'XPlore' program introduces KU students to big-city life

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While local internships are often seen as the standard introduction to life at accounting firms, a University of Kansas program has taken this notion a step further to properly introduce its students to professional life in some of the country's biggest markets.

Since its inception in 2006, the XPlore program, led by Lisa Ottinger, Master of Accounting (MAcc) Program director at the University of Kansas School of Business, provides students with tours of some of the nation's most prominent accounting firms and the cities in which they reside. Students in audit, tax and consulting are invited to tour firm offices in big cities and connect with staff members. Students are also encouraged to explore the host city as part of the program, in order to envision their professional lives there.

“I’m encouraging students to spread their wings early,” Ottinger stated. “Later in life you get a lot more encumbrances. I thought the XPlore program would be a great opportunity for them to check out the city, interview with firms and see if they can picture themselves in that particular market. You need to get a sense of whether you can do this or not. The office visits are wonderful, but it’s also important to have a little time to explore the city and imagine living there.”

Funded by the University of Kansas accounting department, the program's participants have previously visited firms in Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle. From Aug. 15-16, 2019, the XPlore program will tour the Manhattan headquarters of the Big Four accounting firms.

“Moving to New York always seemed like a dream more than a possibility," said Branson Tomlinson, a KU graduate and MAcc program participant, per a statement. "New York XPlore allowed me to believe that I could make a big move and my future was really up to me.”

When XPlore was first launched, KU's MAcc program had approximately 40 students and was “very Kansas City-oriented,” according to Ottinger. The program now features 175 participants and includes a working professional program both in Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas.

“Accountants may not be perceived as particularly high risk-takers,” Ottinger stated. “But over the last 15 years [that] we’ve been doing this, our student population has really changed. I think the internet has had a huge impact. They’re much more aware of things and more willing to get outside their comfort zone and take a risk. It’s gone way beyond what we would have expected.”

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