Accounting Degree Provides Path to American Dream
By Becky Kramer
Olga Gira often falls into bed at 2 a.m. after a full day of classes at WSU Vancouver, family activities, and homework.
Since she returned to school for an accounting degree, it’s been an intense few years. Two calendar apps on her phone and a daily to-do list help Gira keep track of class schedules, assignment due dates, and family responsibilities. Earning her degree has meant sacrificing sleep and free time, but the tradeoffs make Gira’s upcoming May graduation that much more rewarding.
“Next year, I’ll turn 30, I’ll have my bachelor’s degree, and my son will go to kindergarten,” she says. “It will be 10 years since I first stepped foot in the United States.”
Gira earned a university degree in Moldova, the former Soviet republic where she grew up, but realized she needed more education to get a professional job in this country. Family and friends supported her goal of earning a US degree. “They encouraged me to pursue my ambitions,” she says.
Initially, the idea of returning to school was “kind of terrifying,” Gira says. “I was an immigrant. The higher education system was different here. People talked about student loans and childcare costs. I wondered, ‘How will I afford it? How will I take care of my family and do schoolwork?’ It was all new territory.”
Gira is part of a close-knit community of East European immigrants in Clark County. She didn’t know any other Moldavian immigrants who had earned degrees in the United States, and, “I did not know any other mothers in college who had young children,” she says.
A supportive community
Gira attended Clark College for two years, where a subsidized campus daycare program helped simplify her childcare arrangements. As her confidence grew, her concerns about attending college in a new country—and a new language—receded. She spoke Romanian in Moldova and learned English after she emigrated.
“That first semester, I probably raised my hand every minute,” Gira says. “I’m sure it was hard for my professors and classmates to understand me at first, but I had so many ideas in my head I wanted to express.”
When Gira transferred to WSU Vancouver for her junior year, she found a supportive community at the Carson College of Business. Faculty members cared about her success, she says, and encouraged her explore the career possibilities available with an accounting degree.
“Olga has an infectious, can-do attitude,” says Claire Latham, a recently retired accounting professor at WSU Vancouver. “From her first day in my class, she stood out as someone so motivated and excited to learn from everyone on her journey: faculty, peers, business professionals, and advisors. That eagerness to get the most out of education—both inside and outside the classroom—is what I hope for every student.”
Developing an accounting career
Gira credits the college’s professional development opportunities for helping her build confidence and skills. She joined the honor society Beta Alpha Psi and got involved in the club’s leadership. She also took part in Meet the Firms’ networking events and has been active in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, where IRS-certified students help people with their taxes.
“I learned what a good résumé looks like, how to do a job interview, and the power of LinkedIn for professional connections,” she says. “And I met people from many of the accounting firms in the Portland metro area.”
Scholarships from WSU and outside organizations helped pay for her education. “They took pressure off of our family,” she says. “The scholarships allowed me to focus on school and not worry about working a part-time job on the side.”
After she graduates, Gira will complete her third internship and study for the CPA exam. She’d like to complete one or two portions of the exam before she starts working full-time at Delap LLP in January 2024.
At a recent social gathering, another young, immigrant woman approached Gira with questions about going to college.
“She was so surprised that you can choose your classes and set your own schedule. That’s not how it works in Moldova,” Gira says. “I told her that faculty here really care about how you are doing. The university offers so much more than classes, and there are so many programs where you can develop your professional skills.”
Support student scholarships with a gift to the Carson College of Business Fund.