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Beating the Blockchain Challenge: PSU Accounting Students Take Home National Competition Title
Author: Melinda Crouchley
Posted: November 7, 2018

The mission: A blockchain flaw ripples out of control and a team of future accounting professionals from 2040 jump back in time to tackle the issue.

Portland State accounting students Chris Tash, Jennifer Welch, and Tracy Earll (left to right) foiled the nefarious plot by decoding blockchain problems, completing a cryptogram puzzle, and uncovering a URL to reveal the culprit—a broken bot created in 2019 by a human engineer to jumble the financial economy. 

Portland State accounting students Chris Tash, Jennifer Welch, and Tracy Earll (left to right) participate in the Blockchain ChallengeSolving the problem and presenting the solution earned Portland State the national title of overall 2018 TrueUp Blockchain Challenge winners. 

In Spring 2019, Tash and Earll will wrap up their undergraduate degrees and Welch will complete an accounting certificate in pursuit of her CPA license. Their mentor during the competition was Moss Adams Innovation Program Senior Manager Angeline Johnson. 

“A big highlight of the competition was working with a mentor firm who was already diving into new accounting technologies on their end, and having to opportunity to build a great relationship while also learning,” said Tash. 

Another highlight for Tash was the chance to work with other dedicated PSU students who wanted to get the most from their first experience with blockchain. His biggest challenge? The speed of the learning.

“We all started with only a loose idea of the blockchain. The competition required a sprint-like mentality as we executed three tasks in the first week, and then compiled our learning into a presentation which made a handful of blockchain recommendations for the world; no pressure,” said Tash. 

Breaking Down Blockchain for Accountants
The challenge started on September 23 and included 183 undergraduate and graduate student competitors from 34 universities. Working in groups of three, each team paired with an accounting and audit professional from one of over 30 firms across the U.S. 

Hosted by TrueUp, a gamified skill enhancement platform for accounting and finance professionals, the challenge explored the new accounting and record-tracking technology poised to change the accounting industry. The integration of Oracle Autonomous Blockchain, an actual simulation, allowed competitors to learn in a hands-on, interactive way.
“Creating engaging, educational case competitions is one of the best ways to bring students and professionals together to bridge the gap between a student’s last year in college and their first year in the workforce,” said TrueUp CEO Vince LoRusso. 

  • To conquer the two-week, hyper-focused challenge, the PSU team: 
  • Investigated the very first Smart Contract, instantiating the corrected version onto the Oracle Autonomous Blockchain
  • Traced blockchain endorsement policies
  • Set up which channel to communicate on
  • Audited a large data set of accounting transactions using a super-powered Mindbride.ai application
  • And finally, presented on a wide array of currently relevant accounting topics

Blockchain at PSU
PSU Accounting Professor Kristi Yuthas served as one of two academics on the judging panel comprised of professionals in accounting, audit, tax, blockchain, accounting technologies, and IT security. 

“The winning team represents the best of our bright, hard-working, diverse students,” said Yuthas. “They took on this enormous challenge right when fall term and accounting recruiting started, and excelled at every point along the way. The other judges and I were blown away by their rapid mastery of the technology and their insightful projections about the future of blockchain in accounting.”

The challenge encouraged Yuthas to take a leading role in planning PSU’s new blockchain certificate program, slated to launch in Fall 2019 in The School of Business. The certificate will include theory and industrial applications along with boot camp style training where students will develop a blockchain and smart contracts, as well as trade cryptocurrency.

A blockchain seminar focused on business implications and opportunities in blockchain technologies will be offered at Portland State in Spring 2019 as ISQA-510 through the Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science.

This emerging technology also extends to University funded research. 

“Blockchain relates to my current research on business solutions to alleviate global poverty. In addition to important applications in accounting, fintech, and supply chain, blockchain is being used in the developing world for microloans, remittances, land titling, and more,” said Yuthas. 

TrueUp is planning two more student challenges in 2019, and there’s a strong chance PSU will be among the competitors. 

“We’ve only begun to scratch the surface in exploring its potential benefits,” added Yuthas. “We look forward to seeing what our students contribute to this exciting new space in the future.”

Contact Ketan Sampat (ketan@pdx.edu ) for more information on the new blockchain course and certificate.