NOTE: The following is part of the MACPA’s “Share Your Story” series that showcases members. Learn more about the series and why we are doing it here.
Dr. Jan L. Williams, associate professor of accounting at the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business and director of UB’s Honors Accounting program, has had a varied and exceptional career. In education and public service and as a staunch supporter of diversity and inclusion initiatives, she is a strong role model for young people considering entering the profession. The remarks below are excerpted from an earlier interview with MACPA Membership Manager Rebekah Brown.
A MACPA member since 1991, Williams is passionate about career opportunities in accounting, believing students of all backgrounds can find the profession of accounting to be stimulating and rewarding.
“Accounting is the language of business. There are millions of businesses worldwide and every business needs a CPA,” says Williams. It’s important to acquire not only technical skills but also communication skills, she says. Williams also advises students to keep up with new trends in technology impacting the profession.
How did Williams decide to become an accountant, and later to teach?
“In high school, after taking career assessments I took an accounting course and an architecture drafting course. I loved both of them and could not decide which one I wanted to pursue.”
When she started visiting colleges, “I talked to people in different departments, and at that time I found out that many of the architecture students were spending the night in their buildings working on projects. I said, ‘I think I’ll become an accountant.’”
Looking back, she says, “It was the right choice. I love my profession. I love the opportunities in the profession, and I’ve had a great career as a CPA.”
“I started out in college working as an intern working with the IRS” in its Criminal Investigation Division, she says. “It was a great opportunity. I helped the special agents work on a case that was actually going to court. That summer project I worked on basically following the money, following the paper trail, helping to put together exhibits that would be used in court.” The case had some notoriety since F. Lee Bailey was the defense attorney, and “the courtroom was packed every day.” An embezzlement case, it was a great introduction to forensic accounting.
Joining PwC following her college graduation, Williams started as an auditor. “I got a lot of good experience and exposure in the accounting profession,” Williams says of her time at PwC.
“From there, I went into private industry and worked as an accounting manager at Kirschner Medical Corporation. Another great job. I’ve just really been blessed to have good jobs in accounting.”
A fork in the road
When her employer, Kirchner Medical, was bought out and moved to Indiana, Williams faced a fork in the road, choosing whether to stay with Kirchner or accept a full-time teaching offer from the dean at Morgan State University, where she had been teaching part-time.
“I thought, I’ll teach for a year or two and then go back into corporate America, but I really fell in love with the classroom,” says Williams. “I ended up going back to school, getting my Ph.D. in accounting, and started teaching at the University of Baltimore.” Significantly, Williams has the distinction of being the first person to earn a Ph.D. from the Graves School of Business at Morgan State.
Has the field, or the need for the CPA exam, changed?
If one thing is certain, it’s Williams unbounded enthusiasm for the accounting profession.
“The accounting profession is just awesome,” she says. “There are so many opportunities to match your interests, whether you want to work in entertainment, or travel, or education or non-profits, it’s an open door of opportunities.”
Some students don’t know if they want to go into audit or technology-specialized areas. That’s always a difficult decision, “but sometimes you just have to follow your heart.”
Williams emphasizes that an accountant can do a manager’s job, but a manager cannot necessarily do an accountant’s job. “Accountants can become CFOs, and CFOs can become great CEOs.”
The CPA exam and the pipeline
In recent years, the accounting profession has seen a surge in the number of students majoring in accounting but a reduction in the number of accounting students sitting for the CPA exam, creating a pipeline shortage of CPAs.
Williams has fond memories of sitting for the exam, and at the same time, emphasizes the benefits of students sitting for the exam today.
“I grew up with two brothers and I played sports, so I have this competitive nature,” says Williams. “So, when I first learned about the CPA exam, I knew at that moment that’s what I wanted to become, a CPA.” She adds, “It’s a very challenging exam, but I knew if others could do it, I could do it also.”
Her advice for students sitting for the CPA exam today? “It takes discipline. It takes focus. You have to be determined. That’s the biggest thing.”
A role-model for students
In support of all students with an interest in accounting being able to enter and thrive in the profession, Williams, the President-Elect of the Mid-Atlantic Region of AAA, is also a past secretary of the Diversity section of AAA, and is currently a member of the MACPA’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.
She also stands as a strong role model for women and minorities as the recipient of various awards, including as a past recipient of the MACPA’s Women to Watch Award.
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