Dr. Kelli Saunders wanted to use her teaching career to champion ethical auditing practices to offset high profile financial scandals she witnessed in her formative years. She found her path at the School of Accountancy, inspired by an opportunity from Dr. Aaron Crabtree, director of the School of Accountancy and associate professor of accountancy, to create a unique course offering that could impact the next generation of auditing professionals.
“Dr. Crabtree asked me to develop a course combining fraud examination and internal audit,” said Saunders, assistant professor of accounting. “It’s an unusual course because internal audit and fraud examination are generally standalone courses.”
The new course, Fraud Examination and Internal Audit (ACCT 401), came from input by the School of Accountancy Advisory Board. Saunders saw the opportunity as an outlet for shaping a positive attitude toward her profession.
“I graduated from school in the early 2000s when huge financial scandals were changing the landscape of the business world. It framed for me what can happen as the result of making poor decisions. As a result, I emphasize to students that the auditing profession is distinguished by its commitment to integrity, objectivity and ethical behavior,” she said.
Crabtree wanted to utilize Saunders professional background as an internal auditor for more than seven years prior to joining the college in 2016. He saw her as a perfect fit for teaching the new course.
“She already had both the professional internal auditing experience and research credentials to do the job,” said Crabtree. “When you combine that technical expertise with the fact she has an infectious personality, it adds up to a faculty member students really appreciate.”
Saunders used her professional expertise to collaborate with the external business community to develop the course. She continues to engage with the community by bringing in experts to talk to students and giving students opportunities to work with organizations outside the classroom.
“I was excited for the opportunity to turn those topics into a cohesive course. I made contact with other professors teaching those courses to understand how to consolidate and overlap content. It allowed me to build bridges between the two communities of internal audit and fraud examination, and receive support from the local chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and the Institute of Internal Auditors. That made it fun and challenging. Each time I teach the course I think about how I could make it better,” she said.
Last year Saunders enabled students to better understand anti-fraud controls in place at local nonprofit organizations. She wanted students to have a firsthand look at how a real auditing system functions.
“The goal was to go in and identify low-cost fraud control solutions. Students were identifying processes and procedures that could be put in place to strengthen accounting practices. Then they came back and presented their findings in class. A big part of the project also involved presenting the mission of each organization to better connect with local organizations in a way they might not have previously considered,” she said.
Saunders originally got excited about doing accounting research while creating training materials while working at a firm. She learned how much she enjoyed doing research and it has resulted in some big opportunities at Nebraska.
“I received a grant from the Center for Audit Quality. Through the grant we get access to audit practitioners to complete our study. It amounts to support from the eight largest global accounting firms, and one of the biggest hurdles for conducting research is getting access to participants,” she said.
Saunders research examines whether junior accounting members are penalized for raising red flags in the workplace that may later turn out to be unfounded. Similar to her pursuit of creating positive change in the accounting profession through the classroom, she believes her results can have practical implications for the accounting profession to better understand how practitioner behavior can result in better overall controls in the workplace.
“Getting a grant from the Center for Audit Quality is a big deal,” said Crabtree. “They only award three or four a year, and Kelli has already received two grants in her career. It’s significant to have access to professional auditors who are working to run her research experiments. It provides more validity when you’re asking an auditor versus using students to conduct the research.”
Saunders looks for opportunities to bring research to students. Her research can ignite classroom dialogue to get young auditors thinking about how they might resolve ethical questions in the workplace.
“I find a lot of synergy between the things I research and the things I teach. I still identify as an auditor myself even though right now I’m an academic. Any chance I have to tie the results of my research into what the students are learning I believe helps to inform the profession and train students as they go out into their auditing careers,” said Saunders.
To learn more about the School of Accountancy, visit: https://business.unl.edu/accounting