URI black accountants’ chapter continues to promote diversity, opportunities for business students from underrepresented groups

KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 3, 2019 – In 1969, with fewer than 150 African-American certified public accountants among the nation’s 100,000 CPAs, the National Association of Black Accountants was formed to expand those opportunities. Today, the organization promotes diversity in all business disciplines.

The University of Rhode Island’s group supports those national goals. In just six years, the chapter has grown into a robust organization, supporting the professional growth of members through regular events with top companies that have led to internships and job opportunities.

At the same time, the National Association of Black Accountants-URI, part of the association’s Boston Metropolitan Chapter, has enhanced its prominence through its success in the Annual Minority Business Conference’s case competition in Boston. Since the URI group was formed in 2013, it has placed at least one team of students in the top three each year, competing against such schools as Bentley, Babson, Brandeis and Boston University. Because of its accomplishments, URI is being considered for the honor of becoming the first Rhode Island chapter.

“Our students are very enthusiastic about the competition,” said Alejandro Hazera, accounting area coordinator, Vangermeersch chair of accounting and URI chapter advisor. “They’re first-generation students. They want to compete. To me a lot of times, the first-generation kids are the ones who compete the hardest and they want to succeed. The other aspect is the faculty has been very dedicated. The accounting area is absolutely dedicated to diversity and helping these students.”

Janikka Acosta ’19 said she was attracted to the group by the lure of an internship. Her freshman year, the Pawtucket, Rhode Island resident visited the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers as part of URI’s Talent Development program. During the visit, she met several URI sophomores who had landed summer internships at PWC through their membership in the organization.

“I wanted to be in that position,” said Acosta, an accounting major. “I joined NABA to get an internship and to literally learn how to get a job.”

Now president of the chapter, Acosta extolls those benefits to prospective members. NABA URI, with a diverse group of about 20 committed student members and the support of accounting faculty, holds regular events with such top accounting firms as PWC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG. Students can learn about internships or attend workshops on topics such as networking, interviewing or improving their resume. Many members have landed internships or jobs through the association, including former chapter president Ogochukwu Igwe ’18, who was hired by JP Morgan.

“Being a woman, being a first-generation college student, being Hispanic, I definitely feel like I have more barriers in front of me,” said Acosta. “In NABA, we all have something in common. We’re all going to break those barriers and we’re going to change business, because business should be diverse. … And I find if you’re able to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, you bring something different. For me, I was looking for that and I found that in NABA.”

“It really opens doors for both internships and fulltime opportunities,” said Anna Melby ’20, a finance major from Norway. “It’s a great networking opportunity both for peers in the College of Business, the faculty and speakers that they have come in.

One of the national group’s biggest events is the Annual Minority Business Conference and its case competition. Since 2013, URI teams have taken first place three times, including first and third in 2014. This year, URI sent four teams to the Oct. 20 competition at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, and captured first, second and third. (For the first time since URI started competing in the event, no other colleges or universities took part.)

Yasmin Gonzalez ’20, a finance major, whose four-student team took first place, says the key to the URI group’s success over the years has been consistency. “We attend the competition every year and each year we learn something we are able to share with other students who plan on competing the following year,” said the Cranston, Rhode Island resident, who also was on second-place teams in 2016 and 2017. “We also have great support from the faculty. They’re always willing to give us advice and help with our practice presentations.”

Along with Hazera, Senior Lecturer Brooke D’Aloisio advised students this year. In the past, Professors Kathryn Jervis and Chet Hickox, now retired, have provided guidance, along with Carmen Quirvan, an adjunct professor of accounting and a NABA advisor.

This year, Quirvan drew up the case study for the competition – the first time URI has authored the case. Students were asked to serve as mock investment advisors in researching the multinational bakery product manufacturer Bimbo, which owns such products as Thomas’ English Muffins, Arnold’s, Entenmann’s, and Sara Lee, and had more than $13 billion in sales in 22 countries in 2017. It was the first year the case involved a real-world scenario, Hazera said.

“There was a lot of information to this case,” said Melby, also a member of the first-place team. “It was very in-depth. We had to calculate the financial ratios, look at their balance sheet, statement of cash flow, income statements for the three most recent years and research going back to see how Bimbo has been doing and growing in the market.”

“I personally felt more challenged by this case study,” said Gonzalez, who has landed internships at PWC through her involvement in NABA, “because it made me understand topics in which I was not fully knowledgeable and confident in yet. I’m a finance major and it helped me understand more of what I will be learning in my core classes.”

The annual competition is judged by representatives of top companies. This year’s judges included representatives of medical devices manufacturer Boston Scientific and investment groups Wellington Management and Eaton Vance. URI’s continued success has increased its reputation in the Boston area, said Hazera.

“It’s moving us into the Boston market,” he said. “It gives us exposure. It shows Boston companies how we value diversity and it shows off our students.”

Along with Gonzalez and Melby, Almamy Kamara and Awny Lulo were on the first-place team. Acosta, Bernabe Ramirez-Sosa and Yalett Alejandro took second, and Jarell de los Santos, Nolan Nathaniel, Jasmin Johnson and Dennis Cardoso were on the third-place team.