Maria Turner
Thursday, December 12, 2019
Lynn Davy

When Maria Rydberg Turner (BBA86) graduated with an accounting degree from Tippie, her first job required data crunching with a pencil, 14-column work papers, and an HP-12C calculator. If she needed a computer, she had to wait her turn to use one of two desktop computers in her division.

Today, she’s an accounting executive who uses data mining and blockchain strategy, among other technology tools, to help her clients optimize profitability. She’s bringing her expertise back to Tippie in an effort to prepare the next generation of accountants for an industry that today is dominated by computer-generated data.

“Big data and programming tools are at the heart of business today and this will only become more prevalent in the future,” says Turner.

“Tippie graduates need to be equipped to analyze large data sets. Learning how to manipulate computer-generated data at the undergraduate level will prepare students for real-world situations and put them in a competitive position for post-graduation employment.”

Turner is the managing director of AArete’s Chicago office and a member of the Professional Accounting Council. She is working with Accounting DEO Daniel Collins and Chaired Professor Ramji Balakrishnan to build a cutting-edge technology training and assessment program at Tippie with an eye towards duplicating the success of the department’s Accounting Writing Program, which has become a source of distinction for the college.

The writing program requires accounting students to improve their writing skills through regular assignments that are embedded within each required course.

These writing assignments teach students to effectively communicate in the workplace, whether they are writing a memo, a client letter, or an analysis paper.

“This exceptional writing program has been recognized as a model for the accounting academic community,” says Turner. “Our idea is to do the same thing with technology; to integrate technology education into the curriculum to the point where it distinguishes Tippie students from other business school graduates.”

It’s also important to keep on top of accounting technology trends in order to fulfill requirements set by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), whose assurance of learning standards dictate the incorporation of technology learning throughout business school curriculum, says Collins. Turner presented information about the technology project, and how it matches up with the AACSB’s business education goals, to the Professional Accounting Council at its April 2019 meeting in Iowa City.

“The department has already made commendable efforts to integrate and embed technology applications and data analysis throughout the curriculum, including the use of databases and visualization software,” says Collins.

“But we still want to do more, and Maria is helping us to elevate these technology goals to the next level.”

To test students’ knowledge of accounting technology, Turner is sharing an assessment platform that AArete uses when it is considering a job candidate. This computerized technical assessment tests a candidate’s ability to use Excel spreadsheets to manipulate complex data. Turner says that AArete has found that use of the assessment helps enhance the overall performance of the firm and improves employee morale and retention.

“The assessment tests candidates’ ability to build pivot tables, charts and graphs from large data sets,” says Turner. “It is meant to mimic real-world situations. The focus is on getting the correct answer within a reasonable amount of time.”

At the Professional Accounting Council meeting in the spring, three current undergraduate accounting students described their experience using the technical assessment. All three said they found the test helpful in identifying technical strengths and weaknesses.

Over the course of the next academic year, the Department of Accounting will expand the technical assessment and add additional modules, including advanced Excel skills, Tableau and visualization tools, and other new technologies.

“The University of Iowa, Maria, and AArete have a lot in common—always striving to attain the highest of standards,” says Loren Trimble (BBA86), AArete CEO and managing director. “The recent integration of technology and data analytics throughout the curriculum is exemplary of Tippie’s excellence.”

Turner is eager to work with her alma mater to improve its curriculum. She and her family have a long history with the UI: two uncles, three cousins, a brother, and her daughter are all members of the Hawkeye family. Turner’s daughter, Marissa, graduated from Tippie in 2017 with a BBA in business analytics and finance, along with a certificate in risk management and insurance.

“I am a firm believer in never forgetting where you came from,” says Turner. “Much of where I am today is the result of a very strong work ethic coupled with the great education I received at the University of Iowa. I owe a lot to the university and Tippie. It’s now my turn to give back in order to ensure that current and future students also benefit from a great education.”