Jay’la Rivers, BBA ‘21 in Accounting and Finance, and Za’Taia Shelby, BBA ‘21 in Accounting and Finance, studied together and were both members of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) during their time as students at UM-Flint School of Management.
Rivers and Shelby graduated with high honors in April 2021 and were awarded multiple awards.
Shelby received the Outstanding Student Award in Accounting which is given to the top student majoring in accounting from the School of Management. This award is chosen by area faculty and is only given to one or two students per semester that have excelled in their studies.
Rivers received the Maize and Blue Distinguished Scholar Award, the most prestigious and highest academic award bestowed to no more than 26 graduates per year that have shown great character, talent, and service to the university and community.
Both graduates excelled during their time at UM-Flint and received internships at Big Four Accounting Firms during their undergraduate career. We invite you to read a Q&A about these shining examples of perseverance and dedicated students from our UM-Flint SOM community.
Q: Were there obstacles you had to overcome to attend UM-Flint? How were you able to do that?
Rivers: My biggest obstacle was my lack of funds. I applied to the university just a few months before classes started so getting everything situated was a challenge from the beginning. I made sure to constantly call the university and check in with financial aid to make sure everything was in order to start the semester.
Shelby: I did not have to overcome any obstacles to attend UM-Flint. The toughest decision was just making the final decision on whether to attend the university or not. I graduated high school as valedictorian and I was offered the Chancellor Scholar Award to attend UM-Flint. After that, it was no doubt that I would be completing my undergraduate degree here.
Q: What are your plans after graduation? How/when did you know that is what you wanted to do or major in?
Rivers: After graduation I plan to work part time for PricewaterhouseCooper (PWC) while attending graduate school. I knew I wanted to major in accounting in high school. I have always had an interest in math and being challenged so once I took an accounting class the dots connected.
Shelby: After graduation, I will be working full-time as a Forensic Accountant at one of the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young (EY). I figured out that I wanted to become a Forensic Accountant once I took a career test senior year of high school. My high school had to reduce our budget, so all of our accounting classes were cut my freshman year of high school. Since I had no prior experience in accounting, coming to college I was a little weary about still choosing accounting as my major. However, once I took my first accounting course with Professor John Stephens, I fell in love with accounting.
Q: What professional development activities did you attend offered by your student organization?
Rivers: I always attended career fairs. Rather I knew the companies that were going to be there or not I made sure to show my face and socialize. I also attended a variety of student organization events as well as the CPA 101 events.
Shelby: I attended multiple career conventions that included interviews with top Fortune 500 companies, interview advice workshops, internship advice workshops, meet and greets with these companies, and CPA seminars/ workshops. Moreover, this included us networking with people we have never met and building long lasting relationships.
Q: Did these professional development activities prepare you for future career goals?
Rivers: Every professional event helped me prepare for my future career goals in some way, big or small. Each event highlighted something about the professional world or accounting in general that I used to get me where I am today. A number of events introduced me to different people that presented me with great opportunities. If I didn’t learn something about the professional world at an event, I learned how to adjust something in my life to success in the professional world.
Shelby: Yes! One of my number one goals coming to college was learning how to network and this group taught me just that. In addition, I was able to gain insight from top companies to see what they actually sought in interns/new hires, and I was able to grow these skills along with my current skills. In addition, I was able to receive 7 internship offers, and build a relationship with Ernst & Young.
Q: What did you learn or value most from your internship?
Rivers: I valued the experience of working in an accounting firm as well as working during a busy season. Busy season is always introduced as something almost impossible or scary to be in but working an internship during busy season helped me realize it is not what it is made out to be. Yes, it is very time consuming and challenging but it’s also a great learning opportunity and an even better growing opportunity.
Shelby: The number one thing that I learned from my internships was to be hungry. To further explain, they did not want to just give me the work and I just be satisfied. They wanted me to ask more questions, dig more into the ‘why’ of things, contribute my ideas, seek out more work, and grow comfortable communicating with anyone on any level of the company.
Q: How did your internship help you or help you prepare for the ‘real world’?
Rivers: My internship allowed me to do a test run in my future job. I was treated no different than a first-year associate. The firm made sure I was well trained and prepared to work on clients at intern level as well at an associate level. I was given responsibilities and was expected to work through them in a sensible way. Working at my internship allowed me to develop into a better professional and an extra glance into ‘real world’.
