California CPA June 2023 | Page 26

DE & I

By Charles Osaki , CPA

Pathway to Success

The Importance of Mentoring


After my retirement in 2019 , I joined the accounting department faculty as a lecturer at Cerritos College , located in southeast of Los Angeles County . During my second semester of teaching , one of my best students asked to speak with me about the transfer process to a four-year university . I paused our discussion to ask the student why it appeared that I was more excited about his future plans than he appeared to be .
The student replied , “ Being the first to attend college is often a lonely journey .”
He explained that although his family and friends were supportive , they couldn ’ t provide guidance to him when it came to four-year universities or career planning . He was familiar with a few local CSU campus locations and that earning good grades was essential — and that ’ s about all he knew .
For this student , going to college and getting a job was like going on a hike without a map and compass . And I discovered this situation to be the norm and not the exception with first-generation college students . While I ’ ve learned that success is equal parts talent , motivation and guidance , it is the latter that most first-generation college students lack .
In 2019 , another faculty member , Peter Moloney , and I created the program “ Pathway to Success ” to teach firstgeneration college students communication skills , methods to create and maintain professional relationships , and how to maintain high performance in their new careers , while connecting with a community of like-minded students . Students were nominated for the program by the accounting faculty at Cerritos College . To be considered , accounting , business and economics majors must be academically motivated and intend to transfer to a four-year university , with at least one year remaining before transferring .
The program includes a curriculum that covers an overview of accounting education , CPA licensing and accounting-related career opportunities . It ’ s accentuated by a speakers program of C-suite leaders from major companies such as Kaiser Permanente , Deloitte , Berkeley Research Group and Citizens Business Bank , to name a few , and workshops that cover a wide range of topics from résumé building and interviewing skills to business and dining etiquette .
The biggest impact of Pathway to Success , however , is mentorship . All of the approximately 140 past and current program students are matched with a mentor — 90 percent of whom are CalCPA members .
Kristen Contreras , managing director of Level Up , expressed the personal importance of being a mentor .
“ As a first-generation college graduate , there ’ s no better investment than mentoring a bright young person looking to build a strong future for themself and their family , just like I have ,” she explains . “ The CPA profession has helped me reach my dreams and now I help pay it forward for the next generation !”
From a student ’ s perspective , having a mentor is impactful for someone like Lucy Cruz , a junior at California State University , Northridge , who elaborates , “ It was important [ for me ] to ask for advice to know what opportunities were out there and the work I needed to do to access them . I realize that I don ’ t know what I don ’ t know and that has stuck with me . My mentor provides me with information about opportunities that I never knew existed . Those opportunities have led to my transfer , an internship , and meeting other influential people in my life .”
Brian Givens , a current member of the program and student at Cerritos College , explains the impact of his mentor on his college journey : “ My mentor , Okorie Ramsey , has instilled confidence in me to achieve my goals and is a living example of how someone who looks like me can have success in the accounting profession .”
With the desire to benefit more students , the Pathway to Success was presented to and adopted by the CalCPA Los Angeles Chapter Board of Directors , where , along with myself , CalCPA LA Chapter Program Manager Shelly Medina and former CalCPA LA Chapter President Keith Hamasaki run the program . Two additional community colleges now participate : East Los Angeles College and Santa Monica College , with more expected to join in the future .
Though the program requires a personal commitment of approximately two hours per week , the positive outcomes are clear . Having a structured program geared toward providing career and guidance , and strengthening communication and relationship-building skills , is a game changer for first-generation college students .
Said best by David Cao , former Cerritos College student and a junior at UC Berkeley , “ Before joining Pathway , I lacked a network of peers and mentors . There was little guiding me in one of the greatest tasks of my life : succeeding at college and beyond . My mentor , Greg Burke , provides me the feedback enabling me to make good decisions about my academic and career options . The beauty of all of the hard work has been the progress I ’ ve made . After graduating , I intend on adding the CPA license to my repertoire of skills and accomplishments .”
With resources from an organization as large as CalCPA and its like-minded members supporting Pathway to Success , first-generation college students have the necessary guidance and other resources to be successful — and will not be alone in their journey to attain success .
Charles Osaki , CPA is an accounting and finance lecturer at Cerritos College . You can reach him at cosaki @ cerritos . edu .
24 CALIFORNIA CPA JUNE 2023 www . calcpa . org