Category Archives: Study Abroad

Looking Back, Looking Forward – Part 2 of 2

Last week, I discussed some of my favorite moments from my first seven months in the MPA program. This week, I am looking ahead and getting excited for what’s to come in my final six months.

Future Plans: 

BUENOS-AIRES11. For the first summer session this year, I will be studying in Buenos Aires for five weeks as a part of the MPA Study Abroad program. I have never been to South America before and am appreciative of this opportunity to explore Argentina while still working on my degree with fellow MPAs and professors from both UT and Universidad de San Andrés.

graduation2. Of course I am looking forward to graduation, but not because it marks the end of assignments and exams (though for most it doesn’t even mark that milestone since many continue on for at least one summer session). Graduation is going to be a great time for MPAs to get together, relax, and celebrate. Orientation was probably the only other time we were all in the same room together and graduation will likely be our last. I can feel the nostalgia coming on already.

west_logo_dates3. Echoing #3 from my post last week, I will definitely be attending the West Austin Studio Tour in May. I think it’s pretty fantastic that between EAST and WEST, Austin has four formalized weekends each year to celebrate local artists.

UTtower4. Not a day goes by on campus during which I do not see or hear the bells of the magnificent UT Tower. So this semester, I am hoping to reserve a spot for a Tower Tour and check out the view from the top.

logo5.  I think it’s more than accidental that South by South West (SXSW, or “South By”) coincides with UT’s Spring Break. South By is a festival that kicked off in 1987 (meaning it’s been around longer than many current tMPAs have been alive) that includes music, film, and interactive components. I hear that the festival completely takes over the city. Though I probably won’t be in town the whole week, I would like to experience some of the madness.

I will keep you posted on how things turn out.

Figure Skating Scoring: A Crash Course

gracie sochiThe judging system of figure skating is always criticized when the world focuses its eyes on our sport at the Winter Olympics. This year, an article on NPR has already popped up about a judging scandal in the team event. The article essentially is saying that judges colluded backstage on the team event. Articles like this continue to arise, despite the fact the judging system for skating has been completely redefined and any and all opportunities for one judge to change the outcome of an event have been removed.

The fact articles like this keep popping up is most likely due to how confusing and complicated the system currently is. The best way to diffuse people thinking judges are these evil, malevolent beings that have all the control is to teach people how the system works. Due to my experience judging skating competitions, I understand the rules and how the changes impact the sport. So, let me shed a little light on things.

Skating always historically used the 6.0 judging system, where judges would award a score from 0.0 – 6.0 for each skaters technical and artistic mark. If you watched the greats like Michelle Kwan (my personal favorite), this is the scoring system you are used to. This judging system was very easy to understand (and therefore spectator friendly), but made the sport 100% subjective to the judges on the stand. Having skated and judged under this system, the 6.0 system is rich with history, but posed a lot of challenges to judges and skaters alike.

In 2002, with the judging scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics (read the article for more details), the judging system came under fire. What resulted was the new International Judging System (IJS). IJS is incredibly complicated, but is a lot more fair to the skaters and actually works in their benefit. The IJS system moves judging from being 100% subjective, to 60% subjective, 40% objective.

Here are the basics of the judging system to get you through the Olympics:

There are two panels on the ice: the judging panel and the technical panel.

The technical panel is responsible for assessing what the skaters do on the ice so the appropriate amount of base points can be assigned to the skater. Each jump has a base point value, and spins and footwork sequence have different levels with base points that skaters attain based on the level of difficulty performed. In the pursuit of assigning the correct amount of base points and properly assessing what the skater performed that day on the ice, the technical panel has the ability to watch videos of each and every element performed in slow motion to make sure they are fair. Three officials determine what the skaters do on the tech panel, and in the event technical specialists disagree with a call, they take a vote. This is what makes up the objective portion of the figure skaters score.

The judging panel is responsible with two tasks: 1) assessing the level of quality of the technical elements performed and 2) assigning the components marks, which are the marks based on the skaters skating skills, choreography, and overall program performance.

When a skater performs an element, the tech panel gives the base value, but the skater isn’t guaranteed the base value of points. The judges assign grades of execution (GOEs) to each element performed that range from a -3 to +3, and the grade of execution by the majority of judges is used as a factor that’s ultimately multiplied by the base value of the jump.

The best way to describe this is to use an example. Let’s say two different skaters perform a triple lutz jump. One skater falls on the jump, and the other lands the most beautiful jump you have ever seen. Ot doesn’t seem very fair that the two skaters receive the same base point value. The GOEs make it so skaters are rewarded (or penalized) for the quality of elements they perform.

The components score is made up of five different categories, with each category receiving a score from 0.00-10.00 from each judge. The categories include skating skills, transitions (how difficult and intricate the elements are weaved to each other and to the program music), performance and execution (how well the skater projects to the audience), choreography (how well he movements match the music and phrasing of the music), and interpretation (how well the skater feels and interprets the nuances of the music)

This is a very basic overview of how a skating program is judged. There are a lot of internal controls and other rules that are too complicated to get into for the purposes of this blog. Overall, this relatively new system does a much more comprehensive job at evaluating all aspects of a skater’s performance on the ice. The IJS system also gives a lot more feedback on the performance because you can see exactly where every point has come from, and where you lost points in a program.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask away!


Czech it Out- Cultural Excursions

In Old Town Square before our walking tour!

Yet another installment of my summer abroad experience!

While in the study abroad program, you have a cultural liaison who is affiliated with UT (usually a masters or PhD student) that is familiar with the culture and fluent in the language. Your liaison is responsible for organizing cultural events every week so you get a good taste of the culture in your short time abroad.

