MS in Accounting Blog

Adding Value: Future-Proofing with McIntire’s M.S. in Accounting Program

We recently caught up with three graduates of the program—Mike Brouillette (McIntire ’10, M.S. in Accounting ’11), Jamie Hinz (M.S. in Accounting ’17), and Grace Hutcherson (M.S. in Accounting ’23)—to find out how McIntire’s top M.S. in Accounting Program readied them for a host of professional opportunities.

Mike Brouillette, Jamie Hinz, Grace Hutcherson

Mike Brouillette, Jamie Hinz, Grace Hutcherson

The accounting profession is built for now and for the years ahead. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics sees a continued growth trend of 4% for accountants through 2032, despite unwarranted fears that the need could be threatened by changes impacting the industry. Yet accountants are working in tandem with groundbreaking technology to provide unprecedented levels of production to organizations and helping to meet the demand for accountants in professional services firms and far beyond.

For those who have earned their master’s degree through innovative programs such as UVA McIntire’s M.S. in Accounting, the options for careers extend far outside of the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC) firms. In fact, during recent years, many graduates of the Commerce School’s accounting programs have taken their degrees and CPA licenses to secure employment at nearly 30 different independent firms, as well as countless accountancy positions at a host of other businesses and organizations, directly out of the Commerce School. And while many chose to begin their careers in the Big Four, they’ve effectively used the experience to advance to a multitude of positions in a wide range of industries such as executive roles; leadership roles in tech, finance, and consulting; and more.

One reason M.S. in Accounting graduates have long been well-regarded candidates for many openings has to do with the adaptability of the skills they learn at McIntire.

Professor Andrea Alston Roberts, Director of the M.S. in Accounting Program, says that one reason for student success year after year is because they are prepared to be agile and skilled in ways that prove to meet the needs for whatever technology or changes impact the job market—including AI and any perceived threats to accounting profession.

“What industry is telling us is that AI is going to make certain jobs easier and better. Rote tasks will go away, but AI is not a thinker—it can’t critically think. Undertaking the more interesting work is what will survive. We don’t teach our students rote things. We push them to think critically and to think more broadly,” she says, noting that while that learning process often makes students uncomfortable, it is necessary for their growth, as it equips them with the mindset and adaptability to fill the types of positions that will outlast any technological changes.

“We always listen to industry and see what we can adjust. But at the end of the day, no matter where you are, we need critical thinkers and people who can communicate with people.”

Roberts explains that prevailing ideas about the accounting profession may not include these so-called soft skills, but McIntire focuses a great deal on developing graduates who excel in those areas, such as collaborating in a team and creating presentations. “Those are the areas where employers see other students struggle the most, especially now, in this post-COVID generation, but our program has always focused on those skills,” she says.

When the M.S. in Accounting Program became STEM-certified in 2019, Roberts says the program took great pains to ensure McIntire students were up to date on data analytics. “Now we are integrating it throughout the entire program; in every class, we make sure they’re analyzing data, but that’s to teach critical thinking,” she says. “It’s not just learning data skills or programming skills: Everything in the program is integrated and connected to critical-thinking skills. What we do stands the test of time.”

We recently caught up with three graduates of the program—Mike Brouillette (McIntire ’10, M.S. in Accounting ’11), Jamie Hinz (M.S. in Accounting ’17), and Grace Hutcherson (M.S. in Accounting ’23)—to find out how McIntire’s top M.S. in Accounting readied them for a host of professional opportunities.

Many Accounting Careers

Brouillette, who serves as the Chief Financial Officer at sales intelligence platform Winmo in Marietta, GA, says his time at McIntire not only prepared him sit for and pass the CPA exam, but also to develop the analytical thinking skills Roberts discusses. The program taught him “how to apply accounting ‘outside the box,’” he says. He started on his career path in forensic accounting with KPMG and found that “being able to think through problems and how my accounting education applied—along with the writing and research skills I gained—was incredibly helpful.”

He credits the strength of both the UVA and McIntire communities. “I have made several new connections along the way that didn’t always translate to a specific opportunity but helped me gain confidence and want to be a connection for someone else down the line,” he says.

Hinz works in New York City at Privy, a startup developer toolkit for seamless building of login flows for users; as the Trust & Safety lead, she handles everything from internal controls to customer support. “We’re solving the greatest bottleneck problem in web3: seamlessly connecting users to blockchain systems,” she says. Hinz, like Brouillette, began in the Big Four, “a great launching pad at Ernst & Young,” where she worked in Technical Accounting and had the opportunity to learn about auditing and accounting for cryptocurrency. “I was interested in cryptocurrency, and I had learned about bitcoin in a Forensic Accounting class at McIntire. Once I spoke up in meetings about my interests, I was able to transition to a new team within EY that worked specifically on creating guidance for crypto,” Hinz recalls.

Her foundational learning about accounting guidance allowed her to hit the ground running, as she applied it to an entirely new technology: “Understanding the fundamentals is key for internal controls and audit procedures. When doing security work, it’s not enough to just memorize things, you have to understand the fundamentals of risk management and threat modeling,” Hinz says.

She adds she has had many chances to apply her knowledge because of earning her M.S. in Accounting degree, including the surprise of working in the realm of crypto.

“I was more interested in the topic than others, but I never guessed that I’d be coming up on my six-year anniversary working in an industry that’s only existed for 15 years,” says Hinz. “Plus, I’ve traveled to Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Korea, and more. I’ve been able to find an industry in web3 that I am consistently excited by every day, and I’m working on problems that are really exciting to solve.”

