Students at Illini Precast company.
December 9, 2016
Misti Huedepohl

Once a student consulting for class credit himself, alum Ben Miller returns to Tippie to enlist students as consultants.

Six years ago, when Ben Miller, BBA10, MAc11, was a student in the Master of Accountancy (M.Ac.) program, he enrolled in the Advanced Auditing course. The course focuses on applying auditing skills by creating opportunities for students to execute what they’ve learned with real-life clients.

“I valued the real-world application from this course,” says Miller. “It is one thing to memorize or read about principles, rules, and theories, but it takes a more in-depth understanding of the knowledge to apply it.”

Today, Miller is controller for Illini Precast in Westchester, Ill. When the company experienced a surge of rapid growth, he felt his team could benefit from an outsider’s perspective.

“Many departments, including the accounting team, needed to update or create controls and procedures to handle the growth,” says Miller.

Miller connected with his past instructor, Kevin Den Adel, accounting lecturer, to propose the idea of Tippie students working with Illini Precast on a class project.

“I thought it would be a fun challenge that would give the students experience while assisting me in improving our controls,” he says.

Over the next several months, students reviewed the existing controls and procedures, identified weak areas, and suggested new or improved controls to help strengthen the organization.

Matt Folgers, a junior accounting major from Mokena, Ill., was assigned to review Illini Precast’s purchasing processes.

He says he found meeting with Miller extremely beneficial to better understand the company’s needs.

“It taught me just how cost-oriented the decision-making process is for management,” says Folgers. “Even when we agreed on the benefits of a change, it had to be compared relative to the cost, and alternatives that could potentially be a more beneficial use of resources.”

Students faced challenges during the class project, Folgers says.

“Justifying our recommendations to managers with years of industry experience, and a bit of bias against change, was sometimes an issue. We had to effectively convey how

the benefits of our recommendations would outweigh the initial implementation costs, and would be necessary for the organization to sustain operational growth.”

The students’ recommendations were seriously considered and several were imple­mented immediately and many continue to be, says Miller.

“I always find it helpful to have an outside party take an objective look at your work. They often identify things that you glaze over or just don’t notice anymore as you consider them either normal or fail to notice the impact that it could have,” he says.

This was the first time Den Adel has part­nered with an organization outside of Iowa City for a class project.

“In fact, this client was out of state and four hours away, so that created a few additional obstacles, but we worked to overcome them,” he says.

Since regular face-to- face meetings weren’t an option, students used email and video con­ferencing to meet with representatives of Illini Precast throughout the semester.

“Early in the semester, the class traveled to Illini Precast where students met directly with Ben and his team and we toured their production facility in Marseilles, Ill,” says Den Adel. “This trip was on the students’ personal time and I was pleased that almost the entire class was able to attend. I also greatly appreci­ate Ben’s willingness to partner with our students.”

A face-to-face meeting with students was important to Miller.

“I wanted the students to meet us and get an understanding of what we do at Illini Precast,” he says. “I feel there’s a big push to do things remotely, but there’s always something to gain from face-to-face interaction.”

Den Adel is open to partnering on consulting projects again in future semesters. If you have questions about the Advanced Auditing course or if your organization would like to work with M.Ac. students for a semester, please contact Kevin Den Adel at kevin-denadel@uiowa.edu.