problem won the judges over.
"They developed highly sophisticated solutions to both the accounting and tax aspects of the case, which they were able to explain based on the fundamental principles involved. Their solution was consistent with current rules and the closest possible approach to the new treatment FASB was working on. The team also demonstrated that their solution was superior to any allowable alternative using a mathematical model," Darcy said.
Team members said their depth of research, professionalism, and passion figured strongly in the victory. "One of the strengths in our presentation was that we went above and beyond," Molina said, noting they always tried to keep in mind what was best for the client. "We took on the role of professional CPAs ...one of the judges said afterwards that we presented better to the client than some professionals."
Darcy said the judges also commented that the presentations from UTPA's team members were "from the heart" and "passionate." Judges were also impressed with the consistency of the strength of presentation by each team member.
"There was no let down in quality as the presentation proceeded," Darcy said.
In addition to the $500 prize for each, the competition experience gave them the opportunity to network with some of the world's top accounting and finance professionals including the Inspector General of the U.S. Government's General Accounting Office, Frances Garcia, one of the competition's judges.
The team was also recruited by KPMG, where one of last year's team members is now employed.
"Hopefully this win will open more doors of opportunity for us," Bartolo said. Team members said interest was shown while they were in Miami by KPMG and other top accounting firms in visiting and possibly recruiting at UTPA.
Team members feel their victory will help provide more access by UTPA accounting graduates to the larger firms and other companies with accounting positions.
"This win shows that there is potential here at UTPA," Proa said. The second win in a row also drew the attention of ALPFA officials who, Lopez said, asked team members to help start a chapter in the Valley.
The victory puts next year's UTPA team into the 2006 national competition in Fort Worth. Team members, only one of whom will be eligible to participate again next year, are already thinking about how to continue UTPA's winning legacy through mentoring future team members.
"We plan to record ourselves for next year and I'm making an audit case guide as my senior thesis in the Honors Program here," Molina said.
For Darcy, the competition experience is one way of meeting Cárdenas' challenge to faculty to engage students and provide opportunities to excel.
"These students were extraordinary in what they have accomplished, but in another sense they are typical of what our UTPA students can do if they apply themselves and engage faculty to provide them with the opportunities to demonstrate what they can achieve," Darcy said.