Kish College student Briana Williams kicked off 2018 in Chicago, though not at a New Year’s celebration. She spent the first week of January at the prestigious and selective Mary T. Washington Wylie Internship Preparation Program offered by the Illinois CPA (Certified Public Accountants) Society. A year ago, she never dreamed she would have been selected to participate in such an empowering three-day program.
Briana graduated from DeKalb High School in 2016 and entered Northern Illinois University that fall, prepared to go through the pre-business program there and eventually earn a degree in Business Administration. But there were issues at home that became increasingly tumultuous over her first year and the large university started to feel overwhelming. “I just felt lost in the picture,” she explained. “I wanted and needed classes with more one-on-one type of atmosphere.” She decided to enroll at Kish College to get her bearings.
That is how she met Everett Westmeyer, Assistant Professor of Accounting at Kish who had been named the 2017 Outstanding Educator by the Illinois CPA Society. She enrolled in her first accounting class and began the semester sitting in the back of the room, quiet and reserved. Then she took the first exam and was a single point away from a perfect 100%. Westmeyer pulled her aside and suggested accounting as a career path instead.
“He called it “coming over to the dark side” of business,” Briana laughed. “Being in Everett’s class piqued my interest in accounting, but to have someone like him who has a lot of experience in the field tell me he saw something in me, it made me rethink my career goals.” Unlike what most people think, though accounting may involve numbers, it is actually much more. “I learned to look for the story behind the numbers,” she explained. “When you learn to do that, it is a fascinating field.”
When the application period for the Mary T. Washington Wylie Internship Preparation Program opened, Devin Payne from the Illinois CPA Society presented to the class. Briana was interested, but her GPA was one-tenth of a point below the requirement. Westmeyer encouraged her to apply anyway and he wrote a recommendation letter for her. She earned one of the 25 spots in the program.
The Mary T. Washington Wylie Internship Preparation Program offers accounting students from under-represented populations an opportunity to fine tune their internship preparation skills including presentation, attire, and resume/cover letter protocols. The program included mock interviews with accounting firm representatives with constructive feedback afterwards. A large part of the experience was the opportunity to network with representatives from renowned national and international firms.
For Briana, the turning point in affirming her career choice was the keynote address by Kimberly Ellison-Taylor from Oracle America and the Chair of the American Institute of CPAs. “She was just inspiring,” said Briana. “She started at the bottom and worked her way up. I didn’t realize how underrepresented I was until her speech. It was so empowering.” The entire program only got better from that stirring beginning.
“I came back from the program significantly changed,” Briana explained. “I was socially reserved at the start but my confidence sky-rocketed. I always felt slightly below everyone but now I realize that I am more than enough as I am.” Her future goal? It is now bright and clear: Briana Williams plans to transfer to NIU in Fall 2018 and pass her CPA exam in 2021.