Accounting Students Accrue Competitive Experience, Exposure Through Alumni Guidance

Southwestern College alumnus and EY tax professional gives Brittany Tavai a tour of the San Diego EY offices. Tavai was one of four Southwestern College students chosen for EY's prestigious Elements of Success program.
Southwestern College alumnus and EY tax professional gives Brittany Tavai a tour of the San Diego EY offices. Tavai was one of four Southwestern College students chosen for EY’s prestigious Elements of Success program.

It was 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday in September when Gustavo Perez, treasurer of the Southwestern College Foundation and proud alumnus, drove onto the Chula Vista campus to pick up three students to take to Los Angeles.

Perez was taking these students to the prestigious one-day Elements of Success program at Ernst & Young’s (EY) Los Angeles office. Four Southwestern College students were chosen. One drove themselves but three needed a ride up.

“I didn’t want a socio-economic factor to get in the way of them being able to experience this opportunity,” Perez said. “No other Southwestern College student had ever gone through this, these students were the pioneers.”

The Elements of Success program is a yearly one-day diversity and inclusiveness event hosted by the EY Black & Latino Professional Network. Students tour the EY Los Angeles offices, meet recruiters for the firm and attend workshops and networking activities.

As an alumnus from Southwestern College and a tax professional for Ernst & Young in San Diego, Perez wanted students from his alma matter to gain the valuable experience by being a part of the program.

Many universities like UC Los Angeles and the University of Southern California had participated before, but this was the first time community colleges were ever considered. While the first contenders were Los Angeles colleges, Perez wanted students from his alma mater, Southwestern College, to be considered. He reached out to Elena Arteaga, an accounting professor, and four of her students and one former student applied and were chosen.

One of the students waiting for Gustavo was Jennyfer Laurent, a first-year accounting major.

“I thought it was just going to be a bus that was going to take us all up there,” she said. “I was surprised to see it was just Gustavo in one car, willing to take the three of us all the way to Los Angeles.”

When she applied for the Elements of Success program, Laurent didn’t think she’d get in. She’s a freshman and she knew how competitive this program was and was afraid a light resume and transcript wouldn’t be enough.

“All the professionals were so helpful and they were so open and willing to guide you,” Laurent said. “It gave me a perspective of what I’m working for.”

Brittany Tavai, who currently has an internship with the San Diego offices of the California Department of Business Oversight, said the experience really opened her eyes to the industry and its requirements to be successful. Thanks to Gustavo’s suggestion, Tavai is now working on starting an accounting club on campus to help other students gain more networking opportunities.

“It made me feel more driven to build up my resume and my skills,” Tavai said. “The whole way up to Los Angeles, Gustavo gave us so much help and advice and it really helped us feel prepared.”

Even though Kristabel Mendoza had already graduated Southwestern College, Arteaga reached out to her to apply for the program. Mendoza said she was lucky to meet Gustavo and to participate in the program. Now she currently in the interview process for the Launch Program internship with EY.

“It’s amazing that Gustavo wants Southwestern College accounting students to begin their networking and help us get the exposure we need,” Mendoza said. “As far as I know, Ernst & Young is the only firm from the ‘big four’ who want to connect with community college students.”

Gustavo had already been giving back to Southwestern College in a number of ways. He’s a fiscal donor, he serves on the Southwestern College Foundation board and now he’s creating pathways for Southwestern College students, specifically under-represented accounting students.

“This is where I came from,” he said. “I always had a dream of working for a firm like EY but didn’t have a mentor that looked like me or was brought up like me. I want to be an example to students at Southwestern College and just show them that they can make it.”