MPA Council: Best Decision of my MPA Career

One of my biggest passions in the MPA Program: MPA Council. Since the council is involved in so many areas of student life, it’s hard to fully describe it in a blog post. I’ll attempt to present a good overview of the group and if you have questions I haven’t answered, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments section.

What is MPA Council?

Before I describe the Council, I am going to describe the MPA Program the way I currently see it. The MPA Program is composed of 4 groups: students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Each of these groups have a lot to offer the program, and there will come a time you need help from one of these groups, and it pays to have a variety of contacts in each group to get things done.  One of the overall long term goals of MPA Council is to be a central body that facilitates communication between these four groups. I love diagrams, so I have drawn a diagram to illustrate this.  For example, if the MPA Program Office had a new idea, and wanted to gage student interest, it could talk to the Council and the Council could gain insight from a large number of students. The Council’s overall mission is to create a community within the MPA Program. It is commonly interpreted that this means the Council provides MPA students to get to know each other in a variety of settings. This is true, but more than that, the Council is about establishing a community within the four aspects of the program I described earlier. In other words, the Council hopes to synergize the unique and extremely proficient skill sets and capabilities of each of these groups and use them to ensure our program is the best in the nation.

MPA Council members at our boat party on Lake Austin

The council provides members with professional, academic, community service, and social events to participate in. Some of the events hosted this year include a boat party on Lake Austin, State of Accounting discussion with Dr. Lillian Mills, the Accounting Department’s Centennial Celebration with our lovely mascot Bevo, and a PhD panel (you can see pictures from our events here). Coming up we have Ethics Week, speakers for our distinguished speaker series, Faculty Appreciation Week.

Why did I join the Council?

I remember sitting at orientation listening to the professor panels, and professors saying how important it was to know your classmates for group cases and the importance of studying with classmates. I started freaking out, as I only know about 5 people on a speaking basis in the entire integrated class, and I was convinced I was going to fail everything. They talked about the Council at orientation, and I dove in so I could meet my fellow MPAs outside of the classroom. It was the best decision I have made in relation to my MPA degree. I have met so many people with distinct backgrounds and perspectives that I would never have been able to do in the classroom. It’s also provided me so many opportunities and resources within the MPA Program I don’t think I otherwise would have had.

What is my favorite part about the Council?

My personal favorite event of the Council is Member’s only Monday. One Monday a month, the Council provides its members with bagels, breakfast burritos, and coffee. It’s a come and go event, but it’s nice to sit in between classes with lovely MPAs and have a delicious free breakfast!

Welcome back, Longhorns!

BevoWelcome back, everyone! If you are new to the MPA program this year- congratulations and I hope you are excited for an amazing year! I hope everyone had a wonderful summer and the transition back into the swing of things isn’t proving to be too difficult. My summer was a fun one, but I am glad to be back at McCombs.

Over the summer I was informed of some fantastic news about UT. The UT Austin ALPFA Chapter received the Student Chapter Award for the Central Region! ALPFA is largest Latino association for business professionals and students with chapters nationwide. Every year they chose a student chapter from each region and this year, it was UT! I am increasingly humbled and honored to be a part of this school when I learn about all of the accomplishments and accolades that UT is constantly bringing in.

Another tidbit of exciting news this summer was the selection of the winners for the 2012 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards. This year, two McCombs professors were honorable recipients, Anitesh Barua and Steven Kachelmeier. I had the opportunity to take an MPA class with Professor Kachelmeier last semester and it is great to see a familiar professor receive this award! In the article, Professor Kachelmeier is quoted regarding the importance of passion in a teaching role saying, “If a teacher is not passionate about the subject matter, one can hardly expect students to feel otherwise.” Passion about the subject is something that I really value in a professor and if you are new to McCombs this year, you can certainly expect to see passion for their subject is key to McCombs professors.

TRANSCRIPT: Many Years From Now

Ironically, I was elected to deliver a commencement address just weeks after the MPA Council gave me the “Foot-in-Mouth” Award. (Ian Rathmell also spoke.)

I remember the first time I stepped foot onto the UT campus several years ago. I was so lost—literally. My roommate at the time was showing me around the campus. After several hours of walking around, we decided to head back to Jester, and I happily walked in the wrong direction. He quickly corrected me and, with a hint of exasperation, advised me, “Whenever you get lost, just look for the Tower to find your way home.” …to which I responded, “What Tower?”

He merely returned a look of frustration—one that we would both repeat many times while Greg Davis was offensive coordinator. (Nothing like a screen pass on 3rd and 20…)

This was an embarrassing and sobering moment for me—as I’m sure all of us had when we arrived at the University of Texas for the first time. I left high school knowing it all and ready to conquer the world, but realized quickly that I could not have even survived orientation on my own. August came around soon though, and, like all of us, I began to attend classes, lectures, and football games.

Over the past several years, we have been witnesses to many events in our world. We have witnessed the election of a new president—one we were finally able to vote. We have witnessed a credit collapse. We have witnessed a budget crisis. And yet, we knew that this was the world in which we were about to be unleashed in only a matter of years.

