The article “Pathway to Success” in the June 2023 issue of California CPA describes a year-long program of the same name managed by the CalCPA Los Angeles Chapter that provides workshops, guest speakers and mentoring to develop professional communication and job-related and career planning skills to first-generation college students majoring in accounting, business or economics at Cerritos College, Santa Monica College and East Los Angeles College. The program will expand to four colleges in January with the addition of Mt. San Antonio College.
In this article, two students share how they went from uncertainty about their futures to aiming to become accounting professionals and CPAs. One student is Brian Givens, a student at Cerritos College preparing for transfer to a four-year university. The other student is a former member of the Pathway program, Lucy Cruz, a senior, majoring in accounting at Cal State Northridge.
Q: What were your immediate plans after graduating from high school and what influenced your decision?
Lucy: Since my three sisters are college graduates, I felt pressure to attend a four-year university right after high school, but I was hesitant because I had no idea about which major or career path to pursue. They said that adjustment was challenging and the time flies by, which made me nervous about taking that next step. I felt attending a community college was the best choice for me financially and for figuring out what my academic interests were.
Brian: Because I was an elite high school basketball player, athletics was going to be my path to a college education, but an injury closed that opportunity. I was a good student and my closest friends were applying to universities, so it was a logical decision to do the same. I enrolled at Cal State Fullerton, but I was unprepared for the transition to a four-year university and financially unable to sustain myself as a full-time student. I also selected a major I knew little about, psychology, and had no idea what career path it would lead me to. I decided to leave Cal State Fullerton to work full-time and then start over at Cerritos College after a three-year break.
Q: Who provided you with the guidance to seek out your academic and career choices?
Lucy: A high school friend of mine was attending Cerritos College and explained to me that he was going to major in accounting because of the job opportunities available after graduation. That is how I initially decided to pursue accounting and business as my major and transfer to a four-year university.
Brian: For the most part, I relied on my friends for advice and to help me make decisions involving college, except I didn’t have a plan or any set goals, particularly post-college. My parents were encouraging but couldn’t help me with the transition. Both of my siblings attended college, but neither graduated and didn’t have the experience to help me with decisions I had to make, particularly those academically and career planning related.
Q: What hesitations, if any, did you have about pursuing a college education and why?
Lucy: Initially, I didn’t have any hesitations because of the support I had from my sisters, all of whom graduated with bachelor’s degrees. After a year at Cerritos College, I began to feel differently because I didn’t know what accountants do and questioned whether a bachelor’s degree was necessary to get a job in accounting. My first accounting professor, Peter Moloney, knew how I felt and provided insights into accounting career opportunities that I had no idea about. I spent many office hours in conversation with him, which solidified my decisions to major in accounting.
Brian: Starting over at a community college, I wondered if the time and cost would be necessary for a good job, especially since I was paying for college myself. For me, there wasn’t a link between a college degree and the type of job I could pursue, let alone a career. And there wasn’t anyone in my life to help me connect the dots.
Q: Tell us about how you found the Pathway to Success Program and why did you decide to join it?
Lucy: Professor Moloney explained the Pathway to Success program after completing his accounting class. The prospect of interacting with a bunch of other students I didn’t know was intimidating and out of my comfort zone. I took a leap of faith and joined the program. It was the push I needed because my lack of interacting with others was going to undermine my prospects for success.
Brian: Completing my first accounting course, I discovered that I liked it along with other business-related topics. In my next class, the professor, Debbie Johnson, talked about accounting careers and described the Pathway to Success program. The types of skills she described being taught in the program, along with the guidance missing from my past, was what I needed for long-term success.
Q: What are the most important things you have learned in the program and how have they changed your academic experience and career goals?
Lucy: Understanding “my story” and how my past experiences have developed skills that are aligned with successful job performance and are valuable to employers. I also learned to accept being uncomfortable to grow. Before joining Pathway, I had no idea how important making connections with other people was going to be, but it also took me out of my comfort zone. I understand that reaching out to engage with other people is necessary to learn and grow. Maybe the most important thing I learned from the program is that you don’t have to figure things out by yourself; instead, collaborating with others is the best way to take on challenges.
Brian: If you don’t ask questions or inquire of others, you can’t get the things you want or need—you have to be intentional about what you want and how you go about seeking it. I also found it to be invaluable to be with like-mined people surrounding you, who have similar goals and are motivated. This creates a positive environment and reinforces the decisions I make and goals I’ve set.
Q: What influenced you to pursue a major and possible career in accounting?
Lucy: My career choice is based on what I learned in the Pathway program. The formal training is centered on communication skills; however, we discuss the variety of career opportunities in accounting, including industry types, career paths, public accounting compared to industry, how your skills evolve with experience, and even international topics. We discuss possibilities and what to look forward to, and that’s exciting for me.
