Each year, Bryant students gain valuable insights into the accounting profession and make important connections through the PwC Challenge competition. By working on real-world business scenarios that focus on the dynamic issues currently facing companies around the world, they gain a footing in the field that will serve them well beyond graduation.
The Challenge, sponsored by world-renowned professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been guided at Bryant by Professor of Accounting Michael Lynch, J.D., for the last 15 years. During that time it has demonstrated a proven track record of success. While the Competition doesn’t require a background in accounting, it introduces students to the fundamentals of the profession and gives them a better understanding of what it’s like to work as a public accountant.
“In the PwC Challenge, you're competing against Bryant’s best, learning from accomplished professionals, making important connections and seeing what real-life accounting is like,” says Lynch. “Whether you come in first, second, third, or even last you’ve gained an important advantage.”
“The Challenge helps you to realize that accounting is not just numbers and financial statements. It’s about using those numbers and statements for a larger purpose.”
This year’s participants, working in teams, had two weeks to develop an online sales strategy for the fictional appliance manufacturer Vune. Contained in their briefing was information about industry trends, an annual report for the company and a suggestion of some general areas on which to focus. From there, though, it was up to the teams to build their own plans of action.
“It’s all up to your team to figure it out, so the possibilities are endless and you can really make this project into whatever you want it to be,” says Joseph Chittum ’24. “It gave us free range to brainstorm and come up with all the different wild ideas that can help you develop an innovative solution.”
Kasey Thomas ’23 saw the competition as an ideal peek at the work she’ll be doing in the future. “These are the issues and projects we're going to be dealing with in our internships and jobs, so I think it's really important to gain that real world experience now,” she says. “And there's no better way to gain real world experience then to have to develop your own solutions and think outside the box.”
“Competing in the Challenge is one of the best things you can have on your resume. In every single one of my interviews, I was asked ‘what did you do in your case? What did you get out of it?’"
“Vune isn’t a real company, but the Challenge focuses on real problems that companies have,” states Quinn Vontell ’23. “The Challenge is as close to real as you can get in college.”
The Challenge helps students understand the thought process that goes into every business decision and exposes them to real business issues and considerations. “The Challenge helps you to realize that accounting is not just numbers and financial statements. It’s about using those numbers and statements for a larger purpose,” notes Chi Phi ’23. “Our case was not just about accounting, it also involved a combination of other fields like management, information systems and marketing.”
The competition also aids participants in honing their critical thinking, research and teamwork skills–and in demonstrating how capable they really are. “Competing in the Challenge is one of the best things you can have on your resume. In every single one of my interviews, I was asked ‘what did you do in your case? What did you get out of it?’ It helped me to get an internship with one company because they were really impressed with what I had done,” says Erica Barley ’22, whose team won last year’s challenge.
“Through the Challenge, you work on a project that would take an accounting firm a month or so, but you only have two weeks. When they see how much you can do in such a short time, they’ll realize how valuable you are,” she says. “When you have the chance to show them who you are and what you can do, they’ll be really impressed by that.”
“We were all there, in their position, once. And we all understand how important it is to learn from others’ firsthand experience and find mentors who can help you throughout your professional career.”
To support their efforts, each team was assigned an alumni mentor who works at PwC and a student “ambassador,” who has participated in the Challenge and can offer advice. “Our PwC mentor and ambassador were really helpful because they’ve been through all of this before,” says Emily Gustus ’23. “Their feedback helped us take all of the ideas we had and refine and strengthen them. It was actually during our first meeting with our ambassador that he encouraged us to start thinking bigger.”
“We were all there, in their position, once. And we all understand how important it is to learn from others’ firsthand experience and find mentors who can help you throughout your professional career,” says Mentor Manuela Duque ’19, CPA, now a Tax Associate at PwC. “The Challenge is a great opportunity for students to network and get to know people actually in the field.”
For Mentor Cameron Moniz ’19, CPA, now an Experienced Associate-Financial Markets with PwC, it was a chance to give back. “Your job, of course, is to try to help your team be successful in the Challenge,” he says. “But you’re also there to answer any questions they have about the path you took, or to offer advice. And you hope that they continue to ask you those questions, if they need to, even after the Challenge is over.”
Professor Lynch is also an invaluable asset for the students. The weekend before their final presentations, each team does a run through for Lynch, his wife and his former students now in the accounting field who offer feedback on everything from the students’ business attire to their PowerPoint presentations.
“Professor Lynch takes a real interest in his students and wants to help them succeed. He's really good at helping you discover what you're good at and helping you find and explore directions and opportunities you'll thrive in.”
“When I look back at the competition, one of the things I’m going to remember and use the most is our practice presentation,” says Jillian Vecchia ’23. “We received so much feedback, both positive and negative, but it was all to help us. I know we’re all going to take that criticism and apply it to our future projects and presentations.”
That attention to detail and dedication to student success, say students and alumni alike, is why Lynch is the perfect person to run the Challenge. “Professor Lynch takes a real interest in his students and wants to help them succeed,” says Francesca Carpano ’18, now a Tax Associate at PwC. “He's really good at helping you discover what you're good at and helping you find and explore directions and opportunities you'll thrive in.”
At the close of the competition, the teams present their proposals to actual PwC partners, and are judged on the depth of their research, the quality of their presentation and their ability to translate their newfound understanding into a real, actionable and effective plan. “It helps you really begin to understand why you're presenting,” reflects Ambassador Sophia Oakes ’22. “It's not just about having the right data or even the right solution– it’s the benefit that comes out of your recommendations. It’s about helping your audience understand the full impact of what you’re presenting and what they're going to be able to do with it.”
The partners also offer advice about what the students can work on in the future. “It’s kind of an amazing experience,” says Andrew LeBlanc ’23. “They are real professionals who do this on a high level so they know what works and what doesn’t. To be able to get their feedback as a student is really valuable.”
“I want Bryant students to have the opportunity to make their own decisions, to be able to work for any firm they want. Because having the skills you need to complete the Challenge means that you can work at any firm you want.”
“And,” he adds, “if they complement your work, it’s a great feeling. It really makes you think you really can do this for a career.”
“PWC obviously is such a well-respected company, and as accounting majors, we all hope and aspire to work somewhere like that someday,” says Peter Meade ’23. “So getting firsthand experience with actual partners from the company was a pretty great experience that I'm going to cherish for a while.”
PwC Challenge competitors often cite the competition as an important steppingstone for their careers. “I see myself as a facilitator, which means that I help unlock many doors for students and they can decide which one they want to go through,” says Lynch. “I want Bryant students to have the opportunity to make their own decisions, to be able to work for any firm they want. Because having the skills you need to complete the Challenge means that you can work at any firm you want.”
A common destination for competitors is PwC itself. Having had the opportunity to work with the members of the company, they realize it’s an ideal fit for them and their future aspirations. “The Challenge has been a partnership in every sense of the world. We strive to give Bryant students the opportunities and experience to excel,” says Robert Calabro ’88, a PwC partner and member of the Bryant Board of Trustees. “These are students that want to do their best. And all of us at PwC want to help them do their best.”
It’s a partnership that prepares great students for great futures. “When a student graduates from Bryant, they're ready to go from day one–and that's not true at every school. Success at Bryant translates to success at PWC, because those students are ready to excel,” says Calabro.