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SIU student team advances to national business competition, after besting top schools in regionals

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Russell Bailey
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University Communications and Marketing
Members of SIU’s 2022-23 Deloitte FanTAXtic team are (from left) Lexie Lingle, Ben Morgan, Jayda Smith, Matthew Carrazco and Mackenzie Piazza.

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A Southern Illinois University Carbondale business student team is heading for a national competition on business solutions, after taking top honors in the regional round where the Salukis bested two of the nation’s top finishers from the past two years. Making the feat even more remarkable is the fact that this is the first time SIU has participated in the Deloitte FanTAXtic Case Competition, which gives students a realistic business challenge and asks them to present solutions that address business and tax implications.

Across the country hundreds of students from more than 40 colleges and universities participated in eight regional competitions, sponsored by Deloitte Tax LLP, with the top two teams from each region advancing. SIU was a Region 5 winner and surpassed competition that included the 2020 national winner, Truman State University, Baylor University and other strong competitors. The University of Northern Iowa, the national contest runner-up in 2021, is the other university advancing to the nationals from Region 5.

Saluki team members are:

  • Mackenzie Piazza, a senior accounting and finance major from Normal, Illinois.
  • Matthew Carrazco, a junior accounting major from Des Plaines, Illinois.
  • Lexie Lingle, a sophomore accounting major from Anna, Illinois.
  • Jayda Smith, a sophomore accounting major from Marion, Illinois.
  • Ben Morgan, a freshman finance major from Kankakee, Illinois.

Tim Hurley, accounting clinical assistant professor, serves as the team’s faculty adviser.

Piazza said she was excited to join the team competition as soon as she heard about it.

“Deloitte is one of the highest revenue-earning professional services firms in the world,” she said, “and I wanted to be a part of showing them that SIU has high-achieving students that they would benefit from recruiting to their company.”

She also wanted to prove to herself and everyone that SIU has what it takes to compete against top schools from around the country. She and her teammates believe they did just that.

Taking on a true-to-life challenge
The contest offers experiential learning that complements the students’ classroom instruction to help prepare the next generation of talent for a career in business and tax, Hurley said, as it provides students with an opportunity to solve a complex, real-world tax issue. The contest’s interactive format includes case simulation, role playing and presentations that provide students with insights and perspectives on challenges facing the profession today, future trends and the changing business tax marketplace. Deloitte Tax LLP professionals, managers and partners offer the students support and guidance during the competition and pose as the clients.

Each university student group was given a specific case to handle, a “client” who owns a business and wants to start a new, separate venture. To fund the startup, the owner could sell one of their three investments: two different types of stocks or federal I bonds. Which option would provide the lowest overall tax liability based on the client’s personal situation and existing business income? What type of business entity should the client then form, based on tax and other business considerations in light of financial projections the client provided? Those were the questions the SIU team had to consider and then present detailed recommendations, along with the data to back up their position.

The regional Zoom competition late last month required competitors to create a PowerPoint illustrating their recommendation, make an oral presentation and then answer questions from the judges. Hurley said the contest helps students enhance their problem-solving, teamwork and public speaking skills and provides a valuable opportunity for them to see what a career in the tax field looks like.

Piazza knew that in preparing for the contest, the tax-focused research and work making tax decisions like those made in real businesses, running the numbers and proving the validity of recommendations and other aspects of the competition would be similar to what she’ll encounter in her accounting career, and that’s invaluable experience.

“It was all new to me when we started getting ready for this competition, but I just tried to apply what I had learned in the class I’m taking this year and it worked,” Carrazco said.

Hard work and many hours involved
Lingle said the contest presented a unique chance to test her abilities, do research and discover strengths while learning more about taxes in general and working in unison with other SIU business students.

The Saluki team spent 5-7 hours weekly researching the Internal Revenue Code and calculating the tax liabilities of various decisions that the “client” was considering, Piazza said. After attending regular accounting and business classes, they met to “take a deep dive into tax issues that many entrepreneurial individuals and successful businesses have to consider.”

“We spent lots of time working on our own, meeting at the library and practicing through Zoom,” Lingle said. She said although it was hard work and time-consuming with much trial and error, it was a lot of fun as well.

“Each team member worked very hard to complete their parts and help the other group members as needed,” she said.

Lingle and Smith were together when the results were announced, and they were pleasantly surprised and very excited. “I am so proud of all the hard work from my teammates,” Lingle said. “We worked very well as a group and were easily able to display our skills on this project.”

Piazza agreed, saying that after spending so much time researching and assembling the tax slide deck, followed by multiple hours of practicing the presentation leading up to the day of the competition, “it felt like a great weight was lifted off our shoulders and all of our hard work had paid off. It was also very exciting to know that we performed better than some of the top accounting programs in the nation to beat them and earn a spot to move on.”

Hurley said the team’s work and dedication is most impressive.

He noted that while he gave the team pointers and general information about the contest, they did all of the preparation and actual competition work by themselves. Moreover, they pulled off the win despite the fact that just two of the students have had an actual tax class at this point in their college careers, although they do have other business class experience, he said.

“These students are very busy, not only with classes and schoolwork but also with work and other extracurricular activities,” Hurley said. “They are motivated, goal-oriented professionals who worked hard to win this competition. It was all them. That’s what makes it even more impressive.”

Benna Williams, School of Accountancy program coordinator and associate lecturer and CPA, said the students represented their university well.

“I am so very proud of our students for their hard work and dedication to this competition,” she said, “and I’m thankful to Professor Hurley for leading the team to such a great accomplishment and opportunity.”

Future benefits
Having the win will look “amazing” on her resume, Smith said. “I think employers will really be impressed.”

Smith said thanks to hard work and what she’s learned at SIU, she’s already served an internship with Hudgens and Meyer LLC in Marion and locked in another internship for winter and summer 2024 with the St. Louis office of Grant Thornton LLC. Coupled with the competition win, she feels she’s got a great jumpstart on her accounting career, thanks to her SIU experience and education.

Now, the students are already hard at work preparing for the FanTAXtic competition, Jan. 20-22, 2023, at Deloitte University in Westlake, Texas. SIU will take on 15 competitors in the in-person competition sponsored by Deloitte Tax LLP with support from the Deloitte Foundation.

“Going into the national competition, we are excited to continue learning and facing the challenges as a team,” Piazza said, noting that the teammates have become great friends, so it means even more to collaborate on analyzing difficult tax situations. “We are excited to continue proving that Salukis can compete with the top accounting programs in the nation.”

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