WEST PLAINS, Mo. – Allie Howell thought she knew what she wanted to do with her life. She would complete an entrepreneurship degree at Missouri State University-West Plains and start her own business.
Then came a class in accounting and a summer internship at Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative in West Plains. Now the 2016 graduate of West Plains High School is pursuing a second degree in accounting and planning on possibly becoming a certified public accountant in the future.
“I started out wanting to be an entrepreneur and owning my own business. Then I took my first accounting class and liked it,” she said. “I feel like I’m a very organized person. The little details matter. In accounting, everything has its place, and what I enjoy is putting everything in its place.”
Introduction to Financial Accounting (ACC 201) is a requirement for the Associate of Applied Science in Business-Entrepreneurship degree. In this class, Howell learned that you don’t have to like math to like accounting.
“Dasha Russell really opened my eyes,” Howell said of her instructor. “She talked about not being a math person, and I’m not a math person, but she still loves accounting. I feel like we’re in the same boat. It’s something we both enjoy doing without being math majors.
Howell learns about internship opportunity through Blackboard
In spring 2018, Russell posted information about an accounting internship with Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative on Blackboard, the university’s interactive online learning program. Knowing that an internship in accounting is required for her second degree, Howell asked Russell about the opportunity and whether she should apply.
“She said that it would be a good fit,” Howell said.
With just days until the application deadline, Howell worked with Russell to complete the paperwork. The following week, she was called in for an interview with manager of finance and accounting Tracy Brower and accounting supervisor Sara Inman.
“I was nervous, but it turned out really nice,” Howell said. “They were very kind and understanding, and it wasn’t intimidating.”
Internship gives Howell ‘complete look’ at accounting processes
Two to three weeks later, Howell learned she had been selected for the internship position. Initially, she observed how others in the accounting department did their jobs. Eventually, she keyed in time sheets for payroll, entered accounts payable, helped to key work orders and other odd jobs.
Howell also observed employees in the billing, engineering and warehouse departments to see how their tasks related to the duties the employees in the accounting department do.
“It gave me a complete look at the process,” she said.
That’s exactly what Russell expects to happen during her students’ accounting internships. “Students often leave an internship with a greater appreciation of all the many facets of accounting,” she explained. “It is not just math. It truly is the language of business.
“They also gain an understanding of why all the checks and balances are required in the accounting process. There is a purpose to all of the rules that we must follow as accountants,” she added.
Internships give students real-world experience
The learning goes beyond the accounting concepts. “Internships also provide students with hands-on experience they may not otherwise have had,” Russell said. “Students leave an internship having gained experience not only in their subject matter, but also in how to conduct themselves in a professional business setting.”
Officials at Howell-Oregon understand the importance of these types of learning experiences, which is why they recently began offering internships for area students, member services manager Myles Smith said.
“Approximately three years ago, we began discussions with university officials about a program in both accounting and engineering. One of the reasons we began the program was to highlight the variety of positions that we have at Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative. Secondly, we wanted to be a part of giving a student a hands-on opportunity to get real-life experience in the field of study they have chosen,” he explained.
Through internships, he added, “we get to see the quality of the kids pursuing these degree programs. Additionally, we have the opportunity to expose these interns to our unique structure – that of being a cooperative. We are owned by the members that use our power. This certainly distinguishes us from other businesses.”
HOE one of many businesses offering internships
Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative is one of many area businesses offering internship opportunities to Missouri State-West Plains students. As a result, university officials are able to offer internship courses in most career disciplines. These include accounting, agriculture, culinary and hospitality management, entrepreneurship, management and technology, according to Cathy Proffitt-Boys, chair of the division of business, applied technology and public service.
“Students must have completed 24 credit hours of coursework to be eligible for most internships,” she said. “Some, like accounting, also require the completion of key courses.”
Eligible students then complete an internship application. “Once approved, students work with the faculty internship coordinator to select an internship site,” Boys explained.
Howell details future plans
Because of her experience at Howell-Oregon, Howell plans to become an accountant. “I did not intend to be an accountant before this internship. I just thought accounting classes were fun. But after doing the internship, I now know this is what I want to do with my life,” she said.
After she completes her Associate of Applied Science in Business degrees specializing in entrepreneurship and accounting in May 2019, Howell plans to obtain her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business through Missouri State University.
“I do think being an entrepreneur is something I would like to do down the line, but at this point in time, I like accounting more, and I think there are more opportunities for me right now in this area,” she said.
Howell, who continues to work part time at Howell-Oregon, also encourages students to take advantage of internship opportunities. “You don’t know what you like or don’t like until you do it,” she said.
Students or area businesses that would like to participate in Missouri State-West Plains’ internship programs should contact the office of academic affairs at 417-255-7272 or Boys at 417-255-7278 or CathyBoys@MissouriState.edu.