Karina Morales
Monday, December 11, 2017
By Ruth Paarmann

Accounting major Karina Morales loves to be challenged. Little did she know that moving to her college of choice from Elgin, Illinois, a highly diverse community, would be so challenging—and so rewarding.

“While Iowa was my first choice, my family and I didn’t even know where Iowa City was,” Karina explains. “But my Mom and I drove here and fell in love with the campus and the feeling.”

Karina is a first-generation Mexican American and the first in her family to receive an education beyond grade school. (Her sister will soon follow in her footsteps.) She attended Streamwood High School, where she completed a language and business curriculum. She took Japanese classes because she already knew Spanish, her first language, but it was the business program that motivated her to follow an accounting path.

“In my last year, I took introductory accounting. It was basic, but it got my wheels spinning. I understand the concepts and see the connections everything makes,” she says.

Karina likes the applicability of accounting. After ruling out marketing “because I’m not creative,” she also considered finance. “But I didn’t enjoy the predictive part.”

Creating Her Community

From a social and cultural point of view, it was challenging not seeing the same diversity on campus she had experienced all her life.

“It was a huge cultural transition,” she says.

Karina turned to organizations like Delta Sigma Pi, the business fraternity, and the Association of Latinos Moving Ahead (ALMA) to ease the transition. Having been directly admitted to the Tippie College of Business, she also participated in the college’s Peer Mentoring Program.

“I had two strong women as peer mentors in the first few weeks on campus. They led me to the organizations I’ve been involved in and pushed me to get out there the first couple of weeks. They were open to talking about personal, professional, and academic problems.”

This year, she became one of the first students to provide peer mentoring three years in a row.

“My mentors gave me so much, so my duty is to give back. I might not be able to help every single student, but I can personally help a handful of students get a step further in their college careers. It gives me great happiness to give back to the community that gave to me.”

By collaborating with an advisor and other students, she contributed to teaching the Direct Admit Seminar, which orients students to the UI and the Tippie College of Business. Through this experience, she improved her communication, organization, teaching, and team-building skills.

“I now know my own personal strengths and can make sure my teams are well rounded to fill those areas where I may not be as strong,” Karina says. 

Delta Sigma Pi became an important part of Karina’s new community. The organization holds meetings and events on and off campus to enhance scholarship, leadership, service, and professional development.

“I’ve been involved since my first semester,” she says. “One of my mentors was president and made me feel very welcome. I made some of my best friends in Delta Sigma Pi. I’ve also been able to improve my resume and networking skills. It helped me get the internships I wanted.”

Championing Diversity & Inclusion

Noticing a lack of diversity in the membership, Karina took action. She saw that other campus organizations often have positions to address diversity. She asked the Delta Sigma Pi board to establish a Diversity Chair position, and she took on that role this fall.

“Our goals are to establish overall diversity objectives and schedule more diversity events.”

Her love for the social and cultural student group, ALMA, further helped her expand her community—an important factor, because her family was always close knit. She also served as the organization’s treasurer for one year.

“Being a member of ALMA has given me more than an organization that shares culture. It’s definitely a family—the best support system of friends and mentors. They have similar experiences as myself, and we always have a great time, no matter what. It’s a place I can call home away from home.”

One of her favorite events is the annual Al Ritmo de Latino America, a public dinner and dance with live entertainment. Held in October, the event is co-sponsored by ALMA.

“I love dancing and love being with friends and having a good time while sharing my culture with the UI community!”

Accounting Career on Track

While Karina was studying abroad during her sophomore year, she experienced a watershed moment – both academically and personally.

“Through CIMBA Italy, I was able to take all the classes I needed to apply to the Accounting program, but I was away from the usual routine and friends. It really helped me to step out of my comfort zone,” she explains. “Now I know I can do more things to advance my academics and my career.”

Karina is getting excited about completing her accounting coursework in December.

She has secured two internships that she hopes will be focused on tax accounting.

“I really enjoyed taking Introduction to Taxation. It kicked my butt, but I felt proud of myself,” she laughs. “I like to be challenged, and that’s what I enjoyed about the class. I also like that I can apply it to my own life.”

Karina says she felt very prepared for her internship this past summer with PwC in the Industry Services Group, where she assisted with provision and compliance for two client teams. She entered, analyzed and edited data using various tax software systems. Karina felt challenged and engaged in her assignments, as each day was different.

“It really motivated me to get to the knowledge level that was demonstrated in client meetings. It is a challenge, and that is exactly what I want out of my career.”

Next summer, she is interested in interning with PwC’s International Tax Group. Before that, she will intern with Deloitte during the winter tax season.

“It will be the busy season, so it will be hard work!”

Karina secured both of these internships by inquiring about their leadership programs first. She applied and was admitted to several 2-3 day programs that qualified her to apply for internships.

After graduating in May 2018, Karina will continue to challenge herself through the Master of Accountancy program, with the goal of passing the CPA exam. Until then, she’ll keep promoting mentoring opportunities to students, because it helped get her where she is today.

“Mentoring is something I advocate every year to new students. I always make sure people feel welcome.”

This article first appeared in the 2017 edition of The Iowa Ledger, a magazine for alumni and friends of the UI Department of Accounting.