Accounting is more than just crunching numbers, and FIU student Alec Sanchez’s summer internship in the capital proved just that. He served as a Start program intern at one of the “Big 4” accounting firms—PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)—whose services range from audit and assurance to tax and consulting, spanning fields from cybersecurity to forensics.
Adding dynamism to their internship program, PwC also sends interns to “client” sites for several weeks to gain experience in client interactions; make new personal and professional connections; discover the scope of opportunity accounting has to offer; and become learned, adaptable players in their field. Alec was placed at the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), which serves as a professional development pipeline for young Latinos, placing them in positions for leadership while fostering cultural pride.
On a bright D.C. morning, we headed to the HHF headquarters to meet with Alec’s supervisor and longtime FIU champion, Jose Antonio “Tony” Tijerino, CEO and President of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. We later met up with Alec to discuss his dual internship experience.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Tell us a little bit about the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and your partnership with PwC.
Tony: We are a leadership organization that focuses on various areas: one is workforce development and within that, everything from technology, engineering and education to entrepreneurship, finance and accounting. With PwC, we’re trying to funnel talent to them and work with them to identify top, uncompromised Latino talent—as in people like Alec—and be able to propel them into the workforce.
Another component of our partnership is making sure that Latinos think beyond their community, beyond the United States, and become more global thinkers. We want to make sure that the experience shows that even as an accountant you can make an impact. Through symposia on global megatrends that PwC identifies, we analyze how we can move forward globally. We also have a Youth Awards program—held at FIU—in 12 markets all over the country, whose math category is hosted by PwC, bringing in more talent and propelling people like Alec, in the middle of the pipeline, forward after completing grad school. We couldn’t be prouder. Maria, the chief diversity officer at PwC, is personally involved, and their chair, Tim Ryan—who is a visionary and understands finding solutions—helps us make sure that they have the best talent available that includes our Latino community.
I’m thrilled having Alec and the other PwC interns here. They bring such great energy and perspective. I want their experience to go beyond just supporting HHF and our wonderful partnerships with PwC and FIU. I want them to have a social consciousness beyond what they know. We brought in kids from Salinas Valley, Calif. for interns to get exposure to different cultures in different areas, and learn about what’s happening with farm workers’ daughters and sons who are as ambitious as they are, but whose community faces very different issues than those of Miami Latinos, including access to technology, “apoyo” in filling out college applications, etc. When you’re an accounting major, it’s important that you also get exposed to the community and the bigger issues that we’re addressing. Alec has been like a sponge taking it all in.
How can students get involved with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation?
Loft.org, which stands for “Latinos on fast track.” In joining our network, students can be invited to the symposia with PwC. We also hosted a discussion with Coca-Cola in New York and LA recently on Latinas and the very unique challenges they face, and how to maneuver as young professionals through careers (since research from our network shows that “we get no love as young professionals”). We do everything from “charlas,” which we just did with the head of Google’s multicultural marketing to talk about opportunities in the tech industry, how to think more broadly, and what it takes to achieve work-life balance in a monstrous company like that, and also work with communities all over the country, like the Latino market.
There are a whole lot of ways to get involved, but the best way is to get on our mailing list so that you can be aware of the next “charla” in your community, a Google hangout that we’re doing, or even potentially get access to the Hispanic Heritage Awards, where we’re honoring Justice Sotomayor, Junot Diaz, and more.
The Youth Awards program also covers various categories, including science, technology, engineering, and entrepreneurship. We get over 10,000 applicants from all over the country whose average GPAs are between a 3.5 and a 4.0.
FIU has been a partner of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation for a while. Tell us your thoughts on how much we’ve grown in the last five years, and how that ties in with HHF.
FIU is the example that I give to other universities as a branding and positioning strategy for a university. FIU was a presence in South Florida, but they’re a presence nationally now here in the nation’s capital, and I give a lot of credit to Carlos, the team, and the vision of President Rosenberg for that. Our former chairman and a dear friend of mine, Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, is also in the medical school at FIU!
