By Caroline Brooks
Rare is it to find an accounting student with perfect grade point averages in both undergraduate and graduate degrees, who has already passed the certified public accountant (CPA) exam, all while undertaking a full class schedule and student teaching.
Rarer is it to find someone who has shared a speaking engagement with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Rarest is it to find an international student selected by the Financial Accounting Standards Board for its one-year Postgraduate Technical Assistant (PTA) program and also receiving a $10,000 scholarship from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.
Rare, yes, but not impossible to find. She’s Aishat Akinwale, and as she says, “Michigan State University found me.”
As a high school senior in Lagos, Nigeria, Akinwale was preparing to attend university in the United Kingdom with her fellow classmates. She needed to take a year off due to visa issues, and in that time, she was advised by a family friend to consider her alma mater, MSU.
“Moving to another country where I had no close family, especially at the age of 16, was very daunting, but I realized that to succeed, I needed to get out of my comfort zone and be actively engaged in the community,” Akinwale said.
With an all-in attitude, Akinwale immersed herself in campus life and in the Broad College of Business. As an undergraduate, she formed community quickly while working as a desk receptionist in the residence halls, an accounting tutor for Multicultural Business Programs, a teaching assistant for ACC 201, and business manager for the Red Cedar Log, Michigan State University’s official yearbook.
It was during her junior year that Akinwale was selected by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to travel to Facebook’s headquarters for a discussion on the “Lean In” concept and book with fellow collegiate leaders and Sheryl Sandberg. She was cited in PwC’s publication, “The Female Millennial: A New Era for Talent,” and reflects on the experience as a turning point for her confidence. This opportunity taught her to always “say yes” to opportunities throughout her collegiate life.
Even more than in her Broad and social communities, Akinwale’s academic journey took on a life of its own. Early in her sophomore year, she laid the groundwork for her first professional opportunity.
“I expressed my career aspirations to my Honors College advisor, Dr. Charlie Bokemeier. He talked to me about the FASB PTA program and told me that I would be perfect for the role. When the opportunity presented itself three years later, I sent in an application to the accounting department and they later nominated me to the FASB,” she said.
Akinwale’s passion for accounting began long before Michigan State. As a high schooler, she took classes and was influenced by her mother, who worked at Deloitte Nigeria.
“I was always interested in the underlying transaction and how different parties are affected by an event. Accounting is considered by many to be the ‘language of business,’ so I took all my accounting classes seriously in my quest to become a better business professional, which meant having a critical attitude towards what I learned and always wanting to know more,” she said.
That thirst for knowledge will pay off in the PTA program, where she will be assigned to a number of the FASB’s projects as it sets financial accounting and reporting standards.
Her most important lesson she’ll take from Broad, however, will apply to more than her professional life: “From class discussions and cases and discussions we have had, there are a lot of gray areas in accounting. This emphasis has taught me to think critically and not accept things at face value and the first way I see it. This is a valuable lesson that I hope to keep professionally, but also personally.”