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Diverse cohort brings international flavor to Wingate’s MAC program

by Luanne Williams

If accounting is the language of business, as billionaire investor Warren Buffett contends, a group of students in Wingate’s Master of Accounting program will soon find themselves trilingual. Already half of this year’s 14-member cohort hails from beyond the U.S.

“We have students from Lebanon, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland,” says Dr. Sergio Castello, dean of the Porter S. Byrum School of Business and himself a former international student. Although business courses have long been among the top choices for international students across the nation (student-recruitment service Study in the USA shows business and management majors second to engineering in popularity), Castello says having such a cosmopolitan cohort is new for Wingate’s MAC.

He says the program, which full-time students can complete in a calendar year and part-time in two years, always attracts some international student-athletes looking to fill out their fifth year of eligibility. But now he is also seeing more working professionals come back to the classroom.

“Since I was a kid, I was passionate about the mind behind the business field,” says Larissa Umutoni, a Waxhaw resident who has lived in North Carolina since 2018. “That’s why I pursued finance in college.”

Umutoni is originally from Rwanda, where she earned her bachelor’s degree and worked in a bank for five years. “Through my working experience I felt interested to learn more about taxation, auditing and performance measurement of assets,” Umutoni says. “I also want to have a CPA. That's why I chose the MAC program.”

Classmate Rima Bouajram was born in Lebanon and knew at age 11 that she wanted to be an accountant. She majored in accounting at Beirut Arab University in Lebanon, and then married an American and moved to the U.S. She now has three sons, ages 17, 13 and 7. Over the years, even though she was accepted to graduate schools twice, each time life interrupted. Now, 18 years after finishing her undergraduate degree, she says the time is right to pursue her master’s.

“I was looking for a small school with small classes that could provide me with the support I needed,” Bouajram says. “My search led me to Wingate.”

She says Wingate professors have helped her get on track after many years away from the classroom.

“They have continuously encouraged me and provided me with all the tools I needed,” Bouajram says. “Since I have a full-time job and a family to take care of, I chose to take the MAC part-time program. I am now moving on to the second year. I could not be any happier with my decision and achievement.”

Dr. Jimmy Watkins, who teaches Advanced Accounting and Advanced Auditing, isn’t surprised that the MAC program is drawing students from all over.

“I think that in many cases it has been word of mouth that has attracted interest from students and professionals who hail from outside the United States,” he says. “I know that at least one international student from each of the last two cohorts enrolled at Wingate because a relative of theirs had been through the program, had a good experience, and landed really good jobs upon graduation.

“Others understand the value of a master of accounting degree and have found that our program has experience in dealing with the complexities and cultural differences when working with international students.”

Hard workers

Scott Lail, who teaches Advanced Taxation of Entities and Property and Advanced Managerial Accounting, says that no matter where students earn their undergrad degrees, faculty members take time to make sure they have a clear understanding of accounting principles and practices before they advance.

“We make sure that we have not taken for granted that they had something that we cover in a Wingate undergraduate course in their undergraduate program,” Lail says. “We work with those that need assistance with filling any gaps in their knowledge base so that everyone is on the same level by the time they leave the program.”

On the flip side, Lail says professors encourage students who already have practical accounting experience to share their wisdom with those who haven’t. “We also discuss with them how they can apply approaches and information we cover in the program to their current position,” he says.

Faculty member Richard Cook says having international students makes the MAC courses more interesting during discussion periods.

“It provides a learning environment that has a wide range of viewpoints based on where the students grew up,” says Cook, who teaches Advanced Data Analytics with Accounting Applications. He says that language barriers can be an issue at times, especially with written assignments, and that he often points students to Wingate’s Academic Resource Center.

“I think the international students realize that education is the key to their potential success and are generally more focused than their American counterparts,” Cook says. “I don’t mean that they are better students, but that they are willing to work harder, when necessary, to get results.”

Hard work in the classroom and on the tennis court is familiar to MAC student Georgina Wood, a native of Australia who grew up in Switzerland and earned her business administration degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Since Embry-Riddle didn’t offer a master’s in accounting, she planned to seek one at another Florida school with the goal of becoming a CPA. Her plans changed when Covid-19 hit, since she was then granted an additional year of athletic eligibility. But there was one catch: being an international student, she was required to take in-person classes in order to retain her student visa.

“I found what I was looking for at Wingate,” Wood says. “The MAC program is in-person, CPA orientated, and is located in the second-largest banking center in the United States. I am very lucky to not only be able to play tennis on a competitive team, but also study accounting at a beautiful campus.”

Initially located in the Neu Building in Wingate, the MAC program moved to the University’s Ballantyne Campus this summer, shifting classes to Monday through Thursday evenings.

“Starting this semester, students can be in class in person or they can follow the class online synchronously,” Castello says. “And if you miss a class, you can go back to it and watch a recording.”

Full-time students take four courses in the fall, four in the spring and two in the summer. Part-time students can spread the program over two years, with two courses each spring and fall and one each summer. U.S. students can begin at any time. International students on an educational visa must start in the fall.

To learn more about Wingate's MAC program, visit this page.

Sept. 23, 2020