Director of Professional Education Programs, CPA Canada
This profile was originally published in the January 2014 issue of CPABC in Focus magazine.
Profile by Michelle McRae
Given his academic credentials—a bachelor of science in math and statistics from the University of Victoria (1995), a PhD in accounting from the University of Waterloo (2003), and a master of education from the University of British Columbia (2013)—it’s more than a little surprising to learn that Sandy Hilton wasn’t always a model student.
“I flunked out of university in my undergrad,” he says. “I was spending far too much time playing basketball and cards, and not enough time in class or studying. The university required me to take a year off and rethink my approach to school. It was a real wake-up call.”
In the process of turning things around, Sandy discovered a passion for education.
“While studying at UVic, I was hired to run the statistics department’s drop-in tutorial centre,” he says.
“Helping a few self-declared ‘hopeless’ students pass a mid-term or final exam was very motivating. Then I fell into accounting...”
After earning the CA designation in 1998, Sandy felt compelled, he says, to revisit his dreams of being an educator. In 2002, he became an assistant professor at the University of Alberta. Five years later, he returned to BC to join the faculty of management at UBC Okanagan as a senior accounting instructor.
Sandy would still be teaching at UBC had he not received the offer to serve as director of professional education programs for CPA Canada, effective September 2013. In this new role, he’s responsible for some of the initial development of the curriculum for the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP), as well as all of the ongoing management and redevelopment work.
“The initial development for most of the program began long before I started, and it’s being done by a team headed up by John Gunn, CPA, FCA [former CEO of the CA School of Business],” says Sandy. “I’m working with John to transition some of the curriculum development to the PEP team (my team). We’re already planning revisions to some of the curriculum based on student and other stakeholder feedback. Our first ‘version 2’ of a module will be ready for May 2014. We’re also managing the translation work, which is a massive undertaking when you consider that the PEP curriculum is over eight million words!”
Although the job requires him to spend a lot of time in Toronto, Sandy continues to call Kelowna home (it’s home to his two teenage children, whom he commends for “forgiving [his] eccentricities and frequent travel”). He’s accustomed to travelling a fair bit—his ongoing roles as a member of the ICABC Council and vice-chair of the BC CA Education Foundation require frequent visits to Vancouver, and he made numerous trips back east while serving as chair of the CICA Competency Map Committee and the Education Committee of the Canadian Academic Accounting Association)—but there’s no question that his itinerary has intensified.
As Sandy puts it: “The last three months are not a good example of a balanced life!”
Still, he’d be the first to tell you that the hectic pace is worth it, because his role with CPA Canada enables him to pursue his primary career goal: improving accounting education in Canada.
Not bad for a guy whose first foray into academia wasn’t exactly auspicious.
“Perhaps,” Sandy says with a laugh, “we could call this a redemption story.”