Paquita, you went to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. How did this experience shape your career success and what is your personal story?
I am originally from Detroit, Michigan and I was raised by my maternal grandparents. Although neither of them attended college, they made it clear to my sister and me that we would. My grandmother, who was blind, managed the household and my grandfather worked in the steel mill after serving in World War II. It was because of my grandmothers’ influence that I knew that I wanted to be an accountant. My maternal grandmother taught me how to write checks for her and to manage the household budget and my paternal grandmother "hired" me from the time that I was 11 years old to do inventory for her business. Although my maternal grandparents did not live to see me graduate from college, I heard their voices in my ear encouraging me through each of the four degrees I completed at the University of Michigan.
At Michigan, I was fortunate to have amazing role models and supportive faculty and administrators. I attended the University of Michigan in the years leading up to the lawsuits challenging the University's admission criteria. That experience helped to shape my views about diversity, equity and inclusion. I participated in a 24-hour sit-in at the President's Office with my roommate, who is of Italian descent, to make sure that the University would continue its outreach and admission practices that lead to the most diverse and selective student body of any of its peers.
I was enrolled in the joint BBA and Master of Accounting program and I was able to pay my own way with the combination of a National Merit Scholarship and by working almost full-time for the Office of Development. Unfortunately, in my fourth year, my tuition rate doubled as my classification changed from undergraduate to graduate. I confided in the Director of Admissions at the time, Judith Goodman, and later that fall I found a letter in my student mailbox awarding me a private scholarship that would allow me to pay my tuition. It was through that experience and working in the Office of Development that I learned how important alumni support is to public institutions and I decided then that I would give back to the University as soon as I was able.
You majored in business, got your Master’s in Accounting and your PhD. You are now a Professor of Accountancy at the Zicklin School of Business at CUNY's Baruch College. How can you help others based on your own path of success?
The joint BBA/MAcc program lasts five years so I was able to have two internships, one at Deloitte and a second at Ford Motor Company. During my last year of school, I also worked as a Teaching Assistant for Financial Accounting. I enjoyed the experience and I did well enough that the Chair of the Accounting Department at the time, Paul Danos (now retired Dean of the Tuck School of Business), encouraged me to consider returning for a PhD. When I graduated I had offers from Citibank, Ford, and several of the then Big Eight accounting firms. I accepted a full-time role with Deloitte, but the seed for academia had been planted.
When I let Deloitte know that I would be leaving to get a PhD, they encouraged me to take a leave of absence in case I changed my mind and wanted to return. I remain grateful to the firm to this day for offering me that safety net. If someone had told me that I would leave public accounting to get a PhD I wouldn't have believed them since I did not know anyone with a PhD until I arrived in Ann Arbor. It was through the PhD Project that I developed a support network that includes long-time friends like Drs. Michael Clement and Nicole Thorne Jenkins. And it was because of the PhD Project that I again received critical financial support from Bob Elliot, who was at the time a senior partner at KPMG who later became Chairman of the AICPA, to complete my degree. I encourage my students to explore every opportunity afforded them, the same way that Deloitte encouraged me to take my second internship in industry and to give the PhD program a try. I view every experience as a learning opportunity because my grandmother used to say that “There are two things you can learn from people: what to do and what not to do.”
You are now the Zicklin School's Senior Associate Dean. What hard truths have you experienced that others can learn from?
Being raised by people who were born in the early 20th Century I learned that there is not very much that we experience today that hasn't already happened before in some form. And for those who are not fortunate enough to have the wisdom of grandparents, I recommend Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. As I celebrated my 15th year at the Zicklin School of Business in 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, I realized that I had everything that I needed and most of what I wanted. The hard truth is that most of our past complaints seem trivial and the fact that we are students, faculty and administrators at an institution like Baruch College means that we are more fortunate than we realize.
What do you most want for the Zicklin School and its students as they create the inclusive world ahead for academia and business?
In June of 2020, the Zicklin School's Dean, Fenwick Huss, convened the School's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force that I co-chair with the School's namesake Larry Zicklin, BBA '57. The task force was charged with a list of tangible, measurable actions that include making the student body representative of the population we serve and the faculty representative of the student body. By achieving these goals, the Zicklin School will continue to be a leader in propelling its students up the ladder of social mobility. And if there is one thing that our students can learn from me, I hope that it is that they will give back to their alma mater in the way that is best for them, as I did with my alma mater. A little over twenty years ago I endowed the John Robert and Minnie Lee Bussey scholarship fund, in honor of my maternal grandparents, at the Michigan Business School to support students from Detroit with backgrounds similar to mine.