accounting graphic

Making connections: Accounting student bridges research and reality

May 20, 2024


In accounting classes, case studies allow students to demonstrate their ability to apply lecture and reading material to real-world scenarios. Many cases focus on distant topics for college students, like the manufacturing industry.

Accounting Professor Abdullah Kumas used Zach Duray's case study in his managerial accounting class, pictured here.

Zach Duray, a senior accounting major, decided to write about something close to home. He developed “Spider Business School: Understanding and Improving Cost Structure,” a case study based around a fictional business school closely modeled after Robins.

The case was used this spring in the school’s managerial accounting class, which looks at understanding and managing costs. Duray’s contribution filled a void in academic case studies.

“When I began, I had no idea it would be of enough substance and quality to be used as part of the course curriculum. I figured it would potentially be stored in the school’s case repository — and that would be the end of it,” Duray said. “It’s great that it’s an actively used learning aid.”

He served as a tutor in the class. “Because I was a student designing this with the students in mind, I could describe why this exercise would be useful.”

Delving into the case side-by-side with course content over the first four weeks, students categorized business school costs, including salaries and utilities, using a provided dataset to calculate direct vital costs. After analyzing different scenarios, students reported their recommended allocation approach — ranging from number of classes to number of faculty hours — to a theoretical budget director and ultimately calculated the average cost of education at Spider Business.

“The students are quite familiar with the cost structures of a college, making it easier for them to relate to the case,” said Abdullah Kumas, associate professor of accounting at the Robins School of Business. “Focusing on a college-based scenario also allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the relationships between costs, including direct material, labor, and overhead.”

The case study underscores how the school integrates the development of significant data analytics skills across the curriculum. “Zach’s advanced Excel proficiency played a crucial role in crafting a complex simulation dataset, encompassing nearly 10,000 observations, despite numerous constraints,” Kumas added, noting how Duray leveraged resources such as Glassdoor to simulate real faculty salaries accurately.

Duray’s earlier accounting courses gave him the initial information to frame out the project. Then, as a UR Summer Fellow, with Kumas as his faculty mentor, Duray completed the case study and presented it at the Society of North American Scholars conference. He was the only undergraduate to do so. The paper was also submitted to the 2024 American Accounting Association Faculty-Student Collaborations in Accounting section.

His summer research experience made him a strong advocate for the program. “It’s a great way to foster a closer working relationship with professors,” he added, “and the work you do is a product you can carry with you for the rest of your career.”

Duray will graduate early in December. He’ll study for and complete his CPA exams in the spring, then join EY, one of the Big Four accounting firms.