Alumnus believes education and travel are the best investments

10.27.2022 Alumni News
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Steven Kanczewski (MSA ‘14) started his career in audit at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). After taking some time off to explore his passion for travel, he has returned to public accounting and works at FORVIS in a learning and development role. Alumni Council member Solomon Cole (‘04, MSA ‘05) talks with Steven about education, travel, and being open to new opportunities.

Solomon: When did you know that you wanted to be an accounting major in college? 

Steven: I did my undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina (USC), where International Business students are required to double-major in a second business discipline. During my sophomore year, I took two introductory accounting courses, both taught by Professor Mariah Lynch. Engaging and extroverted, Professor Lynch defied many of the stereotypes that I had previously held about accountants. My positive experience in Professor Lynch’s classes led me to choose accounting as my second major. Additionally, accounting requires attention to detail, organization, and analytical reasoning skills, areas in which I excel, making accounting an ideal major for me. Sadly, Professor Lynch passed away in 2021, but I am forever thankful for the tremendous impact she has had on my life. 

Solomon: You have several international stints on your resume: study abroad experiences in Chile and Spain; an assignment in Luxembourg when you were with PwC; and two months during the Summer of 2021 in Costa Rica completing a TEFL and TESOL Certification. Where does this interest come from, and how have these experiences impacted your personal and/or professional life?

Steven: My core belief is that education and travel are the best investments, and I firmly believe that travel is the best form of education. When I was six, my father gave me a World Atlas as a gift. I was fascinated by the atlas, and soon I could recite numerous national capitals from memory. My family placed a tremendous value on travel; when I was a child, we traveled across the United States to 27 of the 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums. 

My love of travel, coupled with my proficiency in Spanish and Portuguese, led me to pursue international assignments. During my time at PwC, I was lucky to go overseas twice. The first was a one-week assignment in Brazil. One of my audit clients was an agricultural investment fund, with more than 50% of the fair value of their portfolio in Brazil. My second stint abroad was a four-month assignment in Luxembourg as part of an exchange program at PwC. At the Luxembourg office, 56 nationalities were represented. I was exposed to a diverse group of professionals; this helped me hone my global acumen, which is one of the professional competencies at PwC.        

I began taking Spanish in the seventh grade and have loved languages ever since. I continue to actively practice various languages. I am involved with a local non-profit, International House of Charlotte, that is dedicated to advancing international understanding and immigrant integration. Through the International House, I participate in Spanish and Portuguese language conversation clubs. I augment these meetings with Spanish-language podcasts and periodic Zoom calls with a Brazilian friend to practice my Portuguese. 

Solomon: Let’s talk about your decision to pursue a Masters in Accounting at Wake Forest. Why did you choose Wake Forest’s program, and how did it prepare you for your career in accounting?

Steven: I applied to five Masters of Accounting programs. As I weighed my options, I considered three primary factors: (1) total cost of attendance; (2) the impact on my future professional network; and (3) the quality of the graduate program. 

Wake Forest awarded me a scholarship that made the total cost of attendance comparable to the graduate program at my undergraduate alma mater. I also felt that I would have a broader professional network by attending a different university for my graduate studies [instead of enrolling in a graduate program at my undergraduate institution]. Wake Forest’s reputation, including its students’ stellar passing rate on the CPA exam, and the quality of its professors were also critical factors in my decision.

Solomon: October is LGBTQ History Month. What makes this month special to you? 

Steven: October holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. My coming out journey was not easy, but I’m thankful for friends and chosen family who love me unconditionally. It’s reassuring that Inclusion Networks are becoming increasingly common in Corporate America. My current employer, FORVIS, brings LGBTQ folks and allies together through our PRIDE+ network. My birthday, October 11, is National Coming Out Day – which makes my birthday extra special as a gay male. 

Solomon: You took a one-year break from public accounting and started traveling across the United States. What led to this decision?

