Popular Accounting Internship Program Passes Milestone
March 6, 2014
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— In a world of balance sheets and income statements, the accounting program at Illinois Wesleyan University has added 16 more students to the “plus” column.
With the addition of the students currently working at Big Four firms and major corporations
across the region, the University’s popular full-time winter internship program has passed a milestone of 175 student participants since its inception in 2006.
For decades, accounting students had completed part-time internships or worked full-time
during the summer, but both employers and alumni believed those opportunities were
not representative of actual work environments the rest of the year.
“We saw a need for a full-time internship opportunity with firms primarily in the
Chicago area that would give students a real sense of what it was like to work in
the busy season,” said Jerry Olson, chair of accounting. In the tax and audit world,
that’s January through March — the same time period IWU accounting students are now
interning at locations in Chicago and throughout central Illinois.
Olson worked with Rod Adams, an Illinois Wesleyan 1995 alumnus and currently Advisory
Human Capital Strategy Leader at PwC and a member of IWU’s Accounting Advisory Board,
to structure the program. And with help from Associate Professor of Business Administration
Dave Willis and Hart Career Center Director Warren Kistner, among others, the program launched in spring 2006 with 24
students. Michael Stephens ’07 was one of those.
“That internship opportunity was hugely important because I could apply the theories
we had learned in the classroom to the business world,” said Stephens, who is now
Manager, Assurance Services, for CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA) in Oak Brook, Ill. “As a
junior in college, I was actually going into chief financial officers’ and controllers’
offices and asking them questions.”
Stephens is now on the other side of the desk, as his work assignment includes recruiting
for internships and permanent staff positions. His firm is hosting three IWU interns
“Our interns do the same work as if they were full-time, first-year associates,” Stephens
explained. “They travel to clients and actually see the companies they are auditing
or working with to ask questions.”
He estimates 90 percent of his firm’s new hires came to the company as interns. Stephens
himself received an offer of employment on the last day of his internship in 2006.
That’s not unusual; Olson estimates more than 80 percent of IWU spring accounting
interns receive employment offers from their internship providers.
When interns join a firm full time, they are able to hit the ground running, said
Herb Guarascio ’77, a tax partner at Deloitte, another Big 4 firm, where the highest
number of IWU students have worked since the full-time accounting internship program
began. As at CLA, interns at Deloitte are included as team members on all projects.
For employers such as Deloitte, providing internship opportunities for current students
allows the company a continual source of talent.
“Providing internships is a wonderful opportunity to interact with high-performing
students early in their careers,” said Guarascio, who also serves on IWU’s Accounting
Advisory Board. “The competition for talent is high, and the sooner we are able to
make the connection with talented individuals, the greater the probability of ultimately
hiring those people.
“Interns bring new energy and ideas to our teams, and internship programs give us
and the interns a chance to determine if we are a good match for each other over the
course of many weeks, rather than over the course of a few short interviews,” Guarascio
The importance of a full-time, ‘in-the-trenches’ experience cannot be overstated,
according to both accounting professionals.
“It’s 10 weeks of being a full-time associate under your belt,” says Stephens. “The
experience shows you exactly what accounting is and how to go about doing the job.”
Guarascio noted that interns have the opportunity to gain significant practical experience
in a short period of time. “Interns who see the value of their academic studies and
how they are used in practice, return to college with increased vigor and focus,”
When those interns do return to campus, they take two intensive accounting courses
condensed into the final six weeks of the semester, affectionately called “boot camp”
within the accounting department. This allows the students to stay on track to complete
the 150 hours of course credits needed to register for the CPA exam in four years,
rather than the more common five-year programs at many other schools.
Employment of accountants and auditors has remained steady even through the recent
recessionary period, said Olson. Employment of accountants and auditors is projected
to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.