First Accounting Grads
From left: Christine Gallows, Kinley Graham and Meron Habtemichael -- Photo by Martin Schwalbe

Meron Habtemichael knew he was taking a gamble. He’d enrolled in the bachelor of commerce program at U of G with a real estate major, but after taking an introductory course in accounting during first year, he realized that accounting was what he really wanted to do.

“Accounting is at the centre of everything a business does,” says Habtemichael.

Unfortunately, U of G didn’t offer an accounting major at the time.

Kinley Graham found himself in the same situation. He had discovered that he liked accounting in high school, but “I didn’t take accounting at first because I didn’t want to be like the teacher who taught the course; he was 60 and still lived with his parents,” he says. It wasn’t until Graham had already tried out several other post-secondary programs that he decided accounting really was the best choice. “I came to U of G planning to get a commerce degree that I could put towards a CA, starting out in economics but soon switching to business. I was taking every accounting course I could find.”

Habtemichael says he heard rumours during his second year about the possibility of an accounting major under development. “I told professor Currie that I wanted to do this, and he warned me that it would be a gamble. I knew that. I’d stop by his office every day asking if there was any news.”

Graham was also willing to take the gamble, in part because he was so impressed by the faculty. “I’ve attended five different post-secondary institutions, and I’ve never met professors who knew so much and cared so much. The professors in this program are the best teachers I’ve ever had.”

Graham, Habtemichael and Christine Gallows are the first three graduates of CME’s new accounting major ─ a major that has just been officially launched. The three grads were honoured in September at a special dinner that included past recipients of CME’s Academic Excellence in Accounting award and 2009-2010 winners Katrina Bin and Mathew Baptista, as well as a number of representatives from industry.

Christine Gallows started out working on a marketing major in the B.Comm. program, but after taking her first management accounting course and getting a perfect mark on her mid-term, she realized: “I’m good at this, and I like it.” She began to add in additional accounting courses and was excited when she learned of the possibility of graduating with an accounting major instead. “Accounting makes sense to me, and I find it fun,” she says.

Interim chair of the Department of Business Fred Pries notes that it may seem unusual ─ even paradoxical ─ to have a brand-new major with graduates the same year it is launched, but says this has worked because accounting actually has a long history at U of G, and many graduates have become accountants. “But they had to do it the hard way, by taking extra courses after graduation,” he explains. “For the past two or three years, we’ve been working on making it easier by offering this accounting major, and we’re delighted to have been able to launch it this year.”

The students, it seems, are equally delighted; there were 786 applications for the 80 first-year spots in the new major. Pries says all the courses are currently in place for those who want to qualify to be a Certified Management Accountant  (CMA); by next year the courses will be offered to complete requirements for the Certified General Accountant designation (CGA), and the Chartered Accountant (CA) courses will be ready the year after that.

“These are all well-recognized designations,” says Pries. “We have students working towards all of them.”

He adds that the program is designed to offer what he calls “accounting plus.” Students can choose electives to give themselves a secondary area of expertise. As he explains: “You could take accounting and also pick up courses in real estate, for example, so that when you apply for a job you can say ‘I know real estate financing and appraisal as well as accounting.’” That’s just one option; accounting courses could also be combined with courses in public management, human resources, leadership and other fields.

The first three graduates feel they’ve been well-prepared for their future work. Gallows found a position at Cara Operations Limited in March of 2010, before she even graduated. “At first I was working and still going to school, but it’s been great. It is a lot different, though, when you are playing with real money!”

Habtemichael is working as an accounting specialist in the U.S. division of Manulife Financial and says “the fundamental accounting rules and principles that I gained at U of G have helped me excel in my role and receive recognition from my manager.”  He adds praise for his Guelph teachers: “Whether it was a full-time faculty or a sessional instructor, success was measured by more than just grades. The goals were understanding and thinking outside the box, and that is what I feel differentiates Guelph from other schools.”

Graham is still looking for a position and has written and passed the CMA entrance exam.

“Accounting has been growing fast, and we expect it to grow more,” says Pries. “It’s important. Some people say accounting is the language of business. The reality is that most decisions you make in business will have a financial or accounting aspect to them.”