Brian: Throughout the Pathway program, we’re introduced to multiple avenues that are available in terms of careers and jobs because all types of businesses and organizations need accountants and rely on accounting information to make decisions. I found accounting to be multi-faceted way beyond the subjects we learn in the classroom.
Q: Did you have a mentor in your life before joining the Pathway program and what role has your mentor played in your academic and career planning experiences?
Lucy: I didn’t have a mentor before joining the program. One of my mentors, Vanessa Alvarez, is a risk manager at Spotify and provides me with different perspectives and examples from her life, and encouragement. Speaking with her has been a boost to my confidence and why I successfully ran for president of the Cerritos College Accounting Club. It’s been a difference maker.
Brian: I didn’t have a mentor, but I have one now, Okorie Ramsey, CalCPA member and AICPA Chair. He encourages me to continue on my path to pursue my bachelor’s degree and career in accounting. Between our formal meetings, Okorie makes himself available to answer questions and provide advice for situations I encounter so I make the best decisions for myself, which builds my confidence. His support led to me receiving a NABA scholarship enabling me to attend the national convention in New Orleans. It was very encouraging to see people like me with similar career goals and share our experiences with each other. It matters when you know someone cares about your success as much as you do.
Q: What motivates you to succeed and why do you feel confident about reaching your goals?
Lucy: Having goals and understanding how to attain them is my source of motivation. I used to make decisions by taking someone’s word for it, but today, I’m confident seeking advice and why doing something is the best thing for me. I am more intentional about the choices I make about my future. My family, Pathway members and mentors provide a great support system.
Brian: To be able to be financially independent since I have never been able to do that before. It’s important to be the first in my family to earn a college degree and then be an example and resource to others who are in the same situation I was. My goals are clear and in the Pathway program’s workshops and speakers, you get an idea of what is required to be successful in academics or career matters.
Q: What advice do you have for other first-generation community college students who are starting their college journey?
Lucy: Ask for help. Your professors are a great place to start, especially if your family members or friends are not able to help. Seek out a mentor because it will make a huge difference to the academic and career decisions facing you.
Brian: Get connected with others and start this process by getting to know your professors. Let them know about your interests and intent. If they know you’re serious about your education they will help you. Surround yourself with like-minded students by getting involved in a club or other activity but take the initiative to engage with them to make a connection—just start by introducing yourself and sharing your experiences. These relationships can make the difference between dropping out or continuing on the path to graduation.
Q: When you look back at the experiences you’ve had in the Pathway program, what are your thoughts about your future?
Lucy: I’m excited about my future because of how far I’ve come and for the things I have yet to accomplish. Two years ago, I was uncertain about a lot of things, but not any longer. When I graduate from Cal State Northridge in December 2024, I will be starting my career in the audit department at EY in Los Angeles, and nothing is more exciting than that.
Brian: The good things that have happened to me has resulted in a 180-degree turnaround—all of the work has paid off so far. A difference maker is having a support system that gives me the confidence in what I’m doing and the decisions I need to make. I know what success looks like, the major I’m going to select upon transfer to a four-year university and my career choice. The advice I’ve received has helped me align my academic and career goals, something I didn’t have before. I completed an internship with a Big Four firm this summer and have the opportunity to do it again next year. I’m really excited about my future.
Q: Why is it important for you to pursue a CPA license?
Lucy: At first, I questioned the importance of getting a CPA license. But in the Pathway program, I was presented with how much broader my long-term opportunities would be if I obtained it. Before, there wasn’t any one to explain it to me, but now it’s a goal of mine and I’m confident about earning it.
Brian: I have no hesitations since my aim is accounting as my career choice and obtaining a CPA license will open up more opportunities for me. I only worry about studying for the CPA Exam and what it will take to pass all four parts.
Q: What value have you gained as a CalCPA student member?
Lucy: I was excited to receive a scholarship from the CalCPA Los Angeles Chapter, but another benefit is growing my connections with other student members. I have served on panels to share with community college students on preparing for transfer to a four-year university. Being able to give back and support other like-minded students makes me feel like I’m a valued part of a community.
Brian: I was fortunate to be a recipient of a CalCPA Los Angeles Chapter scholarship. And membership in CalCPA has introduced me to a whole new group of professionals at every level. When I attended the chapter’s officer installation and scholarship event in May, professionals at every career level were introducing themselves and willing to speak with me. They also encouraged me to stay in touch. It was gratifying to have people show an interest in me and my future.
Charles Osaki, CPA is an accounting and finance lecturer at Cerritos College.