A Community Project in Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination


Cindy Greenman, Ph.D., CFE
Associate Professor, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, 2019 ACFE Educator of the Year

The way students are learning has significantly changed since I attended college classes 30 years ago. I remember my accounting instructor standing in front of the 300-seat lecture hall with an overhead projector. When I first started teaching, I thought I was being “progressive” using PowerPoint slides! Today’s students are demanding more hands-on experience. They don’t want to just sit there and be “talked at.” They want more of the “tell me, show me, let me do it” type classroom.

I have the great fortune to work for a university that allows me the academic freedom to experiment in my classroom and find what works best, not only for myself as an educator, but for the students as well. I have wonderful colleagues who support this, and I have learned much of what I’m doing in my classroom from them. One of the most successful components of this class is the community project my students undertake each semester. Here’s how it works.

1. Start with the classic classroom setup

I’ve been teaching forensic accounting and fraud examination classes for more than 10 years. The class is a business elective for business majors and an open elective for any other major. Thus, the class is made up of students from varying backgrounds and cultures with different strengths, which mimics an actual work environment. I have adapted the class to include several components. I still present the material in a short, lecture-type format at the beginning of the class. I then have the students pair up (2-3 students, no more) and use short case studies that relate back to the material I just presented. This actually shows them how to apply the information. I also have them complete homework questions from each chapter, trying to implement technology wherever possible.

2. Team up with a local organization to conduct a complementary risk analysis

While the beginning-of-class lectures are important, the biggest part of the class is the team project. Each semester, a local business volunteers its company to be the focus of the student project. The students are typically separated into teams of five. Each team picks their focus area — human resources, accounting, cyber, physical security, policies and procedures, or internal controls — with one group per focus area. The students then conduct a risk analysis on their focus area of the company. The students look for gaps where someone could commit fraud and gives suggestions on what the company can do better. Some of the focus areas of each group overlap, and this requires the teams to communicate with each other.

Each team selects a team lead. The lead is responsible for putting their portion of the report together, and the lead gets extra points. If I’m lucky enough to have a teaching assistant (TA) for the semester, they will put the sections together into one full report. If I don’t have a TA, I do this task myself. The students finish by giving a formal presentation to the executives from the company and presenting a copy of the overall report.

3. Make an impact on your students and your community

The feedback I have received from the students, the business owners, the students’ future employers and my Advisory Board has all been extremely positive. My students love being able to actually apply what they are learning as they are learning it. The business owners are not only grateful for the free consulting work and incredibly useful information they receive, but they also are more appreciative of our college students and their knowledge. The companies coming to campus to interview students for internships and jobs are consistently telling us that our students have a much shorter learning curve in the business environment due to the fact that they are not just learning from case studies, but from an actual job. My Advisory Board members have expressed that they, too, see a difference in the students — their confidence in speaking to industry members changes with the experience they are receiving.

My students love being able to actually apply what they are learning as they are learning it.

Cindy Greenman, Ph.D., CFE, received the 2019 ACFE Educator of the Year Award. One of her students recently said of her, “By explaining that we are the next generation to help prevent and detect fraud, she encourages us to be the best detectives, investigators or analysts wherever we end up.” Dr. Greenman is also part of the Anti-Fraud Education Partnership, which assists colleges and universities in providing expert anti-fraud training to their students. If you’d like to create exciting projects like Dr. Greenman’s and receive resources for your own higher education, anti-fraud classroom, consider joining the partnership.