My own eyes slowly began to open. Suddenly the age-old promise of the future being ours seemed to be less of a promise and more of a threat.

In our classes, we learned about commerce, economics, and ethics. We learned about cultures, religions, and traditions. We learned about integrity, honesty, and freedom. We learned every two-letter word that could be played in a game of Words with Friends. We learned about principles to apply to a real world—a cold, rigid, and harsh world that was awaiting us.

Today we reach a crossing where we have the chance to mold and shape this world. If “what starts here changes the world,” then we have a daunting task and great expectations laid upon us. Yet, it is ours to embrace!

As we embark with our degrees today, it is important to consider what we are receiving. For what does a degree truly guarantee? Success? Happiness? Employment?

Our degrees are invaluable–our  quintessential defense. Our greatest safeguard is that we are able to read, write, and reason—the ability to create. It is a shield against manipulation and cajolery. It is our sword against evil and tyranny. It is our shofar to signal a just cause and to alert those who remain unarmed.

As we see the uncertainties that abound the world we enter, we know that we come from an outstanding university and will attain careers in influential roles. It is with this outlook that we know we will have the opportunity to shape the world for other students one day. And it is with this understanding that we are aware that we undertake great expectations. We sing “the eyes of Texas are upon you” frequently, but today, for the last time, it is being sung to us. We have the expectations that we, with what we have learned at the University of Texas, will continue to strive for the higher ideal to hopefully leave the world better for the next generation, as the past generation strived to leave it better for us.

Many years from now, we will look upon this day, not as an ending, but as a beginning of the time we were unleashed into the chaotic world we inherited. Many years from now, we will look upon this day as the start of our lives as true contributors to the communities around us, contributing in our thoughts, our words, and, most importantly, our actions. Many years from now, we will look upon this day as the moment in which we embarked upon a journey in which we examined the lessons of the past and sought to correct them as we emblazed on a new path. (Many years from now, we will look upon this day and wonder just how Angry Birds grew to be so popular…) Many years from now, we will look upon this day and recall the many ways each of us has individually shaped each others’ lives to give us the new perspective with which we approach our next challenges.

I have by no means cemented my destiny, but what is for certain is that I am no longer lost as I was graduating from high school years ago. What we have learned over the past five years has given us a clear sense of direction, and, in acting upon the lessons we learned, we, as a class, can be trusted to lead the world into the next era.

John Wooden once said, “Little things make big things happen.” And I’m a firm believer in that saying. All of our actions, no matter if seemingly small and inconsequential, cumulate and send the greater message to those around us. Thus, as we leave today, we go with confidence and a charge to continue to use our work to be helpful to everyone around us. These are the responsibilities that our education now endows us: that we actively set the example, using what we have learned from our experiences here, to ensure that the next generation inherits a paradise of integrity, trust, and freedom; that our contributions do matter; and that we have the opportunity, as a class together, to guarantee that the world will be ready to be inherited many years from now in better shape than we received it.

So I ask you: if what starts here truly changes the world, what are we waiting for?

*   *   *

The past several years have been amazing, and I am indebted and forever grateful to the faculty and staff at UT, especially those within the McCombs School of Business and MPA Program, and my peers who stood beside me during my best and worst hours. Thus, thank you, Austin, for five absolutely beautiful years, and may God’s face be able to shine upon the work of our hands forever!

The Lance Armstrong Scandal from an Accounting Perspective

The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced on Friday that it would be stripping Lance Armstrong’s 7 Tour de France titles from him, as well as permanently banning him from competitive cycling. I think this scandal is important to talk about in that it relates to our role as accountants.

You might be reading this thinking, “Does this scandal even relate to accounting?” The answer is yes, it absolutely does. The scandal in this issue is in part the results of the investigation, but mostly in how the investigation was conducted. The USADA used a number of procedures that were at best questionable and at most inherently illegal. We as accountants can learn from this scandal due to the fact that our role in society is very similar to that of the USADA. The USADA monitors US racers to ensure that bike races are fair and perfectly competitive. Auditors monitor organizations to ensure that the competition for-profits and shareholders are also fair and perfectly competitive. The difference between auditors and the USADA is what society expects of us and how we are socially reprimanded for unfair or unethical procedures.

This last statement may be a little strong, but let me frame it how I am seeing it. Armstrong was a retired cyclist when the case was brought against him. Any of the rulings wouldn’t make current cycling races fairer for riders. The USADA also brought charges against Armstrong that are over 17 years old, even though the organization has an 8 year limitation on these types of matters. The USADA seems to be changing its rules to get the results and publicity it wants while it preaches that everyone should be held to the same rules. According to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks who oversaw the case against Armstrong, “USADA’s conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives, such as politics or publicity.”

Now let’s pretend that instead of a cycling investigation, this was a public company’s audit. If something this negative was said by a U.S. District Judge in relation to how an audit procedure was conducted, the public would be outraged. There would be lawsuits and huge damages to be paid.  The accounting firm’s reputation may even be permanently tarnished. But because the USADA doesn’t affect the majority of people directly, most don’t care enough to hold the “watchdog” accountable for unethical actions.

