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Dickinson State rolls out new integrated learning program for accounting students

Dickinson State University business major Josh Heidt, a junior, studies Thursday in the university's new accounting learning area in May Hall. Heidt is one of about a hundred business majors specializing in accounting at DSU.

While new beginnings at the start of fall semester often times are reserved for freshmen, upperclassmen accounting students at Dickinson State University were treated to a brand new learning area this fall in May Hall.

Dubbed "The CPA Experience," a refurbished, technology-driven lab for use by upper-level accounting students was rolled out this school year as part of DSU's new Accounting Integrated Learning Program.

"Employers today want graduates who can hit the ground running," said DSU assistant professor of accounting Ashley Stark. "In our area's fast-paced environment, employers are telling us that they want to hire graduates who are ready to work on day one. The old model of on-the-job training can take months to teach new employees how to do their jobs."

The goal of the program, said Stark's fellow assistant accounting professor Scott Hanson, is to meet employer's needs -- especially those in booming western North Dakota -- while having students speak the same technological language they will likely be using in the job market now and into the future.

"We're trying to deliver what we teach in every possible medium," Hanson said. "Employers are using a lot of methods that weren't being used when I got out of college. Things are changing. All we're doing is reflecting what the employers are doing and attempting to fill their needs. Debits are still on the left and credits are still on the right, but in some regards the profession has changed dramatically."

Hanson said DSU currently has 107 students majoring in accounting, with about 45 of those considered upper level. The Accounting Integrated Learning Program is a part of the DSU Department of Business and Management.

Though DSU places graduates in jobs regionally and nationally, Hanson said many accounting grads stay in the area, partly because so many jobs are available in western North Dakota.

"Our size matters because we're small enough that students can really have a lot of interaction with faculty," Hanson said. "Last year, we graduated about 44 students, the year before about the same. You wonder how southwestern North Dakota can absorb that many accountants, but it can. There's a demand in our area -- we could place 20 more per year."

As part of the department's new interactive lab, students are able to take advantage of specific study areas, iPads, an interactive Apple TV and a CPA exam practice test environment.

"The quizzes are really hard," said accounting student Josh Heidt, a junior from Dickinson. "It's really a great asset for students, though. The (lab) is something we can take advantage of."

Hanson said one of the quickest pathways to the corner office in the business world is to earn an accounting degree.

"The DSU grads from the business department, by and large, are all out here," Hanson said. "They're running the banks, running the small businesses, and that's what we want to see. If you want to be a company president or company owner, it's the ideal degree. It's broad enough to cover all the aspects of a business, but after you work for a time, you know the business better than anyone else. The accountant has to know everything."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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