PACC Challenge prepares LA&PS students for career obstacles and opportunities

York University student Zakir Bhatia and four of his fellow classmates had a mission: to come out on top of the Graduate Diploma in Professional Accounting (PACC) Challenge. “From the beginning, we were known as the team who really wanted to win,” he said. And win they did.

On March 30, Bhatia and his teammates Charlene Lv, Arpita Haque Bhuiya, Jonathan Ishak and Marianne Martinez received $1,000 from CPA Ontario for their presentation and report on a complex accounting case.

Speaking to a crowd of judges, professional accounting students and alumni, the team was challenged to keep the presentation concise and accessible to those unfamiliar with the case.

group photo of PACC Challenge winners, judges and faculty

The winners of the PACC Challenge accept their award alongside event judges and PACC faculty.
Front row: Arpita Haque Bhuiya (winning team), Marianne Martinez (winning team), Charlene Lv (winning team), Zakir Bhatia (winning team) and Sharmela Sivanayagam (judge). Back row: Sandra Iacobelli (faculty), Syed Banoori (judge), David Marsillo (judge), Ammar Faizy (judge), Alam Khandwala (judge), Johnathan Ishak (winning team), Parth Shah (judge), David Catarino (judge), Joanne Jones (faculty) and Bartosz Amerski (faculty)

The teammates agreed the PACC Challenge gave them the opportunity to practise their public speaking and critical thinking skills, while allowing them to brush up on skills they were less familiar with.

The competition also served as a warm-up for the CPA Canada Professional Education Program, which is the next step for students who have received their diploma.

“The challenge gave us the opportunity to receive feedback from over a dozen professionals, former PACC students and professors who have been through the CPA process,” Bhatia said. “The advice we received for our professional exams and future careers was invaluable. Not many people outside of this program have the opportunity to present to over 100 people in a professional setting.”

The event also featured a presentation by David Catarino, CPA, CA. As manager for the Accounting Centre of Excellence at the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, Catarino shared his experiences with two contentious accounting issues in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 audits of the Province of Ontario consolidated financial statements. He advised the students that although their technical accounting knowledge is important, the top three skills need to excel in accounting roles are critical thinking, professional judgment, and effective verbal and written communication.

“Accounting matters, and it impacts people’s lives,” Catarino said.

Following the case competition, Sean Mullin, a CPA Ontario student representative, provided an interactive information session about the CPA designation.

“There is a lot of false perception of what accounting and finance professionals actually do,” Mullin said, noting that many students were surprised to learn that many CPAs work in finance, and that a large percentage of chief financial officers are CPAs. “In showcasing some real CPAs, the audience was inspired to see all the doors a CPA can open, and how they can be taken seriously at a very young age with the designation behind their name.”

The event concluded with lunch, and the opportunity to network.

The Graduate Diploma in Professional Accounting (PACC) offered by the School of Administrative Studies in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies is a CPA Ontario-accredited program designed for students who want to get a head start in earning their chartered professional accountant (CPA) designation. The PACC program is offered three terms a year and can be completed on a part-time or full-time basis. For more information about the program, visit

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