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Spring 2009 Newsletter


JMU's CPA Exam Boot Camp 

In the fall of 2004 I met with a class of Accounting seniors.  Of particular interest to me was their plan for passing the CPA Exam.  What I learned is that most students had no plan.  The students explained that most of them had jobs beginning in late August or September and that many of the employers were willing to pay the cost of CPA exam preparation.   However, there were no CPA Exam prep classes that could be completed over the summer.  I also learned that the apartment leases for most of the students extended through the end of June.

With these facts, Professor Brad Roof and I conceived an idea for a CPA Review to be conducted in May and June of each year for our graduating students.   The preparation would be intense, with the goal of completing the review before student apartment leases expired and in time for the students to sit for the entire exam before starting work.  This is very different from the way CPA Exam prep classes were typically conducted.  In most cases, candidates for the CPA Exam attend once a week Saturday classes over a six month period.

JMU students are bright and they immediately saw the advantages of the condensed course.  It permitted them to take the review during the otherwise idle summer with their friends and with the same faculty who taught them the material in their coursework.  The alternative was to take a review on Saturdays after they had started a new job.  Since accountants frequently work 50 hour weeks, dedicating a day off to exam preparation is a particular sacrifice .   While the students took little convincing, that was not the case with the providers of CPA review services.

I approached the regional manager of Becker CPA Review about offering a 7 week version of their review.   He was skeptical and reluctant - it was not the way they had always run their classes.  In the end, I got an agreement that if we could get 30 students to register for the class, Becker would let us try the new format.  This manager later admitted to me that as he left my office he said to his companion, "Copley is crazy if he thinks he can get 30 students".  We had 45 students in the first class that summer.

The typical class runs 4 to 4 ½ hours a day with an equal amount of homework each night.  The homework exercises are simulated CPA Exam questions and students have to do this until they get 90% correct.  It is an exhausting pace and it was the first class of students that gave the name "CPA Exam Boot Camp". 

The results of the Boot Camp speak for themselves.  In January of each year I survey the class and the pass rates among the responding students have consistently been above 90% for each of the four sections.  In 2007, JMU graduates ranked among the top 25 of 2,000 schools across the country for students taking and passing all four parts on their initial attempt.   This is a tribute to the excellent instruction JMU students receive in their accounting program.  CPA exam reviews only refresh knowledge that must be gained in two or three years of coursework.

While initially reluctant to let us try the format, our results were the topic of conversation at Becker's 2005 Annual Meeting.  Becker also resisted the term "boot camp", asking me not to use the phrase.   However, nothing speaks like success and Becker now actively markets the boot camp format at schools across the country.  Virginia Tech and William and Mary began copying our class in 2006.  Becker not only accepted the new format but has come around on the issue of what to call the class.  At the American Accounting Association annual meeting last August, the Becker booth displayed a poster of Dr. Riordan and JMU students dressed in fatigues with the phrase "CPA Boot Camp:  JMU's Answer to Exam Prep".

From the School of Accounting's point of view, the Boot Camp provides exactly what we wanted.  JMU now has a brand name - if you hire JMU graduates, there is a very high probability that those individuals will show up to work in September with this exam behind them.  This sets us apart from most other schools in the country.

Dr. Copley,

I just wanted to let you know that I passed the CPA exam.  Becker really made the difference for me.  Thanks for organizing the program on campus, I know I'm not the only one who passed because of the review course.

Take care,

John L.

Hello Dr. Copley,
It was great to see you at Meet the Firms the other night!  Although I am happy to be working now, I miss everyone at JMU.  As of today, I have received all of my CPA exam scores!  I passed all four sections with scores ranging from 80 - 90.   Thanks for all of the hard work that you do to provide an excellent accounting program at JMU.  In comparing my education with co-workers who graduated from other schools, JMU definitely provides the best foundation for a career in accounting.  Both the curriculum and faculty contribute to the success of the students.

I am also grateful for the CPA Becker review class.  Without that review, it would not have been feasible to sit for all four sections of the exam within the first six weeks of employment. Thanks for encouraging Hantzmon Wiebel to cover the cost of the class.
Marilla S.

Hi Dr. Copley,

Just wanted to inform you that I took the boot camp this summer and I received my scores back today. Audit - 93, Financial - 90, BEC - 85, and Regulations - 77

I'm a CPA!! Well with another 8 months of experience I will be. Thanks for having the review course at JMU this summer it was a huge help.

Steven G.
        Staff Accountant



Maximizing Potential

Alex GabbinPerhaps the reason that Dr. Alexander L. Gabbin, the KPMG LLP Professor of Accounting, fits so well in the JMU community is that he embodies the JMU maxim "Be the Change!" Dr. Gabbin came to JMU in 1985 from Lincoln University, where he twice received the Lincoln University Accounting Outstanding Teacher Award.  Since being at JMU he has received JMU's Outstanding Teacher in Accounting Award four times, and in 2005 was recipient of the JMU Distinguished Teacher Award.  However, Dr. Gabbin's passion for teaching reaches well beyond the passing along of accounting wisdom.

