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Ahead of the curve

Accounting professor leads students in volunteer program

Bea Chiang, associate professor of accounting and information systems at The College of New Jersey, encourages her students to gain real-life experiences through working with nonprofits.

When Bea Chiang, an associate professor of accounting and information systems at The College of New Jersey, watched her colleagues in the sociology and education departments form partnerships in the local community to bring service learning to their classrooms back in 1999, she decided to volunteer time in applying the…

When Bea Chiang, an associate professor of accounting and information systems at The College of New Jersey, watched her colleagues in the sociology and education departments form partnerships in the local community to bring service learning to their classrooms back in 1999, she decided to volunteer time in applying the idea to her accounting curriculum.

“Compared to other departments, the business school is kind of behind in this type of service-learning movement,” Chiang said. “My accounting students follow the traditional corporate accounting path, and they have jobs before they graduate. But I want my students to have a different learning experience by working with a nonprofit in my class. The impact of this project may not reflect in the career they take, but it’s important to provide an opportunity for them to have a sense of community.”

Every semester, Chiang pairs sophomores and juniors in her managerial accounting and cost accounting courses with local businesses and nonprofits to relate textbook concepts to real-life projects. During the summer, Chiang scouts potential opportunities for her students through the college’s Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement, then meets with businesses to develop projects that fit her curriculum and their needs.

“Last semester, my students worked with Shiloh (Economic Development Corp.) on two big accounting projects. One involved identifying their overhead rate to help them apply for a funding proposal … and the other involved finding out the costs of renovating the building for different uses, like a commercial unit with a day care center,” Chiang said. “The volunteering from the students helps nonprofits tremendously. I think the students feel it’s important, too, because many of them go back to volunteer.”

Even though she has assigned volunteer projects since 1999, Chiang said it is still “not a very popular idea in the accounting world,” since course loads for accounting students are becoming increasingly tight. To encourage more engagement through service learning, Chiang said the college should require all students to take an upper-level course involving outreach to local companies, since students already have to provide a type of direct service in the local community during their freshman year.

“It may not become popular across the business school unless it was officially incorporated into the promotion and tenure system,” Chiang said. “There’s no incentive to do this. It really relies on a professor’s personal interest, and I only became interested from my sociology background.”

Chiang will discuss her community-driven projects — and the need for funding to implement more like them — at the 14th annual Council on Undergraduate Research Conference, which is hosted by TCNJ and runs through June 26.

“Right now, our dean and faculty in finance are trying to develop a financial literacy program in local schools, to create the opportunity for students to apply to the business school,” Chiang said. “They’ve always supported me, and I appreciate the business school’s degree of freedom to do something special in my own class. But I started my project over 20 years ago … and they’re still in the path of developing theirs.”

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