What is your personal story?
I am a first-generation college student from Chicago raised by entrepreneurial parents who value education and learning. As a child, we moved around a lot so I found stability at school and solace in tackling educational challenges. Math was my favorite subject in school and I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in accounting because I discovered that I had a gift for clarifying difficult accounting concepts for students as a specialized tutor in college. Teaching is my passion. I have taught auditing, ethics, financial accounting, and governmental and not-for-profit courses to undergraduate and graduate students.
Porschia, you’ve credited your childhood exposure to your mom’s small business in sparking your interest in finance and accounting -- How did she engage you in her work and help set you on the path to becoming a CPA, and then a PhD?
My mom purchased her small business (a convenience/”corner” store) when I was 10 years old. She named the store J & P Drugs, Inc, the “P” was for Porschia and I was listed as the company’s vice president in the articles of incorporation. My school bus would drop me off at the store after school and I would engage in my store duties after completing my homework. My store duties included: (1) counting the cash and balancing the cash register at the end of the day, (2) helping my mom prepare the quarterly Illinois sales tax paperwork, (3) working the Lottery machine when my mom was busy and customers yelled for me to come and play their numbers, (4) taking inventory of the store’s goods and (5) accompanying my mom on her weekly cash deposit runs to the bank. I even started selling snow cones and ice cream to make my own money on the side.
Looking back now, I recognize that I was a “mini” accountant from my adolescent experiences in my mom’s store. My exposure to the different aspects of running a business set the foundation for me to eventually become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). I learned how to balance the books, pay close attention to the details of numbers, reconcile amounts, track inventory and be trustworthy in business transactions. Working in my mom’s store helped me to apply my math skills and gave me confidence in working with numbers. It also gave me the interpersonal skills to interact with people from all walks of life. Having a Ph.D. allows me to combine both of my passions for math (analytical skills needed for research) and teaching (interacting with students) into my perfect career.
You’re very open about facing some challenges along your path (i.e. the CPA exams); would you share what and who motivated you to keep pushing forward and the lessons you might share with others following in your footsteps?
The Black CPAs that I read about in the book A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants since 1921 by Theresa A. Hammond motivated me to keep pushing forward after I failed seven CPA exams. The book describes the barriers and discrimination that the first Black CPAs experienced trying to gain the work experience to become CPAs after they passed the exam. I thought to myself that if my ancestors overcame these barriers, then I could certainly push through my minimal distractions to achieve the designation.
I learned two lessons from my longer than expected CPA exam journey. First, you must be willing to invest the time in achieving your goals. If you truly want something, you have to be serious in your pursuit and be willing to give it your all. Second, it is okay to fail. I’m a Pure Barre member and some of the instructors will tell us “You are stronger than you think” to encourage us to get through our workouts. Failing is painful but it bolsters your resiliency and strengthens your character (you really are stronger than you think).
You have a trifecta of experiences: working in industry, for a ‘Big Four’ firm; in industry oversight at the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB); and in the academic sphere with your PhD research and current professorship at Cal State L.A. With your broad scope, how do you advise the next generation of Black STEMmers to discover their own paths?
I would say that the overall goal is to follow your heart by doing what makes you happy. Focus on your core passion and identify people who are doing what you eventually want do. Reach out to those people to ask them questions and if you can observe them at their jobs. Apply for internships that you can use to gauge your interest in a field. Be okay with knowing that your first job (or jobs) may not be the right fit for you. My core passion is math which led me to an accounting major (I started out as a finance major), to an accounts payable internship (then I switched to a tax internship), to a tax associate position (then I switched to internal audit after studying for the CPA exam), to a Ph.D. program (started out as an archival researcher, then I switched to behavioral research), to ultimately become an accounting professor. Your path may not be as straight as you expect it to be but as long as you pursue what really makes you happy, then you will find your way in the end.