It begins with great students.
“As far as raw material goes, our students are as good as you can get,” Walther said. “The question then arises of how we develop that talent in a way that ensures their success.”
Walther noted that as the School embarked on its journey to establish a national reputation, it began with a self-evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses. They saw that the biggest strength was in the close relationship between students and faculty.
“It is rare for a large public school to have the same atmosphere as an elite private school, but students get that here,” he said.
But prestigious national reputation, even for a program that counts former Deloitte CEO Jim Quigley amongst its alumni, doesn’t come without work.
“It is similar to a sports team when it comes to recruiting the best,” Walther said. “Once you have a tradition of winning or success, other similar-minded people want to join.”
Part of that success is attributed to excellent faculty.
Last year Dr. Jef Doyle ‘94, the George S. Eccles Chair in Capital Markets Research at the Huntsman School, completed his term as a research fellow with the Financial Accounting Standards Board. Doyle was selected as the sole faculty member from his entire profession.
“The knowledge I’ve brought back from the FASB will pay off for the next 25 years for students in my classes,” Doyle said. “It’s different talking from a textbook compared to ‘When I was there last year, and here’s how decisions are made, and if you want to learn more here’s how you can get connected.’”
When Dr. Larry Walther, department head of the School of Accountancy at the Huntsman School of Business, was asked what the main ingredient for the legacy of excellence in the School was, his answer was simple. ‘sPeople,’s he said.
“Around the hall we go with other great professors such as Cliff Skousen and Nicole Velasquez Forsgren,” Walther said. “Our donor support through our board, alumni and friends becomes very critical in supporting that. We definitely can’t do it by ourselves.”
This February, Walther himself received the Joseph A. Silvoso Faculty Merit Award from the Federation of Schools of Accountancy. The intent of this award is to recognize and reward an outstanding faculty member, teaching in a post-baccalaureate program offered by a member school of the Federation of Schools of Accountancy.
Another point of proof is in the students.
In 2012, approximately 92,000 people took the Uniform CPA Exam. Just 39 of them scored above 95.5 in each of the four sections, and received the prestigious Elijah Watt Sells Award. Two were graduates of the Huntsman School, Anthony Lemon and 2012 valedictorian Jill Aoki. And just this March, the 2013 Sells Award recipient list included yet another Huntsman student, Tyson Irwin. Tyson is one of 55 to receive the award from among 94,154 who took the exam.
“It has been amazing to watch the USU School of Accountancy transform into a nationally recognized program of excellence.”
- Mark Erickson ‘95, Partner, Tanner & Co.
“The School helped prepare me for the rigors of the CPA exam and laid the foundation of learning that is necessary for a career in public accounting,” Lemon said. “An accounting degree from Utah State University is something to be proud of and I’m humbled to be part of that success.”
And if externally recognized students and faculty aren’t enough, the Public Accounting Report recently ranked the School of Accountancy 34th in the nation, with its graduate program at 37th, placing the school in the top six percent of accounting programs in the country.
“Creating a positive national reputation is a key part of our strategic plan,” according to Walther. “When our students and faculty receive national recognition for their work, it opens doors for our graduates and, in the end, that’s a big part of what we are about: becoming career accelerators for our students and alumni.”
In order to keep raising the bar of excellence, Walther explained that there must be an increased risk for failure. “Quality demands that,” he said.
The SOA recently released a new degree option, the Professional Accounting Program, where students can earn their bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting in five years. This structure is increasingly used by the best programs, and provides a streamlined pathway for career placement opportunities.
The program is also focused on increasing the number of women in the program and points to the success of students like Jill Aoki and Bri Campbell Killpack, another accounting graduate who was also the 2013 USU Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
“It has been amazing to watch the USU School of Accountancy transform into a nationally recognized program of excellence,” said alumnus Mark Erickson. The future is bright— I’m excited for the current and future students as they join an elite program that will truly make a difference in their lives and the lives of so many in the future. I am proud to say that I am a graduate of the School of Accountancy and continue to be so impressed with the leadership and vision at the Huntsman School.”
In the end it is all tied to a firm belief that students are the foundation on which the past, present and future rest.
“This is all driven by the quality of students and their attitude and willingness to study, learn and develop,” noted Walther. “If that doesn’t happen, nothing happens.”
Left to right: Department Head Dr. Larry Walther with students, 2012 Elijah Watt Sells Award recipients Jill Aoki and Anthony Lemon, 2013 Elijah Watt Sells Award recipient Tyson Irwin, Professor Jef Doyle, Professor Nicole Forsgren Velasquez, Professor Cliff Skousen, Bri Campbell Killpack, the 2013 USU Whitesides Scholar Athlete of the Year