One of our students 16 years ago, in HHF’s first class, was a journalism major from FIU named Jesse Rodriguez. Now in his thirties, he is a senior producer on MSNBC and “Morning Joe.” There’s something special about the career arch that I’ve seen with FIU: How do you then get a Jesse to work with other FIU students to make sure that they have a shortcut? Another HHF student through our Loft program, Karina, was from FIU and interested in healthcare. She’s now working on CVS through a consulting group and is my contact for our partnership with CVS Health.
FIU is running through our veins here at HHF. It is an example of what colleges can do—and should do—to have a national presence in this country as a formidable university. I’m so proud.
Tell us a little about yourself, what you study at FIU, and what your professional/intellectual passion areas are.
Alec: I’m a rising senior at the School of Accounting at FIU. I’ll be graduating with my bachelor’s in May, and then I’ll be going onto my master’s in accounting and graduate in May 2018 with my 150 credits to be CPA eligible. My passions lie in forensic accounting: the investigative work the FBI or U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security do that accounting ties into. I would love to do that or work for a company like PwC in advisory or something related. Federal work is my passion, so D.C. is probably the place to do that. That’s why I came for the summer.
How did you find your internship, and what attracted you to PwC and the work that they do?
I found my internship through “Ahead of the Game” at FIU, which is for accounting and finance students. They get huge companies to come in, network, and take your resume. There, I met the recruiter from D.C. for PwC, we struck up a conversation, and it kind of went from there. We talked about what my interests are and why I wanted to come to D.C. for the summer.
PwC is one of the “Big 4” companies for accounting. Once I actually started talking to a few people there, I fell in love with the culture, and that’s why I chose to pursue an internship with them. In my seven weeks, I don’t think I’ve had a day without a meeting. I got the chance to lunch with the executive director for Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection, I shadowed the public sector, and much more. We got to go to Capitol Hill and do lots of cool things—like go to Nationals games and play basketball in the Verizon Center. It’s been a memorable experience to say the least.
What does a day in the life of an intern at PwC look like?
A day in the life is what you make of it. They don’t give you a schedule when you walk in the first week, and say: “This is what you’re going to be doing next Monday through Friday.” They give you a list of your supervisor, your career coach, your peer buddy, and your relations coach, and that’s all you get. You have to make do with that: Network and put your name out there. They’re going to send you emails with different lunch-and-learns and different networking opportunities, but no one guides your hand.
One Friday, I decided I hadn’t met too many people—I had met my supervisor and a few others, but I hadn’t met too many leaders in the field and people I wanted to shadow—so I went out and bought two boxes of donuts. I walked in and walked around the office building handing out donuts and introducing myself. That actually led to a lot of different shadowing opportunities.
You’re going to have your work, but there are also a lot of open gaps that you need to fill. Rather than just sitting at your desk and talking to other interns, do lunches and don’t be afraid to network with people outside of the company. Meeting with clients outside of the company and building relationships—that’s all the summer is about. And on an intern salary: Take advantage of lunches. Every time you ask someone to go to coffee or lunch, they’re probably going to pay for it. Don’t be afraid to email people and say hello. Network, network, network.
What kind of accounting work do they give you?
I’m in the Start program right now because I’m still about another two years away from my 150 credits for CPA eligibility. The Start internship is more diverse, where you get to shadow different departments. The following level, Advance, (when you’re one year away from your 150 credits) lets you pick a specific field: If you were to pick assurance, you’d go audit clients. For public sector, you work with the federal government. But it’s never as hard as if you were an employee, and if you get a job offer during the Advance program, you get to go to Disney for a week after the internship.
They tailor the experience to be fun, not overwhelming. If you know how to build relationships and have good business acumen—showing up on time, taking notes at every meeting, looking professional, and wanting to learn—that’s all you really need. They don’t expect you to know much, and you probably won’t. It’s totally different per sector and per field.
Tell us about what you do with HHF and how that plays a role in your internship.
