St. John Fisher College Accounting Students Place First in National Tax Competition

January 18, 2016

Five St. John Fisher College School of Business accounting students made history as the first Fisher team to win the national Deloitte FanTAXtic Competition, held Jan. 15 through 17, at Deloitte University in Dallas, Texas.

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The team competed against eight other schools in the case-study competition, which encourages students to use their growing knowledge and skills to solve real-world, issues-based business  scenarios. They rose to the top past teams from Boston College, Brigham Young University, University of Florida, Lehigh University, University of North Colorado, Ohio State University, University of San Diego, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Tom Agan (Elmira, N.Y.), Alex DeRosa (Grand Island, N.Y.), Lauren Owens (Holmes, N.Y.), Rob Riggio (Spencerport, N.Y.), and Todd Stebbins (Orchard Park, N.Y.) earned the bid to the national competition after placing first in a regional contest in Boston last November. With the win, the team brought home $20,000 in individual scholarships and institutional awards. In addition, another St. John Fisher College team won $2,500 for their second-place performance at regionals.

“We are so proud of our students for their outstanding performance during the Deloitte competition,” said Gerard J. Rooney, president of the College. “Challenges such as this showcase their commitment to academic excellence and demonstrate the benefits of the personalized experience that is characteristic of a Fisher education. I commend not only our students for their hard work and determination, but also the School of Business faculty and staff for their dedication in guiding them to this achievement.”

Preparation for the competition began in September. The students learned about a variety of domestic and international tax issues while performing multiple mock tax cases, as well as how to correctly report the tax impact on a financial statement. During the mock case exercises, the students created their tax ideas and business planning strategies in a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation, and delivered their solutions to faculty members and alumni.

While the team had three weeks to pore over materials for the regional competition, at the national level they were given their case information on-site. To ensure they were ready to handle whatever was thrown their way, the team spent weeks leading up to the competition diving into more than 100 pages of pre-work, which covered complicated tax initiatives.

This type of preparation is what makes the competition an important forum for helping students prepare for careers in the accounting profession, said Lynn Mucenski-Keck, faculty advisor to the Fisher team.

“Its use of real business challenges in a true-to-life setting gives our students the opportunity to hone their communication, analytical, and research skills,” Mucenski-Keck said. “The team dynamic was extremely strong; the ability to include accounting, finance, and economics majors as student participants allowed the team to develop a tax and business solution addressing a variety of issues.

While Mucenski-Keck praised the team’s work ethic and drive, they, in turn, saw her guidance and coaching as central to their performance.

“We all felt as though Professor Mucenski-Keck helped us learn the pre-work material to the fullest of our ability,” said Agan ’18. “Because we spent so much time learning the material, we were able to take the information and apply it while solving the case.”

Once in Dallas, the team received their first challenge Friday evening, when they were tasked with preparing a written memo. They had only two hours to complete the memo.

“Timing was the biggest challenge that we faced,” said Alex DeRosa ’16, an honors student majoring in economics with an accounting minor. “We had to apply all of our knowledge in high-stress situations.”

The following day, the team had just a few hours to create their presentation and prepare to deliver it before a panel of judges. Even with the time crunch, Dr. Patricia Wollan, a Fisher faculty member who escorted the students to Dallas, said the team turned out a flawless presentation.

“I am sure the students’ level of preparation was the key to their success,” Wollan said. “Their confidence shone through during their presentation. It was one of the most polished I have ever seen.”

While team members felt confident in their performance, Stebbins ’18 said hearing the College’s name announced as the winner was surreal.

“There really is no way to describe the feeling of not only accomplishing this for our team and Professor Mucenski-Keck, but also to capitalize on an opportunity to put St. John Fisher College up there with the strongest accounting programs in the country,” he said.

Making the moment even more special was the excitement coming from one of the award dinner’s more notable attendees, Rochester’s own Abby Wambach. The famous Olympian delivered the dinner’s keynote speech, noting that her brother was a graduate of the College. When Fisher was announced as the first-place team, Wambach jumped up on stage to congratulate the students.

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Though winning the national competition will likely be a capstone moment in his academic career, DeRosa said that the skills he acquired over the course of the competition are invaluable.

“I’ve never been a fan of public speaking, but this competition forced me to practice and eventually improve to levels I never thought possible,” he said.

Stebbins agreed. “As a sophomore, this competition allowed me early exposure to tax concepts and the tax code that I otherwise would not have had an opportunity to see until taking a tax class,” he explained. “It was a good challenge to learn as much as I could in order to be able to contribute to the team when needed.”

Dr. Ray Shady, interim dean of the School of Business, which houses Fisher’s accounting program, said that programs such as the Deloitte competition allow the School to enhance student learning by offering real-world applications of coursework and close collaboration with faculty members.

“The best students will thrive and excel within a strong academic program, and that is exactly what we offer in accounting at St. John Fisher College,” Shady said. “But those students will shine when they are taught, coached, and mentored by smart, committed faculty. We are blessed at the School of Business to have all three: terrific students, strong programs, and faculty committed to student success.”