In 2018, Kevin Huston, CPA, and his class of 15 students set out to accomplish the daunting task of completing an Integrated Report for Marian University. The finished product, a 52-page interactive report, is the first of its kind to be written entirely by students for an American university.
An Integrated Report is a concise communication about how an organization’s strategy, governance, performance and prospects, in the context of its external environment, create value over the short-, medium- and long-term.
INCPAS Vice President – Finance Jenny Norris, CPA, CGMA, has completed five Integrated Reports for the Society (incpas.org/ integratedreport) and was a resource for Huston and his students during the semester.
“Think of an Integrated Report as an annual report on steroids,” said Norris. “An annual report is a great recap of an organization’s past year, usually presenting operating and financial highlights and some pretty charts and graphs. An Integrated Report is all that and more, with a focus on the future outlook. It addresses an organization’s governance, strategy, business model, risks and opportunities. The whole report is built around the story of how your company creates value for its customers and other stakeholders.”
The idea for the class started with Kevin Huston, now retired tenured associate professor of accounting and finance at Marian University and member of the Indiana CPA Society for 35 years. He pioneered the new curriculum on Integrated Reporting with his ACC 480 class “Creating an Integrated Report.”
Huston said he was beginning to hear more about Integrated Reporting in meetings and articles. He also said Russ Kershaw influenced his decision to offer the Integrated Reporting class. Kershaw was hired as the second Dean for the Byrum School of Business at Marian University in 2010. He came with a vision for the faculty to emphasize working with organizations and their data. He wanted students to prepare reports for and make presentations to the stakeholders of the organizations.
Huston sought out his business faculty colleagues for recommendations on students who possessed strong research, writing and presentation skills. The class was by invitation only, so he set up individual 15-minute appointments with 25 students he was considering. In the end, he selected 15 and broke them into teams of three.
“This was the strongest classroom of students I’ve had in my 30 years at Marian,” Huston said. “It was a really enjoyable experience for me.”
Huston worked with leadership to get their buy-in to allow students access to the people and information necessary to complete the report. He provided guidance and leadership but let the students own the project and make the decisions about how to approach their assignment and what should be included.
At the beginning of the three-month semester, the students filled out their preferences for roles including project manager, quality assurance lead, governance lead and business model lead.
Marian University student TJ O’Neil was responsible for the presentation, as well as the strategy and resource allocation, and said the students worked incredibly hard over the course of the semester.
“Working on the Integrated Report was the first time I was trusted with my own project,” O’Neil said. “We set the parameters and structure, how it would be done and what the final product would look like. It was scary, but we had a classroom full of students hungry to succeed. So, we banded together, assigned everyone a leadership position and formed a management team to guide the project.”
Creating their Integrated Report included research, guest speakers, team delegation, information requests and meeting with stakeholders.
“Class started with general announcements from our project manager Brad Sprinkle, Professor Huston may have had a remark or two, then we split up into teams of three and worked on various sections of the report,” O’Neil explained. “Halfway through the class we would rotate to our next team. Most of the time was spent outside of class meeting with a board member, information specialist or a Marian stakeholder.”
Norris was working on the fifth INCPAS Integrated Report when Huston reached out to her to see if she would be a resource for the class.
“I shared tips on how to get started, how to decide what content should be included in the report and the struggles I faced in creating our initial report,” Norris said. “The students asked great questions and displayed professionalism all the way through the process. The fact that they were able to compile such a thorough integrated report in a short amount of time was impressive.”
Huston coordinated the opportunity for students to present their final report to the Marian Board of Trustees. It consisted of 52 pages, 30 charts and graphs, four interactive links and two videos, and the students explained how the Integrated Report adds value to the University. They described how it provides a measurable way to quantify Marian’s value creation.
“This process was multi-faceted as we had several rounds of practice presentations with the CFO and Business School Advisory Council that refined our focus,” O’Neil said. “The final presentation was an affirming process and many of the board members have continued to compliment the report long after our presentation. Many were energetic and hoping more reports like it would be written in the future.”
Brad Sprinkle, project manager of the Marian team, said having the chance to present their work in front of Marian’s highest board was stressful yet rewarding.
“In order to receive our desired recognition—our document on Marian’s website—it was essential for us to prove its professionalism, accuracy and how it added value to Marian,” Sprinkle said. “Since our presentation, our Integrated Report has been displayed on Marian’s front news page and the front page of the Byrum School of Business.”
The students learned several real-world skills during the process including leadership, project management, time management and communication. Students said this class helped reinvigorate their love of business. They also learned an incredible amount about Marian University in the process.
“We were able to practice professionalism among executive members both inside and outside of Marian University,” Sprinkle said. “We created information request documents, prepared interview outlines and entered each interview ready to have an informative and productive meeting. In addition, each member of the group had both a leadership role and a small group role. Communication is certainly my most improved skill.”
In the Integrated Report itself, the students stated:
“The Integrated Reporting team believes there is a future in Integrated Reporting and hopes the report can pioneer the push for universities in the United States to use the Integrated Reporting framework and show how universities can build and preserve value. Since Integrated Reporting is principles-based instead of standardbased, there is more leeway regarding preparation of the report. The Integrated Reporting team used this framework to design a report that shows value to Marian’s stakeholders. The Project Management team had the responsibility of determining which matters and stakeholders were material for this report, per the established definition provided by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).”
Even though the class ended in December 2018, the students from ACC 480 continued their passion for their Integrated Report. Huston was invited to speak at the INCPAS Educators Conference in May, and he asked his students to join him in the presentation and share what they learned.
INCPAS Director – Diversity & Outreach Ali Paul, CAE, helped plan the conference.
“From the very first interaction with the Marian team, I was impressed,” Paul said. “Although the class was over, the team happily jumped on conference calls to discuss the presentation and our expectations. This session was a highlight of the Educators Conference, and their passion for this project inspired the attendees to think differently about course development and how they can engage students in extremely relevant topics within the CPA profession.”
The week after the Educators Conference, Huston was recognized for his dedication to the CPA profession with the INCPAS Innovation Award at CPA Celebration on May 10.
“Seeing Professor Huston accept the Innovation Award at the CPA Celebration was amazing,” said student Mackenzie Dailey. “I would have never expected a project completed in college to make such an impact on the CPA profession. It has been an honor to have Professor Huston as an academic adviser the past five years, and I think this award really puts the cherry on top of an incredible career.”
Several of Huston’s students attended the celebration and were invited to stand for their accomplishment.
“For the entirety of the project, Professor Huston has refused to stand in the spotlight,” O’ Neil said. “But he had the original vision and brought together the team that made it happen. It was great to be able to celebrate this innovative class and his success as an educator, and he will be dearly missed as he enters partial retirement.”
2018–19 INTEGRATED REPORTING TEAM
Timothy Annee ‘21
Michael Blankman ‘18
Mackenzie Dailey ‘19
Bailee Enlow ‘20
Madeline Frost ‘21
Austin Ginther ‘19
Sam Guymon ‘21
Emma Harpring ‘20 (Content Editor)
Andrew Harrison ‘19 (Quality Assurance Lead)
Kevin Huston, CPA
Rachel Kassing ‘21
Mariana Lovera ‘19
Brenna Malatestinic ‘19 (Visual Editor)
TJ O’Neil ‘20 (Presentation Lead)
Solo Smith ‘19
Brad Sprinkle ‘21 (Project Manager)
View sample pages from the report.