Steven: I was feeling burned out and one-dimensional. Time is our most precious, non-renewable resource. I evaluated my financial position and concluded that I had the ability to take time off to pursue other passions. I moved to Costa Rica and accomplished an important goal, which was to become certified to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).  

After I repatriated, I traveled extensively throughout the US. I visited half the country in half a year – visiting 26 states in six months. It was a blessing to visit friends from college, who have since scattered across the country, and explore where they live through their eyes. Traveling with local guides is the best! As a creative outlet outside work, I’ve launched social media accounts under the handle @USAwithStevenK. As a Millennial, my go-to platform is Instagram. For now, follow me on “the Gram” – and get excited for a potential podcast and/or YouTube channel in 2023!  

Solomon: Several months ago, you returned to public accounting as a Manager with FORVIS. What made you decide to come back to accounting, and how do you envision this next stage in your career will take you on a different path [than you were on previously]?

Steven: I am a part-time lecturer at UNC-Charlotte and could see myself teaching full-time at a later stage in my career. Since full-time work in academia is not an option for me at this time, I decided to return to Corporate America. 

My current role at FORVIS is internal. As opposed to my prior roles, which were external/ client-facing, now I focus on developing our existing talent within the Firm. At FORVIS, we value continuous learning and upskilling. I spend my time on curriculum development – in technical areas and on non-technical topics like talent acquisition, coaching, and Women in Leadership. 

So far in my career, I have discovered that I am most passionate about two areas: learning and development (L&D) and project management in the context of enterprise change and strategic initiatives. On a go-forward basis, I see myself in roles like these. 

Solomon: You mentioned you’re a part-time lecturer at UNC-Charlotte. How did you get involved in this capacity? Why do you like it?  

Steven: I served as a Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant for Dr. Norma Montague during my time at Wake Forest (2013-2014). A few years later, I reached out to four colleges in the Charlotte metro area (where I live) to inquire about part-time teaching positions. Dr. Hughlene Burton, an accounting professor at UNC-Charlotte (and Wake Forest alumna), interviewed me and ultimately offered me a part-time lecturer position in Fall 2018. I am so thankful! 

Ever since, I have taught Principles of Accounting in the evenings outside normal business hours. Most of my students are sophomores taking their first-ever accounting class. I prioritize “real world applications” and offer my students mentorship and professional development opportunities. I created a project called “Interview a Professional.” Students, in groups of four, interview someone in my network and ask that person about their educational background and career journey. Having grown up in a household where my parents were medical professionals with limited exposure to the fields of finance and accounting, I understand the importance of providing students with exposure to a wide range of potential careers.    

Solomon: You’ve stayed connected to the School since graduation. Why is this important to you?

Steven: Your network is your net worth. I love meeting people and forging meaningful, long-lasting connections. I also love higher education and believe it is important to keep in touch with faculty and staff at Wake Forest. I value these relationships!

Solomon: You were once in our students’ shoes: any advice for them as they determine next steps in their lives and careers?

Steven: At UNC-Charlotte, twice I have been a guest speaker to Beta Alpha Psi, the honor society for accounting, finance, and information systems students. My presentation is entitled “You’re Not Stuck, Very Little Is Permanent.” Oftentimes, accounting students perceive that their entire career path is dictated by three decisions: (1) Tax versus Audit; (2) Big 4 versus non-Big 4; and (3) at what point should I leave public accounting for a position in industry? 

For the first seven years after graduate school, I was on a “traditional” career path/ trajectory, but then my career unfolded in ways I never could have imagined. I tell my students: If you’re open to new opportunities and experiences, your career will take several “twists and turns” within just 5-10 years after graduation. 

Other advice for students: One of the most important factors in your success will be your relationship with your manager. Remember that your #1 objective at work is to make your manager’s life easier. Also, it’s critical to earn the trust of your manager and your teammates. Establish a reputation for consistent delivery of a high-quality work product on time. This will help you advance far in your career.