By Collin Peace, Appalachian Chapter Student Ambassador
This past summer I secured an internship position in the accounting department of Republic Parking System in downtown Chattanooga. RPS, one of the preeminent parking management companies in the US, hired me to be a part of a team tasked with creating, designing and implementing the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) accounting system that will take place of the old AS400 accounting system. To be honest, I was not very thrilled about the internship upon first hearing my title would be “Contracts Intern,” as I thought it would primarily consist of pouring through parking contract agreements, identifying particular terms and performing menial data entry. However, my expectations were soon shattered within the first two weeks I started working there.
I did much more than basic data entry and other low-level tasks like scanning, copying and going on coffee/breakfast runs (though I did do a fair bit of those things). Instead, I was exposed to a wide array of different things which I had not run into thus far, such as performing bank reconciliations, entering and checking revenue, researching expense patterns, and compiling databases by which we interpreted trends and made conclusions. Even beyond the plethora of work-related tasks and responsibilities I was exposed to, through the internship I was able to take part in numerous networking opportunities. I was not only able to network with my fellow co-workers, but I was also invited on several occasions to accompany our office executives to lunches and meetings with employees and personnel from other RPS branches. In addition to networking opportunities, I got to take part in fun outings with my fellow employees, the most recent of which was a Friday Fun-day where the entire accounting department took the day to go volunteer at a local charity, followed by lunch at a nearby pizzeria and then a few games of bowling.
I learned an incredible amount while taking part in this internship, and I have found truth in the saying, “70 percent of learning is experiential” because of how much I learned through the hands-on experience I received. The knowledge I had learned in my accounting classes in school certainly came in handy in terms of having a rough idea of what was going on and what was being discussed, but a great deal of my internship was simply “on-the-job learning,” and I had to pick up things rather quickly in order to keep up with the rest of the accounting department. As stressful at times as it may have been, I am very grateful to have had this opportunity because of how much I learned in an actual, real-world business environment which taught me things you simply can’t learn from a textbook.
The most important and valuable thing I believe I got out of this internship was the connections and relationships I established while I was there. It’s an over-used statement, but it holds truth: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This truth has become quite clear to me as I have seen that it is in making connections that one is best able to get a job and advance their career. I met numerous CPAs who willingly and cheerfully passed along their advice and knowledge. I met and had sit-down discussions with top executives from the Senior Payroll Manager to the Corporate Controller to the Chief Financial Officer. All of them were willing to mentor me and offer suggestions on what I should consider and what I should focus on working towards in order to be a more effective and successful accountant and businessman, and for that I am extremely grateful. I have established relationships with them and hopefully in the future I might continue my career under their leadership and guidance. Furthermore, to anyone considering accounting as their field of study and as their eventual occupation, I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is to take part in an internship while you are in school. You will not only bolster your knowledge base of accounting and business in general, but you will also allow yourself the opportunity for networking, relationships and maybe even a future job.