Shelby: My internships taught me not to settle for what is just handed to me if I know I deserve more. This is a very valuable life lesson because it taught me that I should not settle for a good opportunity, but always strive after a great opportunity. For example, a lot of companies either did not have a Forensic Accountant position or the position was for someone who had at least been with the company 4+ years. As a result, many companies would just offer the options to go into audit or tax, but I did not settle which resulted in me obtaining a Forensic Accounting position at Ernst & Young right after I graduate college.
Q: How did the internship contribute to what you learned in the classroom?
Rivers: Every firm is different and has different systems. So, I learned many new concepts, software’s, and techniques that I was not introduced to in the classroom. Going back into the classroom after each internship gave me an advantage. I was able to relate actual client work back to the textbooks and work to understand it better.
Shelby: The more knowledge I had from school, the more beneficial it was for the company I was interning with. Furthermore, I would always ask co-workers from the company’s that I interned with for advice on courses to take to help me further reach my goals.
Q: How did the internship give you an advantage when looking for a full-time job after graduation?
Rivers: My internship gave me a huge advantage when looking for a full-time position because they offered me one after the internship was over.
Shelby: When companies saw my experience coupled with my academic background, it made me stand out. By doing multiple internships, it helped me determine the type of accounting that I did or did not want to do after graduating college. So, by learning what I did or did not like about certain positions in accounting, I was able to determine which accounting position would be most beneficial to me before even graduating college.
Q: Anything else you would like to add about your undergrad experiences, UM-Flint, profs, favorite courses, etc.
Rivers: It is important to take advantage of every opportunity given. Everything that the school of management does is for the students’ benefit and to give the students the resources they need to go forward in their career. Never be afraid to ask for help and never tell yourself no first.
Shelby: Along with your major courses, the technology courses will give you an advantage on the computer skills sought by companies. Taking additional entry level courses in computers will be beneficial because the more you know about technology, the more of an asset you are making yourself for the company. Also, make sure you do as many internships as you can because they will give you hands-on experience plus let you compare the actual course work to the actual position you will be working. Oftentimes, the course work can be very immense, but once you experience the actual position you can learn that there is some type of technology that makes it easier to do the course work that you were doing by hand. Lastly, UM-Flint is a great place to complete any degree. UM-Flint is very well-known and is able to offer/ create opportunities that will be very beneficial for its students. Unlike huge institutions, it isn’t very competitive to join organizations, which makes it even better to grow an abundance of experiences! Your college experience is all about what you make it, and UM-Flint gives you the opportunity to make it amazing!
Jay’la Rivers started her academic career at the University of Michigan-Flint in the Fall of 2017. Beginning her academic career, she quickly gained a liking towards accounting and declared a double major in Accounting and Finance. Jay’la was an active student leader on campus holding executive board seats within Block Club, Black Student Union, Beta Alpha Psi and the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA). She was also a prominent student ambassador with McGraw-Hill Connect and Becker Professional Education. While she spent her time as a full-time student and student leader, she obtained multiple internships at prominent accounting firms and nonprofits such as: Integrity First accounting, Metro Community development, Plante Maran, and Pricewaterhousecooper (PwC). Through her dedication, hard work and persistence she will be graduating this Spring of 2021 with her bachelor’s in accounting and Finance. Jay’la took advantage of each opportunity that came her way and in return was able to obtain a full ride scholarship for her master’s degree at Northeastern University as well as a fellowship through PwC. There she will obtain her Master of Management degree as well as her Certified Public Accountant license. Outside of her community and academic engagements she loves to travel, grow new foods in her garden and play sudoku. Jay’la is dedicated to fulfilling her purpose in her daily life and within her community. She plans to one day open her own accounting firm and program geared towards exposing high school/college students to the many different pathways within the field of accounting. One motto she continues to live by is “If you can’t do it out the kindness of your heart then don’t do it at all.”
Za’Taia Shelby enrolled at the University in September 2017 as a freshman aiming to pursue a BBA in Accounting. After being informed about double majoring and the benefits she decided to pursue a double major in both Accounting and Finance. After graduation Za’Taia plans on becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and she has accepted a full time Forensic Accountant position at one of the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, in Miami, FL. Currently, she is finishing her last semester of college while working part time at a Credit Union. Outside of course work, Za’Taia is a member of a few organizations on campus. Za’Taia is the treasurer of The National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), a member of Phaze Out, and a member of The National Society of Leadership and Success. Her interests include gaining and improving skills associated with accounting, finance, leadership, business, and networking. Za’Taia’s passions are being successful, traveling the world, and spending time with loved ones. Za’Taia came into college with high honors which led her to win the Chancellor Scholarship Award from the University, and due to her hard work and dedication she will finish her undergraduate degree with high distinction as well.