Master of Accounting: Rachel Knapp, University of Illinois (Gies)



Student name: Rachel Knapp

Business School : University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Gies College of Business

Describe yourself in 15 words: Professional mission-oriented problem solver.

End of studies class in Master: 2019.

Undergraduate and major school: Columbia University, Physics.

Current employer and job title: Higher Ground Education Inc., Vice President, Financial and Accounting Systems.

Describe your greatest achievement in your career so far: Before cloud-based accounting systems became the norm, I coded a custom online reporting package from scratch and linked it to our company’s accounting system. This made it possible to replace a multitude of static paper reports with real-time on-demand reports.

Describe your greatest achievement as a graduate student: One of the most difficult projects I have undertaken (with a team) was to analyze a large dataset using machine learning techniques and prepare a video presentation to a fictitious client. Tackling these difficult concepts, which were new to me so much that I could explain them to someone who knew nothing about them was very valuable and satisfying for me as a student. In the last six months of the program, I also passed all four parts of the CPA exam, scoring high enough to qualify for the Elijah Watt Sells Award.

What was the key factor that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? After more than a decade of professional accounting experience, I finally decided to pursue my CPA license. Without prerequisite courses in accounting, I knew I would need a substantial formal education. I explored dozens of ways to meet the requirements and quickly decided that since it would be a significant investment of time and money, I wouldn’t just find a way to tick all the boxes – I wanted one. educational experience that would be difficult, rigorous and worthy of being done on its own terms. Gies Business’s iMSA program stood out because I could see it was exactly what I wanted. It also had all the other features that I was looking for. It was an easy decision to make.

What made you choose a Masters in Accounting over an MBA? Due to the specific educational requirements of the CPA that I sought to meet in my home country, an MBA program would not have met my needs. I didn’t consider getting an MBA for this reason, but I still enjoy continuing to learn so that I can consider an MBA in the future.

What has been your favorite course and how has it helped you in your career? It’s hard to choose, but I would say management accounting (taught by Professor Gary Hecht). It was the first accounting course I have ever taken and it opened my eyes. As a self-taught accountant, I had discovered a lot on my own, but I learned a lot about the underlying principles and methods of management accounting. The course also gave me a better understanding of the management accounting function (as opposed to financial accounting) and its critical role in business success.

What role did your school play in helping you land your first job outside of the program? I haven’t changed employers since the start of the program, but I work for a growing company. My role has changed a number of times, while I was in the program and since. Completing the program, along with obtaining my CPA license, increased my level of confidence in my ability to take on different roles and take on new business challenges.

How did your classmates enhance the value of your business school experience? One of the things I liked about the iMSA program was the number of interactions I had with other students around the world. This surprised me, as I didn’t expect an online learning experience to be so interactive. I have also been fortunate to work with people from diverse backgrounds, including not only fellow accountants, but also lawyers, small business owners, retirees and recent graduates.

Who was your favorite teacher and how did this person enrich your learning? Again, hard to choose here given the stellar caliber of Gies’ faculty, but again I’ll have to turn to Professor Gary Hecht who has taught management accounting. He encouraged active participation in live lessons without ever letting them become a scrum.

What is your best advice to a candidate looking to enroll in your school’s master’s program? I think this program is ideal for someone who can bring previous professional experience, with the ambition to go further in their career.

What is your best memory of your master? My favorite experience was working on case studies with my first group. We would often meet on Zoom, discussing ideas and editing live until we had something we were proud of. We often continued to chat after the work was done, and I still count the members of this group as friends today.


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