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Ethics a guiding force for Penn State Smeal fall 2021 student marshal

December 15, 2021

McFarland (400p)
Smeal's fall 2021 student marshal Toni McFarland will not only graduate with honors Saturday with a 4.0 GPA from the MAcc program, but she will have done it in just 3.5 years instead of the usual 5.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Toni McFarland talks to people who are unfamiliar with the Penn State Smeal College of Business, ethics is among the first things she mentions.

“I believe Smeal’s dedication to ethics separates it from other business schools,” she said. “Academic integrity is one of the core values of Smeal, and that is extremely apparent in every class I take.” 

For McFarland, ethics isn’t just a talking point; it’s a way of life. In fact, it influenced her career choice. 

“I have developed a passion for integrity at Penn State through many courses, discussions and events about ethics. This passion drove my desire to work in forensic accounting, as much of my work will include fraud prevention and investigations,” she said. 

“I want to ensure that the business world is as ethical as possible through anti-fraud work. My desire to create a more ethical society has stemmed from my experience as a Smeal student at Penn State.” 

McFarland, who will graduate with honors Saturday with a 4.0 GPA and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting, has been selected as Smeal’s fall 2021 student marshal. She completed the Integrated Master’s of Accounting (MAcc) Program in just 3.5 years. The program is designed to be completed in five. Her honors thesis focused on fraud detection. 

She will join Ernst & Young’s Forensic and Integrity Services Staff in Philadelphia starting in fall of 2022. In the interim, she plans to take the four parts of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination.

Completing a five-year program in just 70 percent of the designed time with a perfect GPA sounds like it would require a 100-percent focus on academics. McFarland’s Smeal career dispels that notion. 

“Every semester was different; some semesters it was easy to balance everything on my plate, other semesters I sacrificed my personal life to keep my grades up,” she said. “So, during my last semester I made a goal to have one day a week dedicated to doing no work. I haven’t always met that goal, but it has helped me push myself a lot during the other six days of the week.” 

McFarland squeezed a lot into her weeks, this semester and those before. 

She served as the treasurer of the Schreyer Honors College Student Council for two years, was involved in Smeal’s Sapphire Leadership Academic Program, served as executive director of finance for the University Park Undergraduate Association and was secretary of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. In addition, she tutored at the Morgan Academic Center, which supports Penn State’s student-athletes, and was a teaching assistant for ACCTG 211H: Introduction to Accounting and ACCTG 803: Forensic Accounting. 

McFarland holds a special affinity for Accounting 211. 

“I absolutely loved my Accounting 211 class. It was my most challenging class during my first two years at Penn State, and I really enjoyed being able to push myself and learn,” she said, revealing that it was in that class she first learned about forensic accounting. 

ACCTG 211 was her most challenging course during her first two years, but that was replaced by ACCTG 573: Advanced Financial Accounting. That course is taught by Reeves Family Early Career Professor in Accounting Sam Bonsall, who was McFarland’s thesis adviser. 

“I learned the most and grew the most as a student during my Advanced Financial Accounting class because it was my most challenging course at Penn State,” she said. “I really appreciated how Dr. Bonsall encourages students to think about the “why” of financial accounting instead of memorizing processes.” 

Bonsall was just one of several faculty members McFarland credited with having a “significant impact” on her Smeal experience. 

“I would love to thank Dr. Shelley Curling, Dr. Ed Ketz and Ed Babcock for being great professors and mentors during my time at Penn State,” she said. “I enjoyed being a TA for both Dr. Curling and Dr. Ketz! I would not have been able to graduate without the support from my friends, especially Nick Pantelis and my roommates Nora Van Horn, Mikayla Shaffer and Jackie Stochel, and my family including my parents Bill and Antoinette, my five brothers (Billy, Steven, David, Bobby and Johnny), and my sister-in-law Gianna.” 

McFarland’s academic prowess has earned her experience and support of a different kind. In addition to internships with Vanguard and EY, she earned an impressive list of scholarships and awards:

  • D’Ambrosio Honors Scholarship
  • Hollenbach Family – CBA
  • Academic Excellence Scholarship
  • Dean’s List
  • President’s Freshman Award
  • President’s Sparks Award
  • Evan Pugh Senior Award

 Even with all of her academic and extracurricular commitments, she found time to undertake a couple of activities that helped her to reset and recharge. She went to the gym with two friends six times a week to work out, despite admitting she’s not a morning person. She’s run two unofficial marathons and plans to run an official marathon after graduation. And, she said she enjoys cake decorating, especially for friends’ birthdays, calling baking a favorite way to destress. 

With her fondness for baking and cake decorating, you could say that being named student marshal is the icing on her academic cake. 

“I was in my Advanced Financial Accounting class when I received the email that I had been selected to be the marshal. I was speechless when I received the email. Since my first year at Penn State being the marshal has been my dream!” McFarland said. 

“It was amazing to see all of my hard work finally paid off and acknowledged. Being an accounting student wasn’t easy, but I felt like all of my efforts had been rewarded in that moment.”

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