Niskern '11 closing in on dream of becoming a CPA

Release Date: 12/9/2013

Katy Niskern's business degree from University of the Ozarks is quickly launching her toward her professional goal of becoming a certified public accountant.

Niskern, who graduated with a double major in accounting and management from Ozarks in 2011, learned in early December that she had passed the fourth, and final, portion of the rigorous CPA exam. She only has to complete a work requirement and a few other details before she will become a fully licensed CPA, which she expects to happen in January.

"The CPA exam is broken up into four different exams and you have to pass all four exams within an 18-month window," said Niskern. "The CPA exam has the reputation for being one of the hardest professional exams.  Preparing for this exam is definitely the most intense studying I have ever done, but it is completely doable even while working full-time like I was for my last two exams. Before I started, I read and heard all these horror stories about the test, but I found that if you put the time and effort into studying that you will be fine. You have to be confident in the fact that you can do this."

After graduating from Ozarks, Niskern went on to earn a master of business administration degree (MBA) from the University of Tulsa. After graduating with her MBA in May 2013, Niskern was able to take the summer off to study and sit for several parts of the CPA exam.

Katy Niskern '11

Katy Niskern, shown with fellow 2011 Ozarks graduate August Laue after earning her MBA from University of Tulsa in May, is close to completing the requirements to become a certified public accountant.

In September, she started her job as an audit associate with Grant Thornton LLP in Tulsa. Grant Thornton LLP is one of the nation's largest independent public accounting firms and is associated with Grant Thornton International Ltd.,  one of the world's leading organizations of independent audit, tax and advisory firms. 

"I have worked with several different clients, both public and private, in several different industries including energy, retail-consumer products and manufacturing," she said. "As an audit associate, I help ensure that the reports that clients produced fairly present their financial position and comply with state and federal regulations."

Grant Thornton LLP helped Niskern with the CPA exam by paying for her study materials. They will also reimburse her for the cost of the tests and fees once she passes the exam.

"The company also offers a bonus if you pass within one year of your start date," she said.

Niskern said the business program at Ozarks "laid a great foundation for graduate school."

"The business majors required students to take classes in all the different business disciplines, so I was able to better understand how these different disciplines interact with each other and understand at a basic level all of the different parts in business," she said. "These requirements laid a foundation for my graduate classes which were either more specialized or looked at the discipline business at a more strategic level. For example, at Ozarks I took a class in management information systems and a class in auditing. At the graduate level, I took a class in systems audit and assurance, which focused on the importance of information systems relative to auditing. I already knew the basics of information systems and auditing from undergrad, so I was able to focus on the relationship between these topics better because I did not have to spend as much time learning the basics of these fields."

Niskern also said Ozarks helped prepare her for the rigors of graduate school.

"I was prepared for the type of work they wanted and expected from graduate level students," she said. "All the professors at Ozarks taught me how to use different authoritative literature and the importance of being able to use this information to enhance your position. In graduate school, I used the skills for every paper, project, and presentation I did. Also, MBA programs are usually very team-based. Many of the projects that we did in undergrad were team-based and that experience of working in teams in undergrad helped me work in teams during my graduate work. In the business program capstone, business strategy, students were put into teams for the entire semester which include a semester-long project, as well as smaller project. In graduate school, we did the same thing. Learning how to play to each person strengths and experiences, lead to an enriching and good team experience since you had students from all backgrounds and experience levels."

Niskern said she still has a hard time believing she is so close to becoming a CPA, something she didn't was possible just a few years ago.

"I remember when I decided on becoming an accounting major at Ozarks, I thought I would never be able to take the CPA exam because it was so hard," she said. "Now, here I am and I'm almost done. I would tell other students to not sell yourself short. Having the ability to take and pass this exam and getting the licensure will set you apart from the other accounting students and accounting professionals. Also, I would tell them to take part in internships because an accounting major will allow you to do so many careers not just those traditionally thought of as accounting jobs."

Starting her professional career has given Niskern some perspective on her Ozarks education.

"Ozarks definitely prepared me for graduate school, taking the CPA exam, and for my current position," she said. "It was the knowledge and professional skills I gained that helped me achieve goals that I never thought I would be able to achieve or even considered as a college freshman. Going to a smaller liberal arts school like Ozarks helped me by offering experiences and chances that I would never have received at a larger school. It also allowed me to try all sorts of things before I chose the career path and field that I love. I was undecided when I came and changed my major several times before choosing accounting and management. The liberal arts focus of Ozarks allowed me to do this and still graduate on-time with a double major. Ozarks was a great place for me."