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Back to School: Former Teachers Launch Second Career in Accounting

By Eliana Chow

Many students enter the world of accounting to achieve a long-awaited childhood dream or continue a family legacy of building relationships through business. Yet for others who set foot in the classroom at NC State’s Poole College of Management, an accounting degree marks a courageous pivot between careers in their quest for personal and professional growth.

Making the Leap

After teaching for several years in North Carolina middle schools, Michael Cento (MAC ’17) and Sadie Lang (MAC ’21) were ready for a change. With few promotions available for teachers, they recognized that the only way up the ladder was to pursue principal or administrator roles. They were reluctant to relinquish daily interaction with their students, so they began to scan the horizon for new opportunities. “Although I eventually ended up in public accounting, I was initially drawn to the idea that a MAC degree could translate into any industry or profession,” says Cento. “Business would always be relevant, no matter where I took my career next.”

Lang was still teaching when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the U.S. in early 2020, so she experienced the constant frustration of only being able to interact with her students through a screen. In light of the daily challenges of teaching online, she felt she was no longer able to serve her students to the best of her abilities. “The pandemic confirmed my desire to shift tracks and evaluate my options more carefully,” she says. “Through the career stories I heard from a CPA friend of mine, accounting captured my attention with its emphasis on both interpersonal and technical skills.”

Sadie Lang (MAC ’22)

A Bridge Between Worlds

Cento and Lang cite NC State’s affordability and financial fellowship opportunities in their decision to pursue a MAC degree at the Poole College of Management. For Cento, extra support allowed him to leave the workforce for a year while also caring for his growing family. Lang’s fellowship frees her schedule to spend additional hours as a teaching assistant for undergraduate accounting students. She welcomes the continuity between her previous career in education and her current pursuit of a MAC degree. “I still enjoy teaching, and the Poole fellowship opens a door for me to directly apply my teaching skills to a new industry,” she says. “It’s like combining the best of both worlds.”

When it comes to integrating accounting with his ongoing passion for raising new leaders, Cento notes that he and fellow teachers who enter the industry can seamlessly take on coaching and mentoring roles within their business. “I may be biased, but I firmly believe educators are uniquely qualified to make a career change,” he says. “Accounting strikes a perfect balance between existing people skills and training in new technical skills, leading to a natural pivot and a deeply rewarding transition.”

Michael Cento (MAC ’17) with his family.

Joining the Pipeline

In his current role as an audit manager with BDO, Cento’s schedule keeps him on his toes. Between shifting to a hybrid work model and serving a steady stream of clients, each day brings a new challenge. He credits his experiences at Poole for preparing him for this fast-paced environment. “Through tailored mentoring sessions and group projects, my professors and peers at Poole were instrumental in encouraging me to launch into an ever-evolving industry,” he says.

As she prepares to complete her MAC degree in the upcoming semester, Lang looks forward to delving deeper into the world of sustainable accounting before transitioning to a full-time role at Cherry Bekaert, a mid-sized firm on the East Coast. With environmental, social and governance (ESG) values on the rise in accounting, Lang is eager to apply her background in environmental science to this threshold of change through her new profession. “In accounting, there is always something new to learn and ways to translate that knowledge into real impact,” she says. “The community I’ve found at Poole constantly inspires me to stay curious and to combine my interests as I help companies make progress toward sustainable work cultures and a healthier world.”

This post was originally published in MAC Program.