Hutcherson began the program driven to learn as much about accounting as possible and sought to have a successful career lined up after graduation. She credits both the University and McIntire’s Commerce Career Services with providing valuable resources that helped her sort through the decisions that came with finding and choosing her first job.

After meeting with Commerce Career Services and attending the Finance Career Fair, she secured a position. While her start date was pushed back, she took the extra time to sit for the CPA exam.

Her job search ended with a position at Midlothian, VA-based accounting firm Adams, Jenkins & Cheatham (AJC). “I never would have expected that there would be so many changes and experiences within my first year after graduation, but I am extremely happy with where I am now,” she says. “AJC is a firm filled with extremely talented, knowledgeable people. I have already learned so much more about auditing and accounting, and I am looking forward to learning even more in the future.”

Skillful Adaptability

Hutcherson chose McIntire’s master’s in Accounting program as, among other reasons, she learned that the Commerce School facilitated careers that did not all originate with Big Four positions. “While there are opportunities to speak with Big Four firms throughout the year, there are also chances to speak with local, regional, and consulting firms, as well as others,” she says, pointing out that since she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do with her degree, she was interested in considering all possible options. “At McIntire, you can explore different opportunities.”

Noting how the Comm School provided the solid accounting foundation she needed to begin studying for the CPA exam, Hutcherson says it also gave her the requisite knowledge to apply classroom learning to her daily work as an Audit Associate: “While I don’t think there is a need to know everything when starting an entry-level position, I believe there are levels of understanding and flexibility needed to hear a client’s reasoning, analyze it, and decide if it makes sense. While I am still learning more about auditing every day, McIntire gave me the baseline understanding to analyze situations, and its classes and teachers gave us scenarios that allowed us to practice this.”

Brouillette says that one of the M.S. in Accounting Program’s strengths is its adaptability: “It gives you all the skills needed to be successful in a business environment: The ability to communicate clearly, verbal or written, is one that is critical to success as you work across an organization and makes you a true business partner with an accounting skill set, as opposed to simply being a skilled accountant.”

Hinz agrees that writing is a skill that stays with her, specifically, crafting effective business memos. “The formula Professor [Marcia] Pentz taught is one I still use day to day to break down complex ideas into actions,” she says. Another skill? Analyzing data. “Knowing how to make my own SQL queries has been a huge benefit when working at a software company. In general, not being scared to dig into the details of a software I’ve never seen before was a skill I’m so grateful that Professor [Eric] Negangard taught us.”

She also says that zooming out to see the larger picture has been an invaluable approach to her work. “The case studies that Professor Roberts would have us solve as a group challenged us to see the business as a whole and not just as a balance sheet,” Hinz says. “I can’t think of a more critical exercise for anyone wanting to work in a startup one day.”

Brouillette agrees. “The ability to see the bigger picture and be adaptable underlined all aspects of the program. The program taught disruption will be continuous, and accepting that and being willing to change how you work, think, and act will help you stay nimble and grow with the changes,” he says.

Confronting Change Fearlessly

Changes in accounting come in the way of regulation, and Hinz credits the program with keeping her mind open and self-aware. “My first instinct upon hearing about a change is to think about why certain rules or new regulations are written the way they are, instead of just memorizing them. Professor Roberts challenged us to understand our own biases in thinking about risk,” she says, explaining that regulators are just people trying to find answers, much as those attempting to properly understand cryptocurrency today.

“Accountants often get a bad reputation for being robotic, but McIntire definitely opened my eyes up to dreaming bigger than I previously had,” Hinz says. “There’s a Sam Altman quote that I love that sums this up optimistically: ‘A big secret is that you can bend the world to your will a surprising percentage of the time—most people don’t even try, and just accept that things are the way that they are.’”

Hutcherson, who is still only a couple of months in her position, says that McIntire helped her to understand accounting guidelines and codifications through her policy coursework, where she applied what she learned to different scenarios. “At the time, I didn’t realize how useful this would be, but as I’ve heard managers and partners discuss accounting changes, I am realizing how important it is to be able to read and analyze these policies.”

Brouillette says the program gave him access to leaders and employers who have wanted the best for him, cared about his success, and helped prepare him with a positive career outlook. “The M.S. in Accounting Program not only provides a great education and jumping-off point into your career, but also the foundation for future growth and connections that will be there every step of your career journey,” he says.

Hutcherson, too, credits the program with giving her concrete skills, but also for a supportive network. “When my start date was pushed back, my UVA friends were the first ones I turned to because I knew they would understand and offer good advice,” she says. “I made friendships at McIntire that will last a lifetime, and I am so thankful for the year I spent at UVA.”

The program was equally as critical for Hinz, who insists that she would not have the necessary mindset and skills to work in tech startups were it not for her M.S. in Accounting degree. “I also don’t believe I would have had the confidence to step out of a traditional CPA path to pursue a fast-paced career in web3,” she adds. While she suggests undergrads should consider the program for its world-class business education and helping to meet the CPA requirements, the program offers much more.

“Tax laws will change year to year, but being able to think originally and critically is what makes entrepreneurs successful,” says Hinz. “Knowing the fundamentals and understanding the underlying concepts is a killer combination of skills that you won’t want to miss out on gaining. Plus, I met some of my best friends in the world through this program. I look back so fondly on those years spent in Charlottesville and in those small classroom settings at McIntire.”

Technology will come and go, policies will change, and roles will adapt, but organizations will always need critical thinkers, team players, and expert communicators—the very same that McIntire’s M.S. in Accounting Program produces year after year.

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