Empower the Future
Minority students find the inspiration to pursue illustrious careers in the accounting field.
By Kari Natale
This time last year, Takabvekure Buranda, an accounting student at Harold Washington College, thought he might be working as a busboy for the rest of his life. His opportunities were limited and resources were scarce.
All that changed, however, after attending the Illinois CPA Society’s Mary T. Washington Wylie Internship Preparation Program at the recommendation of both his professor and career advisor. Ultimately, Buranda was one of 10 program participants to accept a paid internship at a notable accounting firm.
“Being a Mary T. Washington Wylie Scholar will take me to places in my life I never even knew were possible,” says Buranda. “I believe this program has forever changed my future, my life and my family’s life.”
The program is an integral part of the Illinois CPA Society’s commitment to increasing the diversity and strength of the accounting profession, and continues Mary T. Washington Wylie’s remarkable legacy. The first female African-American CPA in the United States, Washington made it her mission to support African-Americans aspiring to be CPAs in Illinois and across the country. Now, her legacy is impacting the 25 minority students who participated in the inaugural Internship Preparation Program in January 2013.
The program is made up of various components, all of which offer students a fun, interactive way to connect with a diverse group of working accounting professionals, engage in practical training not typically found in the classroom, and participate in open Q&A forums.
On the first day, a panel of five young professionals spoke to students about their career experiences and what it took for them to stand out, land an internship and ultimately get hired full-time. They also provided advice on factors to consider when determining a career path in accounting, and how to overcome the challenges of transitioning from school to work.
Marco Pineda, a University of Illinois student, is already applying for internships at accounting firms. He explains that, “I saw the excitement that real-world CPAs can have about their jobs. Meeting CPAs from several accounting career paths and at different stages in their careers gave me the motivation I needed to place myself in one of those positions. They are passionate about what they do and truly believe in the importance of the profession.” Internships are extremely competitive, and extra training can really set candidates apart. With this in mind, the program included presentations on the importance of diversity in the accounting profession, business etiquette, leadership competencies, ethics and the CPA Exam, and gave students the opportunity to connect with potential mentors.
Key to the program’s success were the ICPAS’ partnerships with the National Association of Black Accountants, the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, accounting faculty in Illinois, and a number of accounting firms and organizations in the Chicagoland area, including Crowe Horwath LLP, Deloitte LLP, Ernst & Young LLP, Grant Thornton LLP and KPMG LLP. These firms provided guidance on key areas such as the resume review process, and set up mock interview sessions—all of which provided invaluable insight into what these particular accounting firms look for when assessing potential interns.
“I really appreciated the opportunity to get resume, interview and internship advice from the perspective of people working in the accounting firms where I aspire to begin my career,” says Sharnay Bradford, a junior at McKendree University. “The networking and interview experience is invaluable to me because it gave me exposure that I might not have gotten coming from a smaller school.”
On the final day, participating firms conducted informal interviews and had the opportunity to extend internship invitations.
The extent of the program’s reach is impressive, with students from 16 Illinois schools (including community colleges and two-year schools) participating. Most importantly, the program attracted students from schools where accounting firms may not typically recruit, providing access and educational opportunities to individuals who otherwise wouldn’t receive them.
“This is a program that works, and it’s a program that we think is worth a significant investment,” explains Javier Magallanes, campus recruiter for Deloitte. “It’s important to us to identify and help prepare the top minority students across the state, and this program reaches students that we might not otherwise have the chance to interface with.”
Another significant barrier these students face is financing for their educations. As college costs continue to rise, scholarship support is becoming increasingly critical, which is why all 25 students also received a $500 scholarship upon acceptance to the program.
“This program opened my eyes even further to the importance of doing well in college,” says Buranda. “I’m inspired to keep learning and growing.”
Pay it Forward
All expenses for the Mary T. Washington Wylie Internship Preparation Program are funded by donations to the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois’ Mary T. Washington Wylie Opportunity Fund. This fund was founded by Lester McKeever, CPA, J.D., managing principal, Washington, Pittman & McKeever, LLC, and offers the community an opportunity to promote diversity and strengthen the accounting profession.
In addition, the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois’ Herman J. Neal Scholarship Fund supports African-American students in their pursuit of an accounting education and the CPA designation. This year the fund will provide three scholarships of up to $4,000 each to African-American accounting students who show significant potential to become CPAs and demonstrate achievement as well as financial need.
The support of individuals and organizations make a tremendous impact on the lives of hundreds of future CPAs every year. For more information on how you can lend your support visit www.icpas.org/annualfund.htm.
Kari Natale is development manager for the Illinois CPA Society and the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois. She can be reached at 312.993.0407 ext. 290.