The regional conference
Bridging the opportunity gap for black professionals in accounting, finance and related business professions—that is the goal of the National Association of Black Accountants. And WMU’s recently renewed NABA student chapter is doing just that by providing valuable experiential learning opportunities, academic support, and a safe space for all students.
This fall, 19 members attended NABA’s Regional Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, participating in professional development sessions, mock interviews, a career expo and interviews for internships and full-time opportunities.
“The NABA regional conference was one of the best experiences I have had through the Haworth College of Business,” says senior Andrew Miller. “The thing that stood out to me the most was how the organization truly practices its beliefs. ‘Lifting as we climb’ is not just a catchy phrase to draw people in. I have never felt so immediately welcomed by a professional organization. Every person at this conference was approachable. Every person was there to add value to themselves and everyone around them. There was no sense of competition or elitism. The concept of diversity was truly embraced. I never felt out of place.”
Of the 19 students who attended, nine have received internship and full-time offers of employment from firms they connected with at the conference.
“Imagine having a table with individuals who all have diverse mindsets and skill sets, that is what exists within our chapter here at Western,” says senior and NABA Treasurer Christopher Bailey. “Having this within our registered student organization reminds me that there is no issue that we can’t tackle together, and it creates a family. We are there for each other throughout the entire journey.”
That journey is critical. “The opportunity gap is real,” says Bailey. “I am personally committed to advocating for diversity and inclusion in the accounting field. Studies have shown that the percentage of African Americans in the accounting field has steadily declined throughout the past few years. With this in mind, having an active NABA chapter and providing our members with opportunities is one of the most effective ways, from an on-campus standpoint, to help bridge the gap within our profession.”
The NABA chapter offers not only professional development and experiential learning opportunities but support in the form of tutoring and social interaction as well. “I have benefited academically from NABA through the study sessions with members who take the same classes together,” says junior and NABA Secretary Kayce-Ann White. “The connections I have made at NABA meetings through different social events increased my self-esteem and confidence level.”
The organization’s benefits are a big part of why Dr. Ola Smith, chair of the Department of Accountancy, wanted to renew interest in having NABA as a registered student organization. “For me, NABA is critical to promoting accountancy and finance to a new generation of African American students and to retaining talented students in our discipline.” Smith was herself a member of NABA as a student and professional and had also heard from many WMU alumni about the benefits the organization provided in the past.
One of the alumni that Smith was in contact with was co-founder of the original NABA WMU student chapter, Kevin Carter, B.B.A.’89. “In 1987, Michael Westbrook and I were aware of other student chapters at Michigan universities as well as the professional chapter of NABA in Detroit,” says Carter. “The Detroit professional chapter members visited other campuses where NABA student members were benefitting from the association and networking opportunities. Michael and I decided that WMU African American students were being unrepresented and decided to do something about it. With the support of Dr. James (Jamie) Patrick Forrest, associate professor of accountancy, President Diether Haenicke, and the Detroit professional chapter of NABA, we were able to establish a charter on WMU’s campus.”
The chapter established in 1987 started with 20 students from each area of the Haworth College of Business. Student conventions, visiting professionals, and other events helped members gain internships and full-time offers. “It warms my heart and makes me proud that this organization still lives on today at WMU and is doing great things,” says Carter.
Smith and senior Spencer Robertson, president of today’s NABA, had a vision for the organization as one that would encourage and challenge students in the best possible ways. “We are currently in the growth stage,” says Robertson. “I see our organization being chartered as an official chapter under the Detroit chapter of NABA in the near future. Getting the chapter back up and running has come with its fair share of challenges; however, the rewards are worth it. I give credit to my fellow executive board members, our faculty advisor Dr. Smith and Jamie Long, administrative assistant in the Department of Accountancy. Without their help and support, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve a successful fall semester and get ready for the conference. I also would like to give credit to every single one of our members. They are the ones who contribute to the newfound success of our organization. Our members are the backbone of the organization, and we must continue to meet their needs to ensure that the organization remains relevant.”
Students are excited for what the future holds. “NABA is open to everyone. I understand the name can be deceiving, but it is truly about diversity,” says Miller. “The opportunities presented are incredible, and the relationships have the potential to run so much deeper than casual connections. I encourage students and alumni to get involved.”
Several WMU NABA members received scholarships at the regional conference, with WMU students claiming the largest proportion of total scholarships. The funds will help defray educational expenses, and all recipients found the awards both humbling and exciting.
- Spencer Robertson, president of NABA: $1,000 scholarship from the NABA Regional Conference
- Kayce-Ann White, secretary of NABA: $1,000 scholarship from Walgreens
- Christopher Bailey, treasurer of NABA: $1,000 scholarship from Ernst & Young
“Receiving a scholarship will enable me to continue my education and help me achieve my goals and aspirations,” says Robertson. “I view this scholarship as a great investment not only in me but also in our NABA chapter. As a result of receiving this scholarship, I can continue to put my best foot forward in ensuring that the needs of our members are being met.”