Signs mark the entrance: Production Area, Authorized Personnel Only. Inside, observers stand behind a line of caution tape, taking notes intently. In front of them a rumbling machine shuffles orange, green, and yellow balls along conveyor belts, through tubes, and down ramps.
Mo, the machine operator, keeps things moving and picks out an orange ball, tossing it to the tour guide.
“Are there logs kept of the orange balls when you throw them away?” asks an onlooker.
“I don’t keep logs of things; I’m just the PR guy,” chuckles the guide as he pockets the rejected orange sphere.
The accounting students attempt to conceal their laughter as they record the statement made by their reflector-vest-and-hard-hat-clad professor, Bill Heninger. Their class is auditing a fictitious manufacturing company, set up in the Tanner Building by Professors Heninger and Steve Glover.
The hands-on lesson combines Heninger’s advanced information systems class and Glover’s advanced financial statement auditing class to clarify abstract concepts.
“We’re trying to understand the processes and controls of a company to see where there are weaknesses,” says Tanner Lamb, a MAcc student from Orem. “Sometimes weaknesses allow for fraud or lead to inaccuracies in accounting, and we want to prevent that.”
While the company exists for only a few hours, Heninger says Lamb and the other students go through a rather lifelike auditing simulation. The students receive financial statements and background information from the fictitious company and then participate in a factory walk-through, where they observe the manufacturing floor and interview employees played by accounting professors. To follow up, they create a detailed outline of each of the company’s processes and corresponding controls and give recommendations for preventing inaccurate accounting.
Problems that have been planted in the processes and controls—such as a broken counting device, imprecise packaging methods, and opportunities for employee fraud—keep the students on their toes.
“We feel like there may be some shady practices,” said Nick Guest, a MAcc student from Logan, Utah, after his group interviewed professor Doug Prawitt, who played a machine operator named C. J. “We don’t know what they do with those orange balls removed from the production line. And we were concerned when we found out that C. J. and the CEO are brothers.”
Glover says he began teaching the interactive simulation five years ago when PricewaterhouseCoopers donated the ball-sorting machine, a tool the company had used to train its employees. Over the years he and other accounting professors have played various roles, donning wigs, work boots, hard hats, and even fake teeth to complete their performances.
While Glover and his colleagues are not winning any Tony Awards for their role-playing, he says students and professors alike enjoy the opportunity to bring auditing to life.
“Obviously it’s a controlled environment, but the hands-on experience is very valuable,” Lamb says. “The interview process, looking at a machine, and walking through the company helped me see how that whole procedure actually works. You learn things in the classroom, but applying them like this really helps them become solid.”