This is Part Two of Casey Camor’s blog series about her path to a PhD in Business Administration at Texas Tech University. Casey’s decision to head back to graduate school and pursue a doctorate in local government financial management was based on her experiences working at the municipal level. Previously, Casey was the Finance Director in West Linn and Milwaukie, Oregon. Casey is sharing her perspectives on going back to school in this series. Read Part Two of her series here.
Why am I doing this? This is really the big question, right? Why would I uproot my family, move to Texas, and submit my family to such a lifestyle change? As mentioned, constant improvement is engrained in me, but my drive to move to Texas for this program is far beyond that. I want to contribute in the most effective way that I can.
To give you a bit of background, I always intended to become a teacher. I actually started my undergraduate career in English at Oregon State University with the intent to become a high school teacher. I quickly realized that to be successful, I had to be extremely challenged so I moved on to the business school and ended up in accounting. After graduation, I fortunately ended up at a small accounting firm in Medford, Oregon, that performed municipal audits. I really enjoyed my time in Medford and although I primarily focused in municipal audit, I was able to provide audit and tax services to not-for-profits and private businesses. Receiving such well-rounded exposure allowed me to really identify what I am passionate about. I attained my CPA and my municipal auditor’s license solidifying my future in the industry. After 5 years in Medford, my husband and I moved to Portland and I joined a larger municipal auditing firm. I also had my first child which proved to be unconducive to public accounting due to the long and all-consuming work hours, a topic that I find somewhat comical now considering the intensity of the Ph.D. program.
I was fortunate to join the City of West Linn as the City’s Accounting Manager. I quickly started to climb the ladder and was promoted to Assistant Finance Director. Two years into my tenure, the City of West Linn signed an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Milwaukie and I, in conjunction with the West Linn Finance Director, took over the finance department for the City of Milwaukie. I served as the primary Finance Director in Milwaukie and the Deputy Chief Financial Officer in West Linn. The arrangement was highly successful and we were able to take a financially struggling city, Milwaukie, and completely turnaround their financial situation and the state of the finance department. The learning curve was steep, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I learned how to be a truly effective finance director and manager in two years and I was so proud and protective of the progress made in Milwaukie that I made the jump and became the full-time Finance Director of Milwaukie in mid-2013.
At the same time, I began to seriously consider my lifelong dream. As mentioned, my initial intent at Oregon State University was to become a teacher. My mind always went back to that place and I had looked at Ph.D. programs but at the time, I just couldn’t imaging moving my family and dedicating four years to get my Ph.D. to ensure lifelong security as a tenured track university faculty member. It also meant giving up my existing position where I was flourishing. That is really a huge commitment!
So, I started out slow. Fortunately, my previous boss taught Governmental and Not-for-Profit Accounting at Portland State University (PSU) and was considering giving up the gig due to his work and home life schedule. I volunteered and thankfully, the lovely professors at PSU thought that I could (surely somewhat) fill his shoes. I taught at PSU for two years and loved every second of it. Teaching at PSU told me that I was meant to teach, now what about research?
Academic research is a black box for most people not in academics, at least it was for me. Until you actually get into it, you can’t really figure out what it is, but now I’m starting to get it. In focusing on my experience, my passion, and my need to make a change in this world, the answer came to the surface…I would research governmental accounting. Besides the obvious fact that my background is in governmental accounting, I actually think that I can make a bigger impact in the academic arena compared to public finance. Governments need more attention from the academic community in a variety of ways. I have a three pronged approach: research governmental finance including the power and transparency of governmental financial reports, communicate, empower, and educate existing finance officers, and develop of the next generation of finance officers.
Governmental accounting research is actually really fun because there are so many topics I can pick from due to the underserved nature of governmental accounting academic research. Unlike the private sector, the public sector has far less academic research which has left a void of understanding. I’m very lucky in this regard as I have no issue with identifying research ideas. The difficulty is the availability of data. My hope is that I can contribute, along with the other highly skilled governmental accounting researchers, to the interest in governmental accounting research. On the data side, it is simply more difficult to come by with very few databases available for a researcher like me. I don’t shrink from a challenge however so I will be immersed in a great deal of hand data collection! I hope you are willing to help! But, I’ll get to that later…
The academic community and the practitioner community have not necessarily been highly communicative, despite best efforts. However, shouldn’t practitioners be apprised of research results so that they can make changes to their operations or identify alternative solutions? Seems to me the two should go hand in hand. I’m again fortunate to be a position to help bridge this gap in government. Communicating research outcomes with groups like ELGL, GFOA, and state GFOA organizations, can serve to better government and public servants, therefore, my pledge is to do just that.
The development of the next generation of finance officers will be an ongoing mission that I won’t yet be able to fully contribute to, but it will always be on my mind. Many universities present governmental accounting as a component of an advanced accounting course, spending maybe a week or two on the subject.
Anyone that has ever looked at a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report knows that interpretation of that report requires a much more than two weeks. Some universities, like PSU, make the governmental and not-for-profit accounting course a required course. PSU’s course is 2 credits, which seems less than deserved, but in all reality, PSU is cutting edge in this regard and doing a fabulous job in educating future and current governmental accountants. What I can’t understand is why so few universities offer (let alone require) a separate governmental and not-for-profit course when there are so many great governmental opportunities for students.
As you know, here are over 90,000 state and local governments in the U.S., each requiring finance personnel. Municipalities often pay relatively well, have positions with great work life balance, and offer good benefits and stability. What I have found however, is that professors don’t necessarily know this, and therefore such information is not trickling down to the students. When I was teaching at PSU, usually the students that went into government did so because someone in their family or one of their friends already worked for government and communicated what great opportunities were available.
Overall, it is my belief that I can contribute most by attaining my Ph.D., researching governmental accounting, communicating those results to the public sector, and educating students in on the benefits of governmental accounting. This multifaceted mission is going to take more than little old me. I need help. The public sector, and wonderful organizations like ELGL, will make all the difference in the success of my mission. Are you up for that?