Catawba grad completes thesis, lands fellowship

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 14, 2016

SALISBURY — Catawba College senior and soon-to-be honors graduate Josh Hill, of Fayetteville, has accepted an offer for a graduate fellowship at N.C. State University to further his education in accounting and economics. This fellowship also involves guaranteed employment upon completion of his master’s degree in accounting with one of the big firms of his choice.

Hill will be the only one in his 2016 Catawba graduating class to complete a thesis and graduate with college honors.

In developing his honors thesis, a requirement for all Catawba honors graduates, Hill wanted his topic to be relevant to his dual majors in accounting and economics & finance. As a recipient of the R.W. Ketner and family scholarship, Food Lion co-founder Ralph Ketner’s impact on the Salisbury community and his ideas and viewpoints in the video about his life, “Lessons in Leadership,” were of particular interest to Hill. He discovered that the Sarbanes-Oxley act of 2002 resonated well with Ketner’s approach to stock options, ethical failures in large corporations, and lack of leadership resulting in widening salary gaps and rising income inequity. Hill decided to pursue this controversial contemporary issue with enormous social significance, developing his thesis around the limitations and omissions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

The Sarbanes-Oxley act was a major piece of legislation passed by U.S. Congress in 2002 to protect shareholders and the general public from fraudulent accounting and auditing activities by corporations. It was borne out of the financial scandals of corporations such as Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, which brought public awareness to an epidemic of financial statement manipulations and a failure of auditor independence. It mandated strict reforms to improve financial disclosures from corporations, prevent fraud, and restore the public’s confidence in the accuracy and reliability of financial statements. However, since its passage more than a decade ago, it has come under scrutiny for its effectiveness.

The concerns expressed by Hill resonate well with Ralph Ketner’s position. Like Ketner, Hill’s thesis points out the problem of incentives among business leaders in running companies solely for personal gain. An investigation of SOX reveals specific weaknesses and subjects that the act failed to address, which mitigates the overall impact of the law. Hill’s conclusion is that Sarbanes-Oxley Act does not effectively eliminate the incentives to engage in financial statement manipulations.

“This thesis was the most academically challenging and emotionally satisfying project of my academic career,” shares Hill. “It was the perfect ending to my Catawba experience that has prepared me for the start of my professional life.”

In the opinion of Hill’s thesis advisor, Dr. Eric Hake, professor of economics, the integrated approach to personal ethical development and professional studies is one of the great benefits of studying at a school like Catawba College. “Josh has connected all the dots and it has been great to see. I’m sure down the road, we are going to continue to see great things from Mr. Hill.”

“Working with Josh has been great. Watching him apply practical business training and critical analytical skills to a contemporary social issue of great significance has been enormously satisfying,” says Hake. “Honors. Accounting. Economics. Finance. It is all there. This thesis demonstrates the benefit of blending liberal arts with professional studies. Students need to think deeply about what they believe, to challenge themselves and preconceptions so they may chart their path in life. Ultimately the business world is not separate from the rest of our lives.”

Hill became familiar with Catawba while his sister attended the college. Being from a very competitive family, he also wanted to make a name at Catawba for himself. And he has been very successful in doing just that. He is a senior double major in accounting and economics/finance, a junior marshal, president of the Honors Council, vice president of the Dead Athenian Society, treasurer of Alpha Chi National Honor Society, and one of the co-founders of Student Managed Investment Fund, an investing fund developed so he and his classmates in the Ketner School of Business on campus could learn how to handle investing in an actual market and gain real-world experience. Hill recently presented his thesis at the Alpha Chi National Council in Alexandria, Virginia where he won the 2016 Region III scholarship.

With his honors thesis completed and graduation approaching, Hill can now channel his energy into the next exciting phase of his life. He places a high value on the liberal arts and stresses that it has been invaluable in giving him opportunities and preparing him for the future.