As accountants, what we can learn from this scandal is that the most important thing is to be fair and objective. It is essential to follow proper and standard procedures and to not cater to things like publicity and politics. We are watchdogs, not bullies. We need to make sure that every action we take and every decision we make is done to ensure business is a fair game to be won, and companies that exceed our expectations are not punished for playing by the rules.

Final Thoughts: The Spelling Bee Story

The official word list for the Scripps National Spelling Bee is Merriam Webster's Third New International Unabridged Dictionary.

I never enjoy telling this story. I nearly used it as my commencement address several weeks ago, but I find it too embarrassing to say it aloud to that many people at once. It’s truly sad and out of the character that most people know me by today. It’s ironic that one of my greatest achievements is also one of my greatest failures and one of the few turning points in my life where my personality was changed permanently as a result.

People often ask me why I bring so much intensity when working on projects or on a team. They wonder why I feel it is necessary and not a burden to work on a valuation assignment until all hours of the night. It all stems from this experience.

It happened about a decade ago. When I was twelve, I muscled my way to the top three of the city bee. In the couple of weeks before the competition I realized the potential I had when I set my mind to actual studying. That June, I began studying again for the next bee in March. There would be no stopping me.

Sure enough, I busted my tail for months and qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee with the word photolysis. What followed was quite a spectacle. My name and face appeared on the front page of the newspaper, hundreds of people called my house to congratulate my parents and me (this was truly surreal—even the nurse who delivered me called my mom and dad), and I suddenly became a bit of a hero at school.

The fame was awesome. Overnight, people knew who I was, as if I had brought some legitimacy to nerd status. The cool kids definitely paid their respect. It was nice to walk up and down the hallways of Desert View Middle School with people saying hi and asking how I was doing. I relished this change, as I was now a true “spell-ebrity.”

In the meanwhile, I had three months and an expanded word list to learn. And I was ignoring it. Okay, I’ll say it: my preparation was atrocious, and I was about to pay.

In the experimental (at the time) written round, I missed the cut by a couple of words. I’ll never forget it either. The reporter from the El Paso Times interviewed me and asked me how I felt; I said, “Devastated.” My dad gave me a look, and he asked, “How can you feel ‘devastated’ when you didn’t even study?” I told him I’ll just come back next year.

I took a couple of weeks off and began to prepare for the next March. It would be my last year of eligibility, but I would be the first El Pasoan to compete in the national competition in consecutive years in quite a while. (El Paso actually has a pretty competitive bee, as it also incorporates southern New Mexico.) No big deal.

What happened next was nothing short of divine intervention.

That March I was in the position that I wanted to be in. I had cut out all the pretenders from the competition, and I was there, with experience, spelling words that were no longer in the Paideia, the distributed word list. In a position to win, I felt confident. Here I went; I stepped up to the podium to receive my word.

“Eiderdown.” Eiderdown? PERFECT! German origin, means the feathers in a pillow. And I proceeded to ask the usual questions…except in a cocky way to prove I knew the word. “German, right?” “Yes,” replied the pronouncer, Gary Warner.



Oh no! I didn’t say that! ….did I? I choked a bit. Surely I hadn’t just said that. The rules say I can’t take back letters, but I spell so slowly, there’s no way I actually said that.

“Let me start over.


Oh no! I did it again! It’s over. I couldn’t believe it. A mistake I never made because I spelled at the speed of dirt, I made twice, and now it was over. I spelled the word correctly on the third try, but it was too late. I exited the stage.

I finally knew what “devastated” felt like. I knew exactly how to spell that word, but 2003 was someone else’s turn. I had already had my shot and blown it.

That day, I learned that sometimes, you only have one opportunity to make your mark. When I was 13, I took my chance for granted. I swore that from then on, I would treat every opportunity as if it was the only one I would ever get, because I now knew that there were no guarantees at second chances.

Imagine: I missed a word that I knew how to spell. My trip to the national spelling bee was not only a feat but a failure. My preparation was poor, and I failed to reach my potential as a result. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying I would have won it all. But I could have at least advanced two more rounds with adequate preparation, and at that point, anything can happen.

And that is why I approach what I do in the manner that I do. I stay up at all hours of the night doing homework to make up for the hours that I neglected that new stack of words. I have one stint at UT, and there’s no going back in time.

I used to carry a binder with the saying “PREPARE like a Champion.” That’s because championships begin long before seasons start. They begin in the off-season, when there is no one else in the gym. Just you against yourself, shooting free throws and running laps.

I’ve always reminisced that life is a spelling bee: you compete against yourself. You get to see what you are made of.  And that is why you see me in McCombs, two weeks after graduation, finishing up some work still. Because there is nothing like giving your whole heart to something, and incessantly pursuing it—whatever it is you do. When you have the opportunity to do something well or leave your mark, approach it with your whole heart and your whole being. I thought I would have a second chance, but it turned out that fate had other plans. Thus, do not ever take opportunity for granted because you may never have it again.

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