2021 IMA Student Manuscript Winner: UNLV IMA Student Chapter—COVID-19 EditionBy
IMA is pleased to showcase this winning article from the 2021 IMA Student Manuscript Competition, created to provide opportunities for students to share their membership experiences through publication with IMA.
The early months of 2020 were a strange and difficult time for everyone. The world came to a complete halt for a few weeks, and people were forced to adapt. The IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) student chapter at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) was no exception. For the 2020-2021 academic year, I held the role of the chapter’s vice president. In March 2020, we were finishing our first full year as a student organization and were no strangers to the art of adaptation. The first year was a learning process with constant curveballs and adjustments. Although we had many successes, we weren’t ready for the virtual end to the 2019-2020 academic year.
The summer of 2020 gave our organization time to collect itself and rewrite its newly written script on how to run the IMA student chapter at UNLV. We had believed that the first year of our organization would consist of the most unknowns, and after that we’d be able to build upon what we already knew. The second year, however, tested the leadership board and the chapter members. The leadership board needed to learn how to conduct IMA business—planning and promoting events and interacting with members—virtually, and our members needed to adapt to participating in virtual IMA events. Although we’d never wish for a global pandemic, the virtual platform turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The chapter’s leadership and members gained the skills of conducting business and interacting with professionals virtually. Technology is only improving, and these skills will be crucial as we enter the business world.
During the chapter’s first year, the leadership board had successfully organized numerous professional, community service, and social events. The plan for the second year was to try and provide those same opportunities and benefits, despite the new format. For professional events, we wanted the chapter members to have the chance to interact with potential employers and discover different jobs in accounting to aid them in obtaining full-time work and internships. Our strategy was to reach out to the professional network we had built through our previous events. We received overwhelming support from local organizations; it allowed us to create a packed schedule for our members.
When reaching out to our professional contacts, we often had to give their organizations an idea of the event we were looking for them to host; this is where the ability to adapt was critical. In a virtual setting, the format of events is limited to mostly formal presentations, but the potential presentation topics are unlimited. As a result of brainstorming between professionals and our career development department, we were able to organize various events for our members by conducting presentations with companies in government and the gaming, hospitality, and banking industries, to name a few.
Virtual networking and interviewing are skills that can only be improved through practice. In 2020, everyone was pushed to obtain these skills quickly. To help with this transition, the leadership team worked hard to give our members various tools and resources to gain the skills needed to be a member of the professional world virtually. In doing this, we promoted events organized by other student organizations in UNLV’s Lee Business School and offered continuing professional education points to the chapter members who attended those events. Even if the events weren’t hosted by our organization, we wanted to give our members the opportunity and incentive to attend as many events as possible. We also hosted and encouraged members to attend workshops related to refining interview skills and building résumés.
Social media was our friend in promoting all of our events. During the first year, word of mouth paired with a monthly event newsletter carried us far. When word of mouth was eliminated as an option, however, we were again forced to adapt. We utilized our Instagram more than ever, and our marketing team promoted the chapter events through posts and stories. Although there was no face-to-face interaction, we were still able to interact with our members through social media.
Along with our professional events, we used social media to promote our community service and social events. Those events required more creativity and customization as they hinged on human interaction. For community service events, our community relations department found amazing opportunities for in-person service events. Las Vegas is home to many nonprofit organizations that were thrilled to have us help. We distributed food to the less fortunate, cleaned up community gardens, and helped nonprofits fundraise.
Our social events were strictly virtual, and, I believe, this was the opportunity for us to be the most creative. It was imperative to find activities that were conducive to the virtual environment. These events consisted of monthly “Jeopardy Nights,” which included a hodgepodge of categories and questions (some accounting questions were even included); other interactive games based on quiz shows such as Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? and Family Feud; and monthly virtual workouts. Overall, these programs required ingenuity and hours of planning. The chapter’s community relations team didn’t stray away from this challenge and was extremely successful in planning these events.
Offering social events this year was especially important. We planned them as a way for members to interact with one another in a relaxed setting. Normally, these interactions often happen in the atrium of the business school in between classes. Due to the lack of such opportunities, however, we wanted to provide a platform for our members to form personal connections with each other. These events were also important because they helped chapter members check in with one another. This year was physically, mentally, and financially tough for many, and we used our social events to provide an escape to our members and a space to have fun.
Looking back at the 2020-2021 academic year, UNLV’s IMA student chapter was able to deliver a variety of events and opportunities to its members. We adapted to the new virtual environment and provided resources to the chapter members to help them achieve their professional goals, organized community service events to give back, and held relaxing social events for members to interact and check in with each other. Overall, reflecting on the chapter’s second year, our leadership board and members overcame many obstacles and challenges. Their ability to adapt to the situation with grit and grace shows that they will be successful in their future business endeavors.