Given the opportunity to spend even a few minutes with Dr. Gabbin, and one quickly discovers that his greatest passion is in helping young people develop as complete individuals. He is troubled by an apparent myopic focus on career success among students, and strongly believes in the importance of giving back to the community. If students are well-informed on how to "navigate the shark-infested waters of life," Dr. Gabbin believes their potential for success as an empathetic, civic-minded individual increases exponentially. This is a concept that Dr. Gabbin champions both in and out of the classroom. So, along with a generous dose of the requisite technical instruction, Dr. Gabbin's students get a large measure of values training that Dr. Gabbin believes will benefit them far beyond their professional careers.

Dr. Gabbin's caring concern extends outside the classroom, as well. He has committed much of his time and resources to a variety of efforts geared to positively influencing young adults.  For instance, Dr. Gabbin and his wife, Dr. Joanne Gabbin, Professor of English and Executive Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at JMU, recently established the Alexander L. and Joanne V. Gabbin Business Endowed Scholarship. The annual scholarship was established for the benefit of students in the Honors Program majoring in business.

Since 1998, Dr. Gabbin has served as the chairperson for the Watkins Award committee, the premier program of the National Alliance of African American Athletes (The Alliance). The Watkins Award committee is responsible for selecting the recipient of the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Trophy Award, given annually to the outstanding African American male high school senior student athlete. The Alliance notes that the Watkins Award, "initiated ... to promote academic excellence among young African-American males ... is a means for recognizing exceptionally talented African-American male athletes who, by their example, help promote high academic standards and a commitment to community service."

Watkins awardees include Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle of Florida State University, and professional athletes Justin Blalock of the Atlanta Falcons, Ted Ginn Jr. of the Miami Dolphins, and  Lorenzo Alexander of the Washington Redskins. Especially noteworthy is that the selection process Dr. Gabbin initiated incorporated criteria used by JMU Honors Program, and for several years, candidate application packets were coordinated through the College of Business. JMU also played an important role in hosting the first awards gala weekend where the Watkins class of 1999 received intensive orientation training and had an opportunity to meet in a workshop with youth from the Harrisonburg Young Achievers to address challenges and strategies for success in the classroom. At The Alliance's 18th annual black-tie gala on February 21, 2009, Dr. Gabbin presented the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Trophy to yet another exceptional African-American high school senior,  Jamal-Rashad Patterson (4.65 GPA) of Henry County High School in McDonough, Georgia.

Perhaps the best way to sum up Dr. Gabbin's philosophy of life is to borrow a quote from a radio interview with Dr. Alexander Gabbin and Dr. Joanne Gabbin. The subject of the interview was the CD the Gabbins created featuring a collection of poems from Hurricane Katrina survivors. The host of the program commented that many people feel that anything they might try to do on their own in response to a large catastrophic event, such as Katrina, would be too small to make a difference.  Dr. Gabbin responded:

"We ... worry so much about the end of a thing, ... about the outcome, ... [about]
 whether or not there is going to be massive support for something, when really
the issue is, can you help one person feel a little bit better about themselves?"

We thank Dr. Gabbin for making a difference in the lives of JMU students.


Breaking stereotypes

Dustin RichardsDustin Richards, BBA '08, MS Accounting '09, welcomes the challenge of stereotype-breaking. Interested in becoming an accounting major, Dustin was determined not to let the common belief that accountants are dull, boring, nerdy and introverted diminish that interest. Actually, it seems that such notions only served to further inspire Dustin, as he enjoys being different, and breaking away from traditional labels. Dustin describes himself as "the kind of person that is up for absolutely anything that involves being social. I love sports, being outdoors, and having a good time with friends and family.  If I could do all three of those and get paid for it, I'd be the happiest person alive." So much for conventional cataloging when it comes to this accounting graduate student.

Dustin put that enthusiasm for sports, outdoors and people together in a very practical way during the summers of 2005 and 2006 when he worked for the nation's leading youth weight loss camp, Camp Pocono Trails. The camp works with overweight kids, age pre-kindergarten to seniors in high school, who also suffer from poor self esteem. Dustin's responsibilities at the camp included serving as a role model to these very impressionable campers as well as serving as one of the camp's fitness instructors.

Dustin describes his experience at the camp as "100% irreplaceable." "I can't even begin to explain the feeling of helping a child lose weight and become healthier.  When the end of the summer came, and the campers had their final weigh-ins and weight loss totals, their faces and expressions were priceless.  It was great being a part of their success.  Someone's self-esteem is so important and witnessing a 180 [degree] improvement is well-worth the hard work put in.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

During Dustin's first summer at Camp Pocono Trails, MTV came to the camp and followed the progress of several of the campers.  "Fat Camp," MTV's two-hour documentary, premiered February 15, 2006 on national television.  The Washington Post described the documentary as "touchingly and sometimes gruelingly true to life."

After graduation in May, Dustin will attend the Becker Boot Camp and then sit for all four parts of the CPA exam.  In September, he will head to Washington, D.C. to begin his new position with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. 

For more insight into Dustin's experience, you can see an excerpt from the documentary on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IorWhTAKMF8