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Jenkins MAC December Grads ‘Hit the Ground Running’ with Their Careers

NC State University Belltower
NC State University Belltower
MAC Dececember 2018 graduates
MAC Dececember 2018 graduates

While the majority of students in the NC State Jenkins Master of Accounting Program graduate in May, the program is flexible enough to accommodate an adjusted timeline, when needed.

Two December 2017 graduates – James Merritt and Shung Li Tan – discussed their academic experiences and career launches in an interview with Andrea Young, associate director of the MAC Program at the NC State Poole College of Management. Merritt is a principal auditor at Duke University, working in internal audit, risk and compliance. Tan is in an IT advisory role with Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP.

Q. What in the NC State Jenkins MAC Program prepared you for your role?

Merritt: The skills I gained in my Enterprise Risk Management courses, IT Risk and Controls course, and Advanced Auditing course have prepared me most for what I do on a day-to-day basis as part of a compliance team that is implementing a new enterprise-level risk framework. The courses gave me the knowledge and skills that have enabled me to know how to approach this task and to be an asset on the team.

Tan: Lots of group work and presentations through the MAC Program really helped me to prepare for my role, enabling me to gain more confidence in presenting my work to others as well as the soft skills to navigate group situations, whether good or bad.

Q. What attracted you to your position?

MERRITT: Being older than my fellow graduates, and married with two children, I was wary of the amount of travel I would have to do in a public audit practice. So, one of the first things that attracted me to this position was the opportunity for a great work-life balance. After interning here last summer, I absolutely knew it was the right fit for me. Duke has allowed me to learn and expand my professional network, similar to the opportunities available at public accounting firms. Duke employs more than 30,000 people between the university and the hospital, and many of my directors and supervisors have previously worked in large public accounting firms, so I also have a vast pool of knowledge to assist in my professional development.

TAN: I was attracted to the IT aspect of it. Although an IT audit is standard, I like that IT is always advancing so there’s always something new to learn.

Q. What was your background prior to entering the MAC Program?

MERRITT: I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a bachelor of arts degree in political science and worked at Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., for four years, in their retail banking division, before returning to school in the NC State Jenkins MAC Program at the NC State Poole College of Management.

TAN: I graduated with a bachelor’s in economics and worked for a year for a chemical manufacturing company before entering the NC State Jenkins MAC Program.

Q. How did you approach your job search?

MERRITT: I had a very different pathway to my job than many of my peers. I met the executive director (chief risk officer) of audit, risk and compliance at Duke while attending an ERM Roundtable with the ERM Initiative (based in Poole College). After our conversation, she told me to follow up with her if I felt that internal audit at Duke would be something I found interesting. I did follow up, and after meeting with several of the directors, they were kind enough to set up an internship opportunity for me in the office during the summer of 2017, before my final semester. At the end of my internship, the office actually offered me a position, starting in January 2018, contingent upon my December 2017 graduation. While they offered to allow me to go through the recruiting process (to explore other options) before I made my final decision, I felt the opportunity was too good to pass up and went ahead and signed my letter of employment with Duke University before beginning my final semester.

TAN: I participated in Meet the Firms, a networking event with firms coordinated by the MAC Program, and tried to get a feel for each firm’s culture through conversations with the employees. I really wanted to work for a company whose culture would be a great fit for me, and vice versa. Throughout my job search, I paid attention to the interactions between the employees and also tried to get to know the recruiters. I focused more on getting to know the people I would be working with if I did join the company. Since I was graduating in December, it was important to make the companies I interviewed with aware of my situation so I could understand what their policy was regarding start dates. I was flexible – for either a spring or a fall start date – so timing was not a deal-breaker for me.

Q. Progress on CPA exam: How did you fit in studying while in the program and what is your current status on the sections?

MERRITT: Studying during the program was hard for me, as I had family responsibilities and my wife was pregnant with our second child during my last semester. However, since finishing in December and before beginning my job in January I have studied and taken one section, and am continuing through the remaining sections.

TAN: I have successfully passed all of my CPA exams. I tried to pace myself since I had more time to study due to my December graduation. I made sure to make time for both classes and studying for the CPA exam. It helps to schedule the exam right after long breaks so there is enough time to review the material.

Q. Anything else you would like to share about your time as a student in the MAC Program?

MERRITT: I really would just like to talk about how great the faculty and support staff were the entire time I was at NC State. They made me feel right at home, and genuinely seemed as if they wanted me to succeed in the program from day one. The faculty was top notch and always made time to be available to meet with me whenever I needed help or suggestions as I was looking towards planning out the career I would enter into after graduation. From the day I met Kathy Krawczyk (Dixon Hughes Goodman Professor and MAC Program director) when I was working at Wells Fargo, she took extraordinary steps to make sure I got into the classes I needed to complete to make myself eligible to apply to the NC State Jenkins MAC program. I can never thank her enough for everything she did for me, and I can never say enough great things about the MAC program at NC State. I recommend it to anyone I talk to that is thinking about entering into or furthering their education in accounting.

TAN: During my time in the MAC Program, I really enjoyed meeting other students and getting to know people from different backgrounds. It really helped to encourage one another throughout the job search process and to comfort one another in stressful situations when there was a lot to do.

Note: Responses were lightly edited for clarification and flow.