HHF is a partner with PwC, and they place us here for three weeks as our client. Whatever HHF needs, we’re here for them. We still do work from our supervisors at PwC, but we do a lot of work for HHF. Something I’ve been working on, for instance, is researching Latino professionals in the region’s healthcare industry for a partnership with CVS and Latinos in the northeast that HHF is coordinating. They also have a big initiative with Latinos coding and learning tech, so they hosted a program that I worked on for a few afternoons, learning how to code. It was really cool to get a baseline in that. We had a meeting on event planning and how they plan their Hispanic Heritage Awards, which is very big, with some of the biggest names in the industry and thousands of people in attendance. Even though it’s not accounting, it’s good to be well-rounded.
It is eye-opening to see how they help Hispanics around the country who might get pushed down because they’re Hispanic instead of brought up. To see that was a great experience, and I’m glad I got to meet all of these great people—like Tony, who has a great heart, knows a lot of people in the industry, and has done a lot of great things for them over the years. It’s a wonderful foundation.
Give us the top 3 skills or lessons you’ve learned at D.C. and on the job.
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. I was born and raised in Miami, so coming up to D.C. for the summer was definitely uncomfortable at first, even though I’ve always been independent. You think ‘what am I doing here.’ You go into this huge company, networking with huge professionals. There are going to be things you don’t necessarily want to do or didn’t expect—these are all things that can be scary at first, but get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
- Be open to new opportunities. For example, I’ve always known I didn’t want to do tax, but if a tax associate or senior wants you to shadow (which I did), learn about tax and be open to that. Network. If you want to reach out to a partner or a director in tax and go to lunch with them, go to lunch: You may not be interested in tax, but get to know them because they’re people who are in the field and have been in the field for a long time—you can learn a lot, and they may know people in the area where you want to work and can help you get on their calendars.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or sound stupid. When you’re interning and you move to another city, don’t just let opportunities pass you by because you’re too afraid to ask. If you don’t know how to get somewhere, reach out to another intern or employee. People don’t expect you to know everything; they expect you to be lost, especially if you’re from another city. And if you’re coming to D.C., reach out to FIU in D.C. and ask them all of the questions you can and bother them like crazy; I know I did. If you have an interest in going to events outside of your internship, also don’t be afraid to ask to attend. You’re there to work for your organization and be respectful, but they’re usually completely okay with you networking, and they like to see you with people outside of the firm. Remember: How does the firm get business? From people outside of the firm. If you show them you can build relationships, then you can potentially help them attract new business in the future.
What’s the coolest thing that’s happened during your summer in D.C.?
It’s been a fun-packed summer. Some cool things are that I played basketball on the courts the Wizards play on in the Verizon Center, I met Shailene Woodley from the “Divergent” movies at an event on Capitol Hill, I got to be in D.C. for Fourth of July, and I went to the Nationals ballpark.
How do you think this experience has helped you in getting your future goals in order?
I always knew I wanted to do accounting, and I was leaning toward assurance to work in audit; I always knew that I wanted it to lead into FBI or something similar. But when I came up here, the internship changed things, because I hadn’t really considered public sector advisory work for the federal government. Even though it’s not direct accounting or auditing, it’s something I’m looking into now that I hadn’t before.
Doing an internship outside of where you live also definitely changes things, especially in places like New York and D.C. because of the network you make. You’re here to intern and build a network, so you go to events at night like the panels at FIU in D.C. A lot is not what you know, it’s who you know; I’ve definitely built my network toward the career I want since I’ve been here. There are lots of people graduating with high GPAs and a lot of internships nowadays, so you need to differentiate yourself. I think doing these internships and meeting people, making them remember who you are, and keeping in touch is the most important thing. Don’t leave for the summer and think “I’m done.” Keep that network going because in the future, it can be very important, even if you’re not in D.C. You’d be surprised how much pull it can have in companies with offices in Miami or another location.
What are your thoughts on FIU in D.C. and would you join the Panther network up here again?
The FIU office in D.C. has been phenomenal. It was a surprise for me; I didn’t expect or know it was happening when I was coming up, but it is amazing and it is growing. D.C. is definitely a place recent grads and professionals want to network; there are a lot of people and connections here that can benefit you around the U.S. I love FIU in D.C. and everyone there is super cool; it’s definitely been a big help.
Interested in living and working or interning in D.C.? Contact FIU Career & Internship Success Manager Ethan Starkey at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about FIU in D.C., go to washingtondc.fiu.edu or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.