Global accounting firm finds its future professionals at UNI

Global accounting firm finds its future professionals at UNI

Anna Flanders /
RSM employees holding balloons in the shape of the letters "RSM"

UNI’s accounting program has a history that is rich in excellence, boasting professionals who are C-suite executives all around the world. One such individual is Brian Becker, managing partner & CEO with RSM US LLP (“RSM”), the fifth largest accounting firm in the United States according to Accounting Today, and the leading provider of professional services to the middle market. 

But it’s not just Becker who can trace his accounting roots to UNI. In fact, RSM averages hiring nearly 50 UNI graduates each year. The numbers make UNI among RSM’s favorite schools from which to recruit.

Joel Anderson

“I do a lot of recruiting across the country, and I would put a UNI accounting grad up against any other school,” said Joel Anderson, a 2012 accounting and philosophy alum, who is director of risk consulting with RSM. Anderson manages a team of about 40, so he knows talent when he sees it.

“UNI accountants are so ubiquitous and so engrained, at least in RSM, that other people are getting that UNI experience through osmosis,” said Anderson. “I have so many partners that have taken care of and mentored me who were UNI grads. Their experience here is coming through in their mentorship to other individuals, and then we're developing those people to succeed.”

Going into UNI, Anderson, a native of Clive, Iowa, knew the strong legacy of the Wilson College of Business. He had high expectations, and believes UNI exceeded them. 

Anderson credits not only his time in the Wilson College of Business but also his involvement in organizations on campus for helping him become the well-rounded professional he is today. He was involved with Greek life, CATS (Connecting Alumni To Students) and Northern Iowa Student Government, even serving as NISG president. 

“Those interpersonal skills of creating those networks, understanding and being empathetic and sympathetic to classmates and teachers — that is a skill set I learned at UNI and has helped me grow so much faster,” said Anderson.

If an accounting grad wants to stand out, Anderson believes they should work on developing those interpersonal skills in college.

“I do a lot of recruiting across the country, and I would put a UNI accounting grad up against any other school,” said Joel Anderson.

“You will get a job just by having a UNI accounting degree as long as you are passionate about it, but if you put in the work to make yourself the best you can be through interpersonal skills, you can go anywhere,” said Anderson. “We send UNI graduates all over. They pick an office. They don't have to be in Iowa.”

Of course, Anderson’s UNI experience would not have been complete without the CPA review. This program is divided into four sections, aligning with the CPA exam, which is a rigorous professional exam required for certified public accountants in the U.S. Students spend about a month reviewing each section of material before taking the corresponding portion of the CPA exam.

It’s one of reasons UNI’s CPA pass rate is so high at 70%, far outpacing the state average of 33% and making UNI one of the top schools for CPA pass rate.

Sydney Rhea

RSM audit associate Sydney Rhea, who graduated from UNI with her bachelor’s and master’s of accounting, considers the CPA review a key factor that distinguishes her college experience from that of her peers.

“The CPA review gave me a really big step up coming into RSM because a lot of people that I work with still have to study for that and take those exams while they work,” she said. “So UNI offering that and allowing me to finish it before I started my career was definitely a bonus.”

Rhea appreciated being taught by professors who have seen so many different versions of the CPA exam over the years. This provided crucial insight. Knowing she would be quizzed in class about the material pushed her to study thoroughly.

“UNI professors are really good with staying up to date on the industry,” she said. “They are always doing research outside of their normal classroom time to learn how the industry is evolving and what's new in accounting.”

The connections that Rhea made at UNI directly helped her get an internship and ultimately a job with RSM. She was a part of the Accounting Club, which consistently brings in the Big Four accounting firms as well as RSM for its events.

“You have the opportunity to network with all the big firms as a freshman at UNI as long as you’re at those events,” Rhea explained. “I was able to make some connections there and feel out the various company environments, and the discussions I had with RSM employees really resonated with me.”

Because of this, when the time came to attend the UNI Career Fair and officially apply for internships, Rhea was well-prepared for the interview process, thanks to the Professional Readiness Program and Career Services. By the time she started her last year of classes, Rhea had already accepted a full-time position with RSM that she started after graduating.

After being in her full-time role for several months, Rhea’s UNI education continues to serve her well. She believes her communication skills in particular are a direct result of the professional networking experience she gained at UNI.

“Coming right out of college, emailing a CFO of a company can be fairly intimidating,” she said. “But since I was able to network with so many high-level employees while I was at UNI, I immediately felt a lot more comfortable doing it.”