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Setting Her (Over)sights on Success

July 1, 2021 Jim Warner
Accountancy Graduate Elyse Portal at Spring 2021 Commencement

When College of Business student Elyse Portal learned she was a 2021 Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) Scholar, it came as a welcome surprise. Since 2011 the PCAOB has awarded scholarships to undergrad and graduate students pursuing careers as auditors. The May graduate is preparing to earn her Masters of Accountancy from the College. Being named PCAOB Scholar is a validation of Elyse’s hard work and grit as an undergrad.

The impact of this scholarship has additional resonance beyond acknowledging Elyse’s academic effort and excellence — she graduated summa cum laude with the Woodrow M. Strickler Leadership Award for Accountancy. As she was heading into her sophomore year, the family suffered a major blow. Elyse’s father was diagnosed with Stage 3 stomach cancer. The tragedy was compounded by her grandfather’s passing only a few months earlier. Even as she took her father to treatment, Elyse continued to excel as an undergrad, eventually landing a financial planning internship with KFC her senior year. “My sister encouraged me to speak with them at [the College of Business] career fair,” says Elyse. “I gave them my resume and didn’t think anything of it…and then they brought me in!”

This internship helped open the door to a new graduate internship with the Internal Audit team at Yum! Brands. Moving from the relatively small team at KFC to its parent company has already given Elyse multiple opportunities to work with a variety of people and offers her a look into her future.

A Timely Scholarship

Because of the medical costs for her father’s cancer treatment, Elyse opted to pay her own way as a graduate student. “Thankfully, my father is now in remission, but it’s still a heavy financial burden for my parents. I didn’t want him or my mother to worry about another thing.” The PCAOB award goes a long way to making her graduate degree a reality. 

“Elyse exemplifies the best qualities of an accounting graduate, including outstanding academic achievement, leadership, and service,” says accountancy instructor Lisa Blum, LLM. As faculty advisor to Beta Alpha Psi, Professor Blum has been a mentor to Elyse. “I feel like [Professor Blum] has really taken me under her wing ever since I joined [the honor society]. She is such an incredible mentor…she is always there if I needed something—even when I had a question about my personal tax return, she was quick with an answer! I’m excited that she’s also teaching in the MAC program.” Along with Professor Blum, Elyse is also grateful for Dr. Bill Stout’s support. “Dr. Stout actually nominated me for the PCAOB. He encouraged me to apply, and I cannot say how much this award means to me.”

Elyse has found a passion in accounting. She hopes once she becomes a CPA, that a career in auditing is waiting for her. “I would love to stay with Yum! if they will have me. There’s so much room for growth here.” While opportunities at Yum! are appealing to Elyse, what’s as inspiring is Yum!’s commitment to diversity. Seeing women in leadership continues the narrative of mentors in Elyse’s life—from Lisa Blum to Elyse’s mother (who runs the family business, Smooth Finish Auto Collision Repair). “As a Latina, I’m going to have different experiences in the office. To see these strong, powerful ladies in these positions is so encouraging. I feel empowered. It makes me excited to be a mentor.”

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