The Power of STEM
By Eliana Chow
When she was an undergraduate accounting major at the Poole College of Management, Shayista Syed ’19, MAC ’20, remembers hearing Jenkins MAC students speak in glowing terms about their instructors. “In and out of the classroom, I heard countless examples of how these faculty members went above and beyond to prepare students for the real world,” says Syed. “Those stories proved true time and time again when I became a MAC student.”
A Conscious Choice
The Jenkins MAC program at Poole checked every single box on Syed’s list of characteristics for her dream school. First, the affordable, accelerated degree would allow her to get a head start on her career and on her way to CPA certification and on-the-job experience. She was also drawn to Poole’s strong track record as a diverse program. “Poole’s emphasis on inclusion and belonging was one of the main deciding factors for me,” says Syed, who grew up in India. “I knew I would learn a lot from others in addition to finding my own place on campus.”
Throughout her time at Poole, Syed took full advantage of the vast array of courses available to MAC students. From managerial accounting to tax law, the quantitative nature of the discipline appealed to her most, but she also leaned into the team-building environment fostered in Poole classrooms. “The coursework can be a steep learning curve at first,” she says, “but the professors push you beyond your comfort zone to help you realize what you’re capable of achieving.”
Kelly Hardy and the career services office were also instrumental in helping Syed discover her own unique interests as she began scanning the horizon for post-graduate opportunities. Whether she was networking on-campus through events like Meet the Firms or taking a road trip to Charlotte for lunches with senior associates, Syed gained an inside look at the world of public accounting. “Without support from Kelly and guidance from my professors, I would have entered the workforce completely blind,” Syed acknowledges. “Having their support at each step along the way was an invaluable resource for me during that transition from academia to full-time work.”
The Power of STEM
When Syed first started her graduate studies in 2019, the Jenkins MAC was considered a non-STEM degree on paper. As an international student, Syed’s F1-OPT visa only allowed her to work in the U.S. with a non-STEM degree for a year after graduation. This reality came with the weighty burden of uncertainty during recruiting season. “Most companies are not willing to hire new graduates, especially international students, if they know you will have to leave after a year,” Syed explains.
But as timing would have it, the MAC program attained a formal STEM designation in 2021. Within a few short months, Syed’s career outlook made a 180-degree turn, and she landed a public accounting role at RSM, a middle-market auditing firm. With an official STEM degree, Syed has the freedom to work in the U.S. for more than a year with no changes to her visa status. “I’m very grateful for the work of our MAC Director, Scott Showalter and others who made this possible,” Syed says. “I would not have found long-term work in U.S. accounting firms without this new designation.”
Sharing the Joy of Accounting
After one year in public accounting, Syed made the move to a smaller company in the construction industry, where she now works as a staff accountant. Alongside her search for a healthier work-life balance, Syed cites the focused nature of industry as a major motivator for the change. “In public accounting, you work with multiple industries at once, and that variety appeals to many others in the field,” she says. “Personally, I wanted to learn more about industry and perfect my skills by working with a single company for an extended period.”
While she dreams of a career spent traveling and helping clients meet their financial goals, Syed also has a heart for service. In the future, she hopes to establish an educational institution to teach underserved communities about the value of accounting. “The passion my Poole professors have for accounting is contagious,” she says. “I want to bring that same joy to historically marginalized groups in the U.S. and around the world. Thanks to the foundation laid at Poole, I get to follow in the footsteps of the professors who have become some of my greatest role models.”
This post was originally published in MAC Program.