Daniels accounting students help Denver auditor identify risk

March 10, 2017


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Marissa Nennig, Matthew Schemmel, Taylor Belke and Zach Yarnell

When Marissa Nennig, Taylor Belke, Matthew Schemmel and Zach Yarnell applied to be in Lorenzo Patelli’s “Corporate Advising” course in fall 2016, they were strangers from different cities and different undergraduate programs. They had a common interest in putting to use in the real world what they were learning in class, however.

Patelli, associate professor of accountancy, introduced the students to the City of Denver’s Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA, who is responsible for the city’s internal audit services and making sure contractors and subcontractors are paid a fair wage. His team asked the students to establish a system to ensure city departments have good internal controls, meaning the students needed to look for areas of potential risk or weakness to try and prevent them.

They met with the Offices of Economic Development, and Community Planning and Development.

“This taught me a lot about government accounting,” Belke said. “In addition, I learned project management, how to be a good communicator and how to run a meeting.”

Following meetings with each department and the auditor’s office, the students created an internal control risk self-assessment questionnaire that could be used by any department. The risk categories included areas like human resources policies and safety, compliance and change management.

The self-assessment includes questions like, “Rate your assessment on the following from strongly agree to strongly disagree:  

  • Succession plans are adequately documented and in place for when key employees leave their respective roles.
  • Policies and procedures are documented in a way that is easily understandable to users.
  • Established goals are reviewed/evaluated periodically to assess overall performance.”

“One of my goals in running for city auditor was to strengthen our office’s relationship with the local auditing and accounting community,” said O’Brien. “The Daniels students were top-notch and their input was valuable. Under my predecessor, our ‘entry-level’ auditing position was ‘senior auditor’, so there wasn’t really a place for new graduates. Now we have ‘staff auditor’ positions in our office to provide opportunities for students like Marissa, Taylor, Matthew and Zach. We’d be pleased to have accountants of their caliber on our team.”

The students put their technical skills to use, while learning the soft skills they’ll need on the job. They also received advice from Daniels Executive in Residence Pat Montgomery, who has a long career in project management for Morgan Stanley, McKinsey and UBS. She helped the students enhance their project management skills.

“We rotated the team lead each week,” Schemmel said. “The point person had to keep the team on track. We each had a hand in different parts of the project and all helped each other out. We learned the value of team work and team building.”

The experience seems to have paid off for them on the employment front as well. They each received job offers long before spring graduation. In fact, Nennig will be working as an audit associate with KPMG when she graduates this month—the Winter Academic Hood ceremony takes place on March 10 at The Cable Center for all Daniels graduate students.

The three other students will graduate in June. Schemmel accepted a job in Minneapolis as an audit associate with Ernst & Young. Yarnell and Belke will be tax consultants at Deloitte.

“’Corporate Advisory’ offers students an experiential learning experience aimed at developing interpersonal and project management skills that are so essential in contemporary volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) work environments,” said Patelli. “Corporate partners have the opportunity to gain exposure to talented, motivated, and high-performing students and engage with them on a real problem. The course is a great example of the challenge-driven education that is offered at Daniels.”