While walking to class as an undergraduate student in the NC State Poole College of Management, Jenkins Master of Accounting (MAC) alumna Alona McCluney noticed an event hosted by the Jenkins MAC program with representatives from local, regional and Big Four accounting firms. Weeks later, she saw another event with the same firms. Recognizing how Jenkins’ industry relationships could open doors and accelerate her career, she decided to apply to the MAC program.
She decided to take advantage of those relationships as soon as possible, too.
“I went ahead and asked one of the accounting professionals about internship and job opportunities. They probably assumed I was a MAC student – and I didn’t feel the need to state otherwise,” McCluney says. “By the end of the conversation, the accounting firm representative offered me a business card and recommended I reach out to a local recruiter about upcoming opportunities. It left an impression on me. I saw the Jenkins MAC program’s reputation with these firms – and how the program worked hard to build these relationships and provide students with a plethora of opportunities to interact with them.”
That summer, McCluney started a multi-year internship program with Ernst & Young LLP (EY) in the firm’s technology risk practice. She continued her studies in accounting as part of the Jenkins MAC. Then, upon graduating with her master’s in accounting with a concentration in information systems, she joined EY full-time in the summer of 2009.
Her 11-year career with EY has taken her to Charlotte, N.C., to Sydney, Australia and to Los Angeles – and this year, even to center stage at the Golden Globes.
Responsible for overseeing the entire ballot tabulation process from start to finish, EY has carried briefcases to the Golden Globe Awards since 1973 – and as times have changed, the skill sets of EY’s Golden Globe Awards team members have evolved as well.
“Today, this team includes people with very strong data security and data analytics backgrounds to ensure we maintain the integrity of the ballot tabulation process – despite an ever-changing security environment. Given my background in technology risk – and my experience with clients in the media and entertainment space – my skill sets directly aligned with the Golden Globes’ needs and objectives, so I was selected to be part of the team.”
For McCluney, the opportunity to celebrate the work of entertainment professionals who have contributed to shows and movies she has enjoyed during this pandemic year was an experience she’ll never forget.
“It was really amazing to be in socially-distanced proximity with these actors – who are everyday people – and celebrate all the work that goes into their performance. I’m proud of their work – and felt incredibly proud to be part of such a special, exciting event.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, the opportunity also highlighted EY’s core competencies of client confidentiality, information security, quality and trusted professional services, she explains.
“These are competencies our teams bring to all our clients around the world every day – and getting to attend the show and represent EY on such a huge platform was an honor.”
A Sturdy Foundation
Looking back on her career with EY, McCluney recognizes that her experience in the Jenkins MAC program set her up for success in her chosen field – even though her career path wasn’t a traditional one. Though she found that Jenkins prepared her well for the CPA exam, she decided not to pursue it immediately after graduation.
“Though I loved accounting and tax, there was something different about information systems that appealed to me. It felt untouched, so I decided to move forward into EY’s technology risk practice – and I found that pursuing certifications directly related to IT and security would be more useful,” McCluney explains. “It was a hard decision at the time, but I’m very happy with how things have turned out.”
The investment of Jenkins MAC faculty, she says, helped her to make this difficult decision and prioritize her specific career goals.
The MAC faculty had a vested interest in knowing me – hearing about my family, learning about where I wanted my career to go, and tailoring their approach to me.
“The MAC faculty had a vested interest in knowing me – hearing about my family, learning about where I wanted my career to go, and tailoring their approach to me,” McCluney says. “They created an environment where students felt supported. It felt like they were on this journey with us – cheering us on and propelling us forward.”
Specifically, she points to her relationship with Kathy Krawczyk, Dixon Hughes Goodman Professor of Accounting and department head of accounting at Poole. “Dr. Krawczyk had a way of connecting with students that was very inviting. It felt like she was walking next to me. She asked questions geared toward my specific interests,” McCluney remembers.
McCluney also found that Jenkins provided her with the tools she needed to succeed in consulting.
“Jenkins provided a sturdy foundation of accounting knowledge and opportunities within accounting firms and other non-tradition audit/tax paths – and prepared me to be agile. I graduated feeling empowered and standing on a sturdy foundation ready to embark on my consulting journey in the technology and media and entertainment space.”
Additionally, McCluney found that Jenkins’ industry relationships – which first led her to the program – enriched her experience in the classroom.
“Professionals visited my classes and gave a glimpse into their day-to-day responsibilities and interactions with clients. We did a lot of role-playing and had several opportunities to ask questions, which really bridged the gap between the classroom and daily life in a firm.”
An Evolving Field
Eleven years later, seeing how much the world has evolved, McCluney sees how well her accounting background has prepared her.
“Given the evolution and intersection of technology and accounting, there have been significant advancements within information technology and how we audit these systems. I’ve actually noticed that several people working in information systems started their career in accounting. It makes me really grateful that I got the foundation I did at Jenkins.”
Because of the growing overlap in these two spaces, McCluney is currently in the process of pursuing her CPA license.
“I have this opportunity to join several years of IT experience with my accounting knowledge to better serve my clients. And as I’ve been studying for the exam, I’ve found that I’ve been able to pick up right where I left off.”
Since graduating from the MAC program, McCluney has also learned to pursue success in all of its forms – which includes a commitment to health, wellness and self-care.
Taking advantage of EY’s global opportunities, she says, first opened her eyes to the importance of this.
“While working with EY in Sydney, Australia, I started to learn the importance of having a healthy work/life balance – and I set a goal for myself to become more physically active, mentally healthy and overall happy. Living and working in Australia presented an unexpected opportunity to find that balance. I made sure self-care was part of every decision I made in my work and personal life, and my time in Sydney reinvigorated me to push forward with other personal and career goals I had set for myself.”
When she decided to return to the United States, she chose to take a four-month leave of absence to recharge – and to pursue the next phase in her career with greater intentionality.
“I’ve learned that being a high performer doesn’t mean I can’t take care of myself. Actually, being successful in my journey and reaching my professional goals includes prioritizing wellness and personal goals as well,” she says.
As she has begun to prioritize these areas, she’s realized how much EY cares about it, too. In fact, EY encourages employees to use its wellness benefits and spread the word to others about the importance of physical and mental health.
“As I reflect on my personal and professional journey, I remember the wise words of my Jenkins MAC accounting professor, Dr. Lorraine Wright. She shared that there will be a point in your career where you level up because you’ve set your foundation and you’ve achieved the first set of goals you’ve set for yourself,” she says. “Once you’ve proven to yourself you can achieve these goals, you can continue building more blocks to become the professional you desire to be.”
Part of that process, McCluney explains, is continuing to take advantage of the opportunities given to you.
“Without having attended the Jenkins MAC program, it’s hard to say if my career path would have been the same. The foundation, the relationships, the internship opportunities – it all prepared me for this amazing journey with EY and has reminded me to take advantage of the opportunities right in front of me,” McCluney concludes.