Diversity in the CPA profession has barely changed over the past 25 years. The Society has been actively working to increase diversity in the profession through many diversity initiatives. One of them is the INCPAS Scholars program.
The objective of the Scholars program is to promote the CPA profession to minority high school students in Indiana. In 2011, I was fortunate enough to be selected for this yearlong career awareness and mentoring program. My INCPAS Scholars experience was incredible and surpassed all of my expectations. I didn’t expect that I would be paired with a compatible mentor, get the opportunity to meet seasoned CPAs and accounting professionals, and attend formal events tailored to highlight Scholars.
Before I signed up for the program, I knew I was interested in business, but I was unsure about what to major in. On my Scholars application, when asked what major I was interested in, I put marketing! At the time, marketing seemed interesting and I thought I had the skills for it. That may have been true, however the INCPAS Scholars program opened my eyes to the CPA profession and I’ve realized my skill set for accounting and my passion that goes along with it.
It all started with the welcome dinner. I met my mentor and we hit it off great from the start. She was a young African-American female, like me, and we had a lot of things in common. Our first meeting was the most formal and probably the most awkward, but that was OK. It taught me how to communicate comfortably with business professionals and adults in general. She was able to answer almost all of my major accounting questions and so our subsequent meetings we also were able to learn about each other personally. This was really important because I was able to gain not only a professional mentor, but a life mentor as well. She gave me advice getting through high school, college and how to plan my career as a CPA. I appreciated our simple yet impactful meetings. Our mentorship and friendship extended throughout my freshman year of college and I hope it will continue to remain strong.
Not only was the addition of my mentor life changing, but the Scholars program helped me make one of the most important decisions of my life: my college choice. I was still undecided until March of my senior year. It was when the Scholars visited Indiana University Bloomington and talked to administrators and students from the Kelley School of Business that helped solidify my choice. I was already a direct admit to Kelley and had some scholarships, but I was still waiting on my decision from Notre Dame. After that visit, I realized how prestigious the Kelley School is and understood the amazing amount of opportunity they afford their students. It was an easy decision.
The Scholars program also allowed me to meet CPAs and accounting professionals through many events and company visits. We were exposed to different areas of the CPA profession; some I didn’t even know existed, such as forensic accounting. We learned about not only public accounting, but also careers in industry, government and non-profit. We had the opportunity to network with CPAs and received attention that not many students get.
We learned about the importance of maintaining connections and following up with CPAs we met. I made sure to keep in touch with a CPA from Eli Lilly, who graduated from IU. She was able to give me great advice about majoring in accounting at Kelley and college life. As a result, I was more prepared and had a clear vision of what I wanted to do once I arrived on campus. She also provided me with a perspective other than public accounting. We still keep in contact to this day. By following up with someone who inspired me, I gained a second mentor who I’ve gotten to know and respect.
Another great part about this program was going to events such as CPA Celebration, a Leadership Cabinet and Emerging Leaders Alliance meeting, and the Diversity Summit. The Society dedicated time at each event to acknowledge the Scholars, which was really awesome. Normally as a student you are used to listening and acknowledging professionals, but in the INCPAS Scholars program it was the opposite. CPAs listened to us. They wanted to hear about our experiences. It made us feel really good to know that professionals really cared about what students were doing and were impressed by our achievements. It was good to know CPAs not only cared about students, but cared about diversity. The Society’s initiatives to promote diversity in the profession are making an impact.
Overall, I am pleased with my INCPAS Scholars experience because of all of the things I’ve learned and the important relationships I’ve built. I have increased my knowledge of the CPA profession, gained mentors I would not have had otherwise, enjoyed amazing places and events, and expanded my professional network. Due to my experiences with this program I was able to prepare a solid college and career plan as well as stay connected with the Society.
We learned about the importance of giving back and making a positive impact in our communities. So, I volunteered to be a College Buddy for the Scholars program during my freshman year. Additionally, I became a summer intern at the Society and worked on diversity and career awareness initiatives.
This program has influenced me significantly and I plan to stay connected to the Society for as long as possible. My advice to any future Scholar would be to make the most of this wonderful opportunity because the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. I also encourage CPAs to get involved with student initiatives. Your service and contributions really do make a difference!