‘Experience AEM’: Supporting Students in the Age of Coronavirus
By Jana Cinnamon
There isn’t a playbook for how to do business in a global pandemic. At least there wasn’t in mid-March, when we packed up our offices to begin working from home. All we knew was that we would continue to show up for our clients and community—including the 30 students we had invited to our 2020 Experience AEM summer program.
What is Experience AEM?
Experience AEM is a two-day intensive program designed to give participants a behind-the-scenes look at our firm and public accounting in general. Since 2013, we’ve selected the best and brightest students from a pool of applicants to join the program. For some students, Experience AEM is their first real-world taste of accounting. For many, it’s a springboard into an accounting internship. (Participants are invited to apply for our firm’s internship program at the conclusion of Experience AEM.)
Experience AEM participants traditionally spend one day in our Edina office, and one day in our Mankato office. Students meet with staff in both offices, collaborate on a leadership activity, attend partner roundtables and an educational session on the CPA exam, and spend one afternoon engaging in a social activity with some of our staff.
Rethinking an annual tradition in an age of social distancing
As the COVID-19 situation evolved, we quickly realized we wouldn’t be able to safely (or legally, for that matter) host this year’s Experience AEM, which was scheduled for May 12–13. But we didn’t want to let our students down. So, we decided to take Experience AEM to the virtual realm.
Although no one would have questioned a postponement or cancellation, we didn’t think it was fair to do so. We knew students deeply valued Experience AEM, and we felt it was critical to keep the supportive program intact, especially in a time of such uncertainty. Sure, transitioning an event that relies so heavily on in-person connection to a virtual platform wouldn’t be easy, but we were determined to make it happen.
Besides, our culture at AEM isn’t one of throwing in the towel. We’re pretty good at mixing up lemonade—or something even more delicious—when life sends lemons our way.
Needless to say, this left Annie Caron, our firm’s HR Generalist and Experience AEM program leader, with quite a challenge. She quickly got to work reformatting the itinerary. Instead of the typical two full days, Annie brilliantly created a 1.5-hour Zoom session for each day, complete with a fun icebreaker exercise, a presentation about the firm, and “breakout sessions” designed to give students one-on-one time with both staff members and partners.
Could Experience AEM work in a virtual setting?
As May 12 approached, Annie began to feel a little nervous. “I wasn’t sure how it would play out,” she recalled. “I worried about the ability to forge connections on-screen and whether or not the students would find value in the virtual format.”
But as the first session got into swing, Annie’s worries quickly faded. “I was so impressed with the quality of the students’ questions and their level of engagement, as well as our staff members’ and partners’ abilities to adapt so well—and so quickly—to the new format. In total, 30 AEM staff members and partners participated, which speaks to how much they care about these students,” she said.
The students agreed with Annie’s assessment. Several shared positive feedback in a post-event survey, including the following:
“The reason I’d recommend this program specifically is because it very evident that AEM cares about students like myself that have a passion for accounting and are trying to get their foot in the door. Bringing in partners and the COO shows that you guys care about who you’re bringing in and how to help us.”
“I would just like you guys to know that I really enjoyed Experience AEM. I know that it was tough to transition this program to be online, but I’m glad you guys did because after this program I can see myself being a part of AEM.”
“I had a fantastic experience with the summer program. I’m so glad it was still able to happen with everything going on, and even though it was held online everything ran very smoothly. I could tell a lot of time and planning went into making this a great experience. I really benefitted from the information I got out of the last two days and I look forward to the future webinars for this summer.”
Onward and upward!
We’re grateful we were able to move forward with Experience AEM, and that we’ll be able to continue supporting our students through our Summer 2020 Webinar Series. The first webinar, titled “What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About Working in Public Accounting,” will take place on June 10 at noon. All webinars are free to attend and open to anyone who wishes to learn more about a career in public accounting. For more information and to register, visit our Zoom registration page.
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