Accounting students connect with industry mentors for career insights
By Matthew Biddle
Panda Tran, BS ’22, knows the power of mentorship.
She experienced it during her first internship with CTBK, a Buffalo-based accounting firm. There, Tran met weekly with her assigned mentor, Jenna Prentiss, BS ’18, MS ’19, who then served as tax senior at CTBK and now works for Moog as a corporate tax specialist.
“Jenna helped me navigate a new world of tax and audit,” says Tran, who joined the School of Management’s MS in Accounting program after earning her bachelor’s in May. “Her expertise helped me understand why we do certain things, not just how we do them. Her friendship showed me that the accounting industry has amazing people who are willing to share their knowledge and help develop others.”
Inspired by her experience, Tran pitched the idea of a mentorship program to the executive boards for the School of Management’s accounting student clubs, Beta Alpha Psi and the UB Accounting Association (UBAA). As campus returned to in-person learning last fall after more than a year of remote and hybrid instruction, the clubs were looking to connect their members with accounting professionals who could share their experiences and offer meaningful guidance.
The clubs found an eager partner in the school’s Accounting Advisory Council, and together, they launched a mentorship program that paired club members with alumni from the council. Club members applied to be mentees and, once accepted, completed a one-day training to help them get the most out of the program.
“Many of our members entered their college career during the pandemic,” Tran says. “They lost a lot of opportunities to network with professionals and gain necessary knowledge and skills through firsthand experiences.”
Puja Shah was one of those students. After completing advanced courses in high school, the ambitious Buffalo native came to the School of Management in fall 2020 with sophomore standing—and took her first year of courses entirely online.
“I felt a little lost going into my first in-person semester,” Shah says. “I also wasn’t sure about my career path, so I thought having a mentor could give me a better idea and help build my confidence.”
She was paired with Eric Eynon, BS/MBA ’96, vice president of finance at Rich Products, and they met monthly. With no fixed agenda, their conversation flowed freely from Shah’s classes, internship and extracurriculars, to Eynon’s career journey, to life and pop culture. Eynon, who served as president of Beta Alpha Psi as a student, encouraged Shah to run for an open e-board seat—and she landed the role. Shah will be president of UBAA for her senior year.
“Having a mentor who has been through similar experiences can really help you reflect and look inward at how you want to define success,” Shah says. “Eric provided a lot of reassurance that I was on the right path and doing the right things for my future goals.”
For Eynon’s part, the program allowed him to give back to the institution where he met one of his most influential mentors: Alex Ampadu, clinical associate professor of accounting and law, who retired this spring.
“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Professor Ampadu,” he says. “I’ve had mentors during each phase of my career, and all of them have made an impact on me. I looked at this program as a way to pay it forward.”
Overall, about 20 students were matched with an alumni mentor during the program’s successful first year.
Adam Storch, BS ’02, came on as a mentor for many reasons—to give back, of course, and to show students another potential career path they could pursue with an accounting degree. Plus, he says, his meetings with mentee Colleen Chen—a rising senior in the accounting program—were often the highlight of his day.
“Mentorship can be mutually beneficial,” says Storch, who leads the Event and Emerging Risk Examination Team within the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “For Colleen, I tried to create a safe space where we could hash out challenges and I could offer candid advice. She provided me great insights, too, about what she values in work and looks for in an employer’s culture.”
Meanwhile, Chen says Storch shared critical advice with her as she prepped for internships with Tronconi Segarra & Associates this summer and with PwC during summer 2023.
“Adam and I had sessions around ethics and how to stand out as an intern, which were very impactful for me,” Chen says. “It was nice to hear advice from someone who’s been there before—that really gave me a boost of confidence.”
The School of Management’s Career Resource Center also offers a mentorship program. To join the Career Connector Network as a mentor, visit bit.ly/crc-mentor.
The Accounting Advisory Council assists the school’s accounting program in myriad ways, striving to do everything they can to make a tangible impact on students’ lives.
That’s why Jerald Jacobik, BS ’03, chair of the philanthropy committee, led an effort with other council members to endow the Accounting Advisory Council Fellowship, which will go to one deserving student each year. Master’s student Sebastien Henry, BS ’22, is the inaugural recipient.
“At UB, I was fortunate to have dedicated and genuine professors who went the extra mile for me,” says Jacobik, partner at Friedman LLP. “I wanted to give back in whatever way I was able and help students have the same great experience I had.”