Profile - Sarah Smith M.S.A. '13

Hailing from Grand Forks, North Dakota, Sarah Smith '12 B.A., '13 M.S.A., had wanted to get out of the Midwest for several years. So, completing the Master of Science degree in Accountancy program at the Opus College of Business this summer and taking a job in Seattle, Smith is finally achieving her dream. It was her experience in the accountancy program that helped her reach it.

Considering the 150 credit hours needed to obtain CPA certification, Smith saw completing the M.S.A. program and getting a master’s degree as an added perk on top of having to pay for the credits either way. For Smith, there was also no overlooking a paid internship–a component that’s sometimes part of masters programs, but not always built-in like at St. Thomas. “Lots of the time you’re expected to go find them yourself and here you’re guaranteed an internship,” Smith says. “With those other programs, if you don’t find one, you don’t get one.”

Smith ended her internship in audit and assurance with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) at the end of March, where she worked on three of the company’s private clients. Smith says one of her favorite parts was working in teams. “You’re putting in so many hours and you’re spending so many hours with those people that if you didn’t enjoy the people you’re with,” Smith says, “I don’t think I would want to be in the profession.” Smith’s internship resulted in a full-time offer that she will pursue in Seattle in the beginning of the fall.

For Smith, a 2012 graduate of St. Thomas with an undergraduate degree in accounting, a major deciding factor for choosing a college was the opportunity to continue playing basketball. Racking up an impressive list of accomplishments and serving as a team captain her senior year, Smith helped lead the women to an appearance at the Final Four last year for the first time since the 1991 championship team. No longer on an official team, but still playing pick-up games with the men from her program on Sundays, Smith is back at St. Thomas focusing on completing the MSA program, a way to earn 150 credit hours and the guaranteed chance to intern while completing the degree. Smith says another of the program’s biggest attractors was the professional development classes. “I don’t think I realized how beneficial they are and how much it sets the program apart,” Smith says. Her business ethics class is currently her favorite – something she studied in undergraduate, but that she still finds interesting. “In business situations, it’s not as much as black and white. It’s more like, this is a situation you’re going to see, and it’s right either way you do it, but there are going to be some negatives as well,” Smith says.

Smith’s classmate, roommate and teammate from their days on the basketball team, Lizzi Traxler, calls Smith a “quiet classroom leader.” “She’s very focused, but she also likes to have some fun and joke around. I think that without her in class, it would be a much different environment,...a little more dry,” Traxler says. “She walks to her own beat and that’s what everyone loves about her.”

Smith says she worked on the “easier” sections of the three private clients with PricewaterhouseCoopers, including handling cash sections and property planning equipment. As time went on, Smith was ordained more challenging tasks. Her last client lasted for seven or eight weeks, allowing her to get a feel for the entire business cycle of one client. Smith was also able to shadow three employees within various levels of the company. “You got to see what a day in the life in each step of your career would be like and to see how it changes,” Smith says.

Traxler says Smith is someone that’s “always going to put forth quality work.” For Smith, “it’s not about putting in the hours, (but) how long it takes...that’s really unique about her,” Traxler says.

Upon the completion of her internship, Smith was offered a full-time position in Seattle with PwC – one that she accepted with a gentle push from her mother, a figure she finds inspirational. “She was the one that kind of talked to me about moving out to Seattle because she knew that I’d always wanted to move,” Smith says. “She’s just always been kind of a cheerleader but also a motivator.” Before launching into her career, Smith will join other former PwC interns from across the country in July for a service project in Belize, teaching courses like financial literacy–an endeavor that fits in perfectly into her mission: to be of service. “(If) it’s professionally related, as an auditor, you’re providing a service to a firm and to the community at large,” Smith says. “But I think you also need to be able to give back to your community and back to those people around you.”

“She’s so humble (and) she’s always going out of her way to make people feel special,” Traxlers says. “In our class...if someone has a big interview, she’s always writing them a little message or a card wishing them good luck.”

Smith says she’d like to stay in public accounting as long as she can. “As much as I’ve talked to everyone, at the firms and everything, it sounds like you kind of take it on a year-to-year basis,” Smith says. She also looks forward to her move to Seattle, but won’t rule out returning to Minnesota. “It’ll be a new experience to live by myself, trying to find an apartment by myself, all of that,” Smith says. “I figure I can always move back if I don’t like it. I’ll always have a safety net here.”