Assistant Professor of Accounting Julie Ziemak has been at Lake Erie since 1997, and during her time here she has seen many aspiring accounting majors complete their degrees and jump head first into the financial world post graduation.
Immediately following college Professor Ziemak began work at a major global public accounting firm as a CPA, and later on as a tax manager at a local wholesale business. In 1997 she followed her heart into academia and brought the reality of the accounting profession and her experience to the Lake Erie College classrooms. Fifteen years later, Professor Ziemak is still working with future accountants, and preparing them for life and careers in the field she has so much passion for.
"I love accounting because there is so much you can do with that degree,” Ziemak said. She finds the field of accounting truly versatile and offering many different career paths. "Every business needs an accountant. It is a difficult major, but if you are interested in business and you like accounting, I would highly recommend it.”
Many things have changed since she first started working, and students seeking careers as accountants are facing very different challenges. "Before the day of computers you always had the stereotypical accountant in the back room with the green visor, just crunching numbers, and that is so far from the truth nowadays,” she said. "The computers now really do the number crunching. So the accountants have moved from the back office to the front office. Good accountants are often consultants to top executives. They understand where the numbers are coming from, they analyze them, they understand the strengths and weaknesses of a company. It’s an exciting time to be an accountant.”
"I strongly believe that an accounting degree earned at a liberal arts college best prepares students to become immediately involved with the complex nature of accounting/business encountered in today’s economic environment,” Ziemak said. "An accounting degree from Lake Erie College accomplishes this with the many opportunities to develop and learn both in and outside the classroom.”
And since 2001 she and Associate Professor of Legal Studies Joanne Gurley have done just that—taken the learning outside the classroom. The LEC Tax Clinic started with a phone call from the IRS in 2001—the federal agency had some grant money through a newly established tax payer advocate program that needed to be distributed, and the two Lake Erie professors jumped to the opportunity to give the students excellent hands-on experience, while at the same time providing a valuable community service.
Through the Tax Clinic class offered in the spring semester students go into the local community of Painesville and Lake County, and assist with tax preparation for low-income tax payers who have difficulty with their tax returns, including a number of Hispanic residents for whom the language barrier is an issue. Since its inception in 2001 over 100 LEC students have worked with over 350 local residents through the tax clinic, thus gaining valuable real-world experience. Students also get to meet with a number of guest speakers through the program, such as a local attorney who specialized in immigration law, an officer from Painesville Police Department who discussed identity theft, and a representative from the IRS Taxpayer Advocacy Office.
Working with the students inside and outside the classroom is Professor Ziemak’s favorite part about teaching. "I like seeing my students do something that they really enjoy doing,” she said, "watching them participate in sports or perform on stage. They are excited about their future.
"One of my goals as their professor is to open as many doors as possible. It is so exciting to sit back and watch them pass through those doors to an endless amount of opportunities.”What would be the advice Professor Ziemak’s has for current and future LEC students? "Listen. Keep an open mind and ask questions. Keep questioning everything around you.”