Berea Spotlight

Berea’s Sensational Victory in an Unlikely Contest

Posted on by Doug Widner

Most “underdog wins BIG” stories are morality tales about expecting too little. When the little guy wins in the end we realize he or she was a giant in disguise — someone about whom our presumptions were wrong.  Here’s an example: Would Berea College’s academic business track, which has an accounting “concentration,” but not a major, be likely to turn out some of the brightest minds among accounting students in Kentucky.

Dr. Ed McCormack

Dr. Ed McCormack

Sit down for a minute and enjoy this story. Our story-teller is Professor Edward McCormack, part of the Economics and Business faculty at Berea College.

“The Kentucky Society of CPAs (KYCPA) sponsored a Jeopardy-style statewide competition on April 21, 2011, in concert with their annual banquet. The contest is called PEAK, for Promoting and Encouraging Accounting in Kentucky. The annual banquet happened on the evening after the PEAK competition. The banquet is an event in which scholarships are presented to students at colleges and universities across the state and, more importantly, the new CPAs who are receiving their certificates and licenses to practice are sworn in.  It is a special evening celebrated by members of the profession, sworn to honor the public trust and uphold the highest standards of professional conduct.

“There are typically about 500 people at the banquet. The winners of that day’s PEAK contest were to be honored at the banquet; each member of the four person team was to receive a $1,000 scholarship. And the team was to receive a nice trophy to take back to their school until next year’s PEAK contest (at which point they’d either win the trophy again or give it up to a new winning team). April 21, 2011 This was the first year of the competition; it was held at The Galt House in Louisville.

“I took a group of our accounting students and Professor Trish Isaacs from Berea’s business faculty joined us there. There were six schools represented: the big schools with highly developed accounting programs were Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Morehead State University. The University of the Cumberlands, which also has an accounting major, and Lindsey Wilson College were also there.  The Jeopardy-style competition used CPA exam questions — not easy stuff. This material requires a strong accounting and business curriculum and tremendous powers of quantitative reasoning and critical thinking, stuff that relates closely to our strong liberal arts focus.

“The competition was in two rounds. It began with a drawing to determine which three teams go in the first round, and which three in the second.  We were in the first round, drawing in with Lindsey Wilson and University of the Cumberlands.

An interesting aside: “Our team was the most diverse team at the competition.  We had a young woman  from Kyrgyzstan (Sasha Solomatova), a young woman from North Carolina whose parents were from Mexico (Alicia Diaz), a young man from Viet Nam (Trung “Alex” Huynh), and a young man from Nigeria (Ehis Acketuamhen, winner of Berea’s Seabury award).  They are all very strong students, but they were not confident going in.  They commented about how they had researched the competition on the web, and that the others came from schools with full blown accounting majors while we only had a concentration.

“Well, we won the first round by a comfortable margin.

“They took the winners of the first two rounds, along with the team with the next highest point total to make the three teams in the second round.  That put us against Eastern and Morehead.  In the second round the point totals are doubled, like in Jeopardy, so rather than being ‘Auditing for 100, 200, etc. points,’ it is now ‘Auditing for 200, 400…’

“We had a score of 8,600 going into the final Jeopardy round, a margin large enough that we were guaranteed the win as long as we didn’t wager too much on the final jeopardy question.   We missed the final jeopardy question but only wagered 200 points, so we still came away with a comfortable win.

“What a moment! I have never been more proud of a bunch of kids in my life!

“At the banquet that evening, each of our team members received their $1,000 scholarship, and we brought home a huge trophy that I hope we can keep for many years.

“It was so awesome to be in that room during the contest.  The atmosphere was pressure-packed.  The fellow in the ‘Alex Trebec-role’ kept saying, after each question, when the buzzer went off, ‘Berea College’ and then ‘That is Correct!’  Everyone in the room but us got tired of hearing ‘Berea College.’”

And about the remarkable young people who dazzled all on April 21, Professor McCormack gives an update:

“Of the four team members, two (Alex and Sasha) are interning with Big 4 accounting firms this summer (2011), and one who is graduating (Ehis) has accepted a full time position with a Big 4 firm (KPMG in New York City).  One of the team members (Alex Huynh) also received an additional $1,000 scholarship from the KYCPA at the Banquet, and one of our Alums (Andrea Paezold-Ruhel) received her CPA certificate (she graduated only 1 1/2 years ago).”

Counter clockwise, left to right: Trung "Alex" Huynh, Alicia Diaz, Sasha Solomatova, Ehis Acketuamhen

Counter clockwise, left to right: Trung “Alex” Huynh, Alicia Diaz, Sasha Solomatova, Ehis Acketuamhen

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Photography by Ray Davis ’11

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