By Naftali Braun
[Photos below.] Upon arriving for the Agudah PCS Accounting Program dinner last Sunday evening, I found the vast parking lot at Ateres Yeshaya Hall in Lakewood filled to capacity. Nor were there any available spots on the adjoining streets. Finding the closest parking spot two and a half blocks away, I began to get a sense of just how big this program had become.
The scene inside was bright and lively. The sound of enthusiastic conversation filled the room, as 250 current students and alumni met, some for the first time, others meeting old friends. They spoke about the current job market, trying to share helpful advice or finding a useful contact. And they spoke about the program where it all started, the one that had made it all possible, the one that had arranged this evening exactly for this purpose: to get students and alumni talking to each other.
Agudath Israel’s Professional Career Services (PCS) division began the accounting program to further their core mission – to help people obtain successful, sustainable jobs. PCS has been helping members of the Lakewood community find employment for fourteen years. They have had tremendous siyata diShmaya in their efforts, and the Lakewood office soon expects to cross a historic milestone, placing their 2,000th job, due in large part to the efforts of job placement counselors Rabbi Yoel Tolwinski and Mrs. Shoshana Smulowitz.
Thirteen years ago, they announced the formation of a program designed to train individuals in the highly sought-after field of accounting. Working in concert with a local college, the PCS program would award undergraduate degrees in accounting to its participants, allowing them to pursue careers in the field. A few years later, the program sought to heighten the level of education and further distinguish its graduates. They reinvented the program by joining with Fairleigh Dickinson University, a highly regarded New Jersey institution, to offer a Masters program in accounting. The program was designed to accommodate the schedules of family men, and to condense the time needed to complete the degree. The appeal of the program was described by a current student: “What takes five years to achieve in another university, you can accomplish here in a year and a half [with a degree from Bais Medrash Govoah or its equivalent]. They are handing it to you on a silver platter.”
FDU Professor Robert DeFilippis described the program: “[It] combines excellent students with a solid curriculum, taught by a dedicated, highly effective faculty, which has attained outstanding results.”
The availability of the program became an important factor in the foresight and planning of many students. As one attendee remarked, “Just knowing that PCS was there waiting for me when I would have to go make a parnassah reassured me greatly during the important and meaningful years I was sitting and learning in kollel.”
Its results have been truly outstanding, and its impact on the Lakewood community extraordinary. The overwhelming majority of the program’s graduates are now employed by businesses in every sector, including some in the leading accounting firms. In Professor DeFilippis’s remarks, he reported that the students have performed remarkably well, “with many students receiving some of the highest scores in the United States. And believe me, people are watching… [Industry experts] are expecting one of you to be a recipient of the Elijah Watt Sells award,” a national award recognizing the top ten scores achieved on the CPA exam.
Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, Chairman of the Board, followed with a status update on the program, describing its phenomenal success. He detailed the high percentage of graduates who have obtained jobs with their degrees, achieving a higher employment rate than most universities. He spoke of employers who were amazed at the level of knowledge of graduates of the program and illustrated this with a story. “I received an email last week that told me that [a prestigious accounting firm] interviewed 200 people for 12 jobs. And out of the 12 that they hired, three were from PCS. That is truly an amazing statistic.”
PCS Director Daniel Soloff expressed deep pride in the extraordinary success of the program.
“If you had told me … when I took on the responsibility of being the Director of PCS that I would be standing here tonight paying tribute to 250 students and alumni… I never would have imagined it in my wildest dreams,” he said.
The primary goal of the evening was to increase the interaction between current students and employed alumni. Having a cohesive structure in place for all participants, past and present, to connect with one another will be an invaluable asset to students in the program. It would even be a great benefit to those already employed. “These days you never know how safe your job is. You need to keep up an active network so you can have somewhere to turn,” explained current student and class president Chaim Cohen.
Rabbi Weinberger prefaced his remarks by thanking those who had been most instrumental in starting and maintaining the program, including Dr. Jonathan Schiff, a professor at FDU and president of the Schiff Consulting Group who had played a crucial and vital role in getting the program together. The central theme of his address was the need for the students and alumni to forge connections and the inestimable value these connections have. He spoke of the responsibility borne by employed graduates to help current students, in recognition of the help many of them received from others whose efforts helped them first find jobs. He announced the inauguration of new PCS initiatives designed to facilitate increased interaction, including a new mentoring program.
“The program is designed to help new students through the education process and help them find a job,” said Rabbi Weinberger. “Each incoming student will be matched with a mentor, one of our graduates who is already employed. He will act as a ‘big brother’ throughout the student’s career, from when he enters the program, during the education process, through the interview phase, until the student secures his first job, and to guide him in adapting to the marketplace.”
Rabbi Weinberger also announced the launching of an alumni newsletter run by distinguished former students.
The evening also gave plenty of time for the students and alumni to interact. For an hour at the beginning of the evening and another hour at the end, people from every class shared experiences, advice, and contact information. Everywhere one looked around the filled room, one saw smiles and enthusiasm, and by the end of the evening, it became clear why: “It’s great,” said Chaim Cohen. “80 percent of the people in this room would not have been able to go into accounting had it not been for the [PCS] program.”
On the two and a half block walk back to car, I realized that the evening had emulated the PCS Accounting program as a whole: A phenomenal success.
For photos of the dinner, see below: