During her last two years at Washington State University, Kierra Flaherty’s day started at 3 a.m. at the US Post Office in Pullman.
An accounting major and Honors College student, Flaherty spent five hours sorting mail as a postal clerk before heading to her morning classes. She devoted part of each afternoon to horseback riding and her duties as president of WSU’s equestrian team, then fell asleep as soon as she finished her homework. “I really needed that full night of sleep,” she says.
Flaherty, who graduated in May, is proud of working her way through school. But she’s also grateful for a $10,000 scholarship from the nonprofit Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) and other grants from WSU that offset housing and tuition costs.
The $10,000 scholarship, in particular, came at just the right time, creating flexibility in Flaherty’s schedule during her senior year.
“I was able to take some days off work when I had big assignments or projects due,” Flaherty says. “It was really nice, especially during fall semester when I was taking 18 credits.”
To qualify for the PCAOB award, students must be accounting majors who plan to work in the field of audits.
“The scholarship recognizes Kierra’s initiative in pursuing her degree, her strong academic performance, and her leadership in extracurricular activities at WSU,” says Marla Meyer, Carson College’s accounting relations manager.
Flaherty grew up in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. She transferred to WSU Pullman after spending a semester at a private university. “Coming from a middle-class background, I was looking for more socioeconomic diversity in the student body,” she says.
At WSU, the chance to compete on the equestrian team was also a draw, and initially, so was the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“I’ve always ridden, and I thought I wanted to be a vet,” she says. “When I realized I didn’t want to see animals at their worst, I switched to business.”
An assignment through Carson’s Career Amplifier program helped Flaherty choose her major.
“We had to do an informational interview with someone in our chosen career field,” she says. “I didn’t want to do it. I thought it would be so awkward.”
Instead, the interview was fantastic. Flaherty talked to one of her dad’s friends, a finance executive. She was leaning toward a finance major but was unsure how she wanted to use the degree. He encouraged Flaherty to consider accounting. Working at one of the Big Four accounting firms would give her broad exposure to different career paths, he told her. After working for a few years, Flaherty says she’ll have a better idea of where to specialize.
“Everything he said was so helpful; I still have the notes I took on my phone,” she says. “Without the assignment, I wouldn’t have talked to him.”
Through the Carson College, Flaherty also got her first taste of international travel. She headed to Dubai over spring break for a faculty-led study abroad during her senior year. “It was my first time outside of the United States,” she says.
Career after graduation
Flaherty completed an accounting internship at KPMG in the Bay Area after her junior year, which led to a full-time job offer after graduation.
“Marla Meyer was a big resource for me in applying for the internship,” she says. “She worked her contacts at various firms and helped me identify what was available.”
During the internship, Flaherty got acquainted with a cohort of other interns and listened to KPMG employees talk about their careers. She also learned about professional expectations in a corporate setting.
“I’ve had many jobs, but this was my first career-type job,” she says. “It gave me an understanding of what working 8 to 5 in an office setting is like.”
After graduation, Flaherty spent the summer studying for the CPA exam before joining KPMG’s Southern California office. She’ll be part of an audit team, and she anticipates using leadership skills she gained as president of the equestrian team.
People often ask Flaherty if she sees parallels between equestrian competitions and accounting. “There’s a lot of self-motivation involved in each,” she says. “You need to pull your weight for the rest of the team.”
The WSU equestrian team is a club sport, which requires fund raising. As team president, Flaherty was also the liaison between the university and the 30-member club, and she worked directly with the owner of the riding stable that leased horses to the club.
“Teamwork, building professional relationships, and communicating professionally—I learned so much as president, and much of it carries over into audit,” Flaherty says.