From French Linguistics to CPA: It All Started with One Connection

by Kirsten Duke, CPA, CGMA, WSCPA Chair for 2018-19 | Oct 24, 2018

If you attended the WSCPA Annual Meeting in June, you heard my story describing my path to becoming a CPA. I share this story when I have the opportunity because it illustrates one of the pillars of the WSCPA’s new strategic plan, “Connection and Community.”

Like many other CPAs, I grew up loving math. I entered the University of Washington (UW) planning to do something with that love for math combined with my interest in science, and was considering a career in engineering or medicine. To balance my math and science course load, I enrolled in French courses as well. By spring quarter of my junior year, I realized that I wasn’t loving the math and sciences courses I was taking and, frankly, I wasn’t doing well in them. I did not know what career to pursue after graduating. I had accumulated enough credits to earn a bachelor’s of arts in French Linguistics, but I knew I didn’t want to teach French.

Spring quarter of my senior year, I decided to enroll in business courses to test the waters and to consider whether I wanted to apply to MBA programs after graduation. Around this same time, I submitted my graduation application with a bachelor’s of arts in French Linguistics. One of the business courses I enrolled in that spring was Accounting 215, which was the introduction to financial accounting taught by Bill Wells.

That quarter, Accounting 215 was in Anderson Hall, about a 15 minute walk from the business school. I made the trek on that first day of class and found my seat in the front row of the auditorium.

Each day, Bill Wells would connect what we were learning to the real business world by sharing articles he had pulled from the Wall Street Journal or other publications. By week two of Accounting 215, I was hooked. I loved accounting.

Over the next few weeks, I chatted with Bill on our trek to the north end of campus each day after class. One afternoon, while I was sitting in Bill’s office going over a homework question, he asked me what my plan was. I told him that I was loving my business classes and so after graduation, I would start researching and selecting MBA programs to apply to. He responded that I couldn’t do that.

He said that I needed to stay at UW to earn an accounting degree and to become a CPA. He encouraged me to consider a career in public accounting with one of the “Big 5” firms at the time. You can only imagine what I felt weeks away from graduation, to have someone who I very much respected advise me that I should not in fact graduate, but that I should add two more years to my undergraduate studies. I knew he was right. I had finally found a field of study I loved and a career I was excited about pursuing.

Bill Wells continued to advise me over the next two years as I worked toward completing my accounting degree. He shared the benefits of getting involved with and holding a leadership position within Beta Alpha Psi, the accounting fraternity. He told me the value of doing an accounting internship while pursuing my degree. He encouraged me to take a CPA review course while still in school, and ensured I knew which UW classes would best prepare me to pass the CPA exam. I listened. I had offers from all of the “Big 5” firms fall quarter of my “second” senior year, I passed all four parts of the CPA exam on my first attempt before graduation, and I was graduating from UW with a clear vision of what the next few years of my career in accounting would look like.

It is truly amazing the impact that one individual can have on another person. Without Bill Wells advising me, who knows what my career would have been. I feel so fortunate and am so thankful to have had someone like this impact my life.

As you look around our accounting community, whether you are in public practice, government or industry, or are an educator, is there someone you can connect with to have an impact on? Is there another professional you can mentor, a student you can advise, a more senior professional to whom you can teach a new technology? Because of the impact Bill Wells had on me, throughout my career I have been passionate about student initiatives. Through the WSCPA, I have served the last three years on the scholarship review committee and I often volunteer at résumé workshops or on accounting panels at local campuses. I encourage you to look around our professional community and ask yourself who can you connect with and where you can get involved to have an impact.

Kirsten-Duke-HeadshotKirsten Duke, CPA, CGMA, is Chief Financial Officer at DomainTools and 2018-2019 Chair of the WSCPA Board of Directors. You can contact her at

This article appears in the fall 2018 issue of the WashingtonCPA Magazine. Read more here.

Looking to connect with other WSCPA members? Attend an upcoming WSCPA networking event or get involved in a WSCPA Chapter or Committee.

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