More than 40 firms and 200 accounting students attend the first ever virtual Cal Poly Accounting Club Symposium.

By Christina Arthur 

Once a year, the Cal Poly Accounting Club (CPAC) puts on its CPAC Fall Symposium, a networking event that provides accounting students with opportunities to connect with public accounting firms, industry companies, and government agencies in a social setting before fall interviews. Being Cal Poly’s largest accounting career fair of the year, the event is a way for students to meet professionals and learn more about their career options. 

According to accounting senior and CPAC Vice President of Events Michelle Henderson, the main purpose of the Fall Symposium is for accounting students to talk with different firms to help them decide where to apply for internships. “Usually, the applications are sent almost directly after the career fair, either within that weekend or after,” she said. “So, it’s kind of of a kickstart to the application process.”

This year, things had to be done a little differently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, switching the usually in-person event to a virtual one on Zoom, which was a challenge that CPAC learned to overcome. “With converting it to a virtual space, everything had to change,” Henderson said.

In addition to crucial planning and execution logistics, she explained how even marketing the event became a challenge. In previous years, CPAC would promote Fall Symposium through in-person efforts such as boothing in the OCOB breezeway and classroom visits. “We had to try to do online classroom visits this time, which is definitely different,” she said.

Henderson stated that she believes the biggest challenge was learning how to adapt and be willing to change things constantly. She emphasized that trial and error was one of the main components of transitioning to a virtual event. “There are so many different versions of this event that have come to the table and have been taken back off,” she said. “You just have to be really flexible.” 

This caused the team to be willing to communicate with the firms more than usual, Henderson added. “We’ve been more comfortable with just calling the firms to talk about logistics, and it’s made us learn to understand the event on a deeper level so that we can explain it to someone else.”

“We’ve been more comfortable with just calling the firms to talk about logistics. Planning it virtually made us learn to understand the event on a deeper level so that we can explain it to someone else.”

Michelle Henderson, CPAC Vice President of Events

Accounting senior and CPAC’s Fall Symposium committee member Lesly Ruiz has the position of Venue and Logistics and dealt firsthand with converting this large event into a virtual space. She said that many of the team’s ideas circled around the question of “How do we make this as similar to what we do in person?” 

With the Fall Symposium being an annual event, one element that Ruiz said she felt was missing was the ability to rely on previous years to figure out how to make the event run smoothly. “This [virtual format] is just something that we’ve never planned before,” she said. “For Fall Symposium, we were always able to rely on the year before, but this year is so different, so we didn’t really have that to go off of.”

Instead of simply focusing on overcoming the challenge of planning the event virtually, the team tried to think of ways that having an online setting might give them some type of advantage, Ruiz added. An example she gave is the component of allowing students to pre-schedule meetings with the recruiters, in replacement of physically walking up to a booth in person. “I think more than anything, this gives the students more secured time with the firms they want to talk to,” she said.

Ruiz emphasized that overall, teamwork was a key tool in making the virtual event happen. “Everyone on the committee has put so much work into this,” she said, “and that’s how I think we made such a quality event through an online setting.”

Both Henderson and Ruiz discussed how one of the most rewarding parts about the experience was learning to work together as a committee. They both shared how important it was for them to be put in a group of people who all work so differently but are able to achieve things together in a successful way. 

“We all genuinely care about what we’re doing, and I’ve definitely learned that is the best way to have a good team,” Henderson said. “It reminds me, for my future career, to make sure I genuinely care about what I’m doing and to especially remember that when I’m working with a team.”

Another factor that kept Ruiz feeling confident in CPAC’s ability to put on a successful virtual event was the standard of Cal Poly’s reputation. “We’re Cal Poly students, we get so many recruiters, a lot of companies really value us in different ways,” she said, “so, for us to be putting on an event for them to come to, and putting so much time and money into it, we really had to make something good.”

“Everybody is looking for folks to recruit. We want to make sure that we’re still connecting with the students no matter what.”

Rose Martinez, Moss Adams Regional Campus Recruiting Senior Manager

Not only was the shift to a virtual setting an adaptation for the members of CPAC and the 200 students attending, but the recruiters from more than 40 firms who participated in the event had to adjust as well. Regional Campus Recruiting Senior Manager Rose Martinez of the firm Moss Adams said that despite the drastic difference of this year’s Fall Symposium, the goals were still the same. “Everybody is looking for folks to recruit,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re still connecting with the students no matter what.”

Martinez said that her firm looks forward to coming to this event each year because they believe Cal Poly truly prepares the accounting students through the program itself, the faculty, and CPAC. “I think the events that CPAC puts on really helps the students,” she said. “By the time Fall Symposium rolls around, they’re always super polished, their grades always look good, and they have great communication skills. They understand that firms like us are looking for the well-rounded student.”

Martinez added that another thing she is always impressed by each year is how the accounting students get involved so early in their college careers. “I come to these events and I’m meeting freshmen and sophomores,” she said. “It’s so amazing, because the earlier we talk to them, the better.”

Associate of Campus Recruiting Jennifer Stoch of global network KPMG said that they have been recruiting at Cal Poly for many years. “I enjoy every student I meet on Cal Poly’s campus as they all show determination and passion for finding a career in Audit, Tax or Advisory,” she said. 

She stated that through attending the Fall Symposium year after year, it’s clear to her that the students have a Learn by Doing mentality, which is also demonstrated as they start their careers.