Our liaison was Jaro, a UT PhD student from Slovakia, and he did an excellent job organizing our events so we would get a feel for the distinctive culture in Prague.

The cultural event for our first week was an extensive walking tour of the city so we could get our bearings. This was very informal and a good way to start to get to know our fellow MPA students also in Prague. Prague is a city rich with history: stretching back from being the cultural center of the Holy Roman Empire under Emperor Charles IV, being invaded by Prussians, becoming the capital of Czechoslovakia, being invaded by Nazis, being taken over by communist powers at the end of WWII, to leading the Velvet Revolution to end the communist regime. Prague also is one of the most picturesque cities in the world with it beautiful baroque architecture that is everywhere you turn. The only unfortunate thing about the walking tour is that we found ourselves in the worst flood of the decade (and a nation-wide state of emergency) so some of the areas close to the Vltava river, including the famous Charles Bridge, were closed.

Jaro leading our tour in the Communist Museum

The next week, Jaro was our personal tour guide through the Prague Communist museum. Jaro shared his personal experience growing up in a communist country, and the experiences of his family during the communist regime. This is where the effect of Communism became really apparent, and it became impossible to ignore how often you saw its impact on the city throughout the rest of the trip.

Prague is a city famous for its jazz music. Some go as far to say it’s the best city next to New Orleans for jazz in the world. The city has many famous jazz clubs where all the American greats have performed out. Even Bill Clinton graced the citizens of Prague with a performance on the saxophone while he was here as US president. Jaro booked us a jazz river cruise for the night after our exam for Professor Kamas’ half of the course. I think he was so nice to us since we missed the river sights on our earlier cultural experiences due to flooding. We enjoyed the company of our fellow MPAs, Professor Kamas and his wife, wonderful jazz music, and the beautiful sights of the Prague waterfront.

Our last cultural experience was a visit to the opera. Prague is famous for its opera, and it was definitely a … hmmm, how do I say this…. cultural experience. So, it turns out opera is not my cup of tea, but it was still a wonderful experience and I can now say that I have attended an opera!


Czech it Out- Guided Weekend Excursion

This past summer, the Paris and Prague MPA Summer Programs offered a UT led cultural excursion for the first weekend of the program. The one we went on for the Prague program was fantastic, and it included visiting the following places:

(Warning, this blog post is mostly pictures, because they do such a better job at describing the places we got to visit)

Karlštejn Castle- This was the castle of Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor that brought Prague to cultural prominence under his reign. The castle was beautiful and located in the beautiful Czech country side



Pilsner Urquell Factory- Pilser Urquell is the preeminent beer of the Czech Republic, which is saying something because beer is a huge part of the Czech culture. From a manufacturing perspective, this factory was fascinating because only 23 people worked in the factory and they were able to produce enough beer to satisfy a nation of frequent beer consumers.



Plzen- This town is where US troops came to expel German troops from in WWII. In fact, there is a street called “Amerika” and a monument on the street saying “Thank you USA!” that thanks the US troops and General Patton for what they did for their country.


Graphite Mine- After spending the night in Plzen, we suited up and headed into the depths of a graphite mine. This was something we will never have the opportunity to see again. The saddest part is we probably will never get to see the equipment again either, which is a little devastating.




Czesky Krumlov- This town was the last stop on our weekend excursion, and was absolutely stunning, The weather was perfect, and the views superb. I could have stayed here all day and still not enjoyed enough of its beauty.





Return next week for Part 4 of Ally’s Czech It Out series!

Czech it Out – UT Classes Abroad

Visiting the Skoda manufacturing floor in our Safety Gear

As I said in my earlier blog, the MPA summer programs allow you to take two accounting elective courses in a foreign country: one led by UT faculty, and one led by faculty at the host university.

I’ve already discussed the Czech faculty I had the privilege of taking classes with, so now it’s time to talk about my UT faculty led course.

The course was split up between UT Professors Kamas and Koonce. Before I dive into the subject matter they taught, I would like to point out that these courses aren’t like any MPA courses you can take in Austin. Not only are they in a foreign country, but the faculty get to set their own curricula. This means that they get to lecture on whatever they are passionate about, and their passion definitely comes across in their teaching.

Professor Kamas led the first half of the course, and focused on managerial accounting and financial statement analysis. We discussed what considerations international firms take into account in order to manage their profits and strategy effectively. The course material really hit home because Professor Kamas used cases of international firms and brought in his own copious experience of running a business. Professor Kamas had a Big 4 partner come to the classroom and discuss the challenges of moving from the US to a foreign country with our class. We also enjoyed the luxury of seeing what we were learning in the classroom applied to an actual multinational company. We went on a company visit of Skoda (the largest car manufacturer in the Czech Republic), and learned about accounting and the strategy challenges of trying to expand internationally.

The second half of the course was led by Professor Koonce. To give you some background on her course material, Professor Koonce is the top experimental researcher in financial reporting according to the most recent BYU rankings of accounting research (go Professor Koonce!). She introduced us to experimental research in accounting by lecturing on the basics of judgment and decision making and how the concepts overlapped with accounting. This was probably the most fascinating class I have taken in my time in the MPA Program. We are lucky to have such wonderful faculty teaching us, but teaching is such a small part of some of their jobs. So much of their time is dedicated to research, and we really have no idea what is involved in this. Hearing about the basics of what our faculty are up to when they are not in the classroom was an unbelievable experience.

Click here to continue to Part 3 of Ally’s Czech It Out Adventures!