First in his Family to Graduate, Whitman Accounting Major is on the Fast Track to Success

As Joseph Colon graduated with the Syracuse University Class of 2021, he not only celebrated earning two bachelor’s degrees and landing a great job at a New York City accounting firm, but he had the honor of being the first in his family to graduate from college.

From Middletown, New York, Colon always knew he was good at math. His high school didn’t offer the traditional AP classes, but it was a part of the Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA), an educational program that provides high school students with the opportunity to take college-level courses at their own high schools. Colon took advantage of the opportunity and enrolled in 60 credits worth of courses in the arts and sciences. Not only did SUPA introduce him to the University, but it also helped him earn transferable credits at a significant savings. That put him ahead of schedule when he started his freshman year as a dual major in accounting at the Whitman School and advertising at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

“I always loved the idea of understanding how and why a company makes money,” he says of choosing to pursue accounting. “It’s really much more people-based than I first thought. You’re not just in a cubicle punching a calculator. Everything is client facing. You go into someone’s business and work with them, showing them how to be more efficient and make more money. There’s a lot of collaboration with lawyers, managers and employees that give you a lot of interaction.”

Colon was fortunate to get an on-site internship with one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, KPMG, in the summer of his sophomore year. During the summer of 2020—in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—he participated in a remote internship with KPMG. “It was a really valuable experience despite having to work virtually,” he says. “I was most worried about not having the ability to network, but KPMG structured it so that every week you were talking to someone else at a different level within the firm and learning how the profession was growing and changing. It was very much about building yourself into a professional.”

Another advantage was having two Whitman alumni, Ilona Toth ’18 and Andrew Lazarow ’13, ’14 M.S. work with him through the summer experience. “KPMG purposely tries to pair its interns with professionals who graduated from their school within the past five years,” he explains. “It was helpful that they had recently been where I was and could give advice and answer my questions.”

The overall experience was more than worth it. Just one day after Colon completed the internship, KPMG offered him a job as an audit associate after graduation.

“It’s exciting,” he says. “I’ll be starting in September. New York City is supposed to be open by then, but the company is allowing everyone to choose either a remote or a hybrid schedule, depending on the clients’ needs.”

Colon is very grateful for the support and opportunities he received from the Whitman School. He thanks Professor of Accounting Practice Ginger Wagner ’92 (A&S), ’03 M.S., MBA for helping him figure out what area of accounting he wanted to pursue, as well as Professor of Accounting Practice Joyce Zadzilka ’96 MBA for urging him to meet his credit requirements within four years, so he could get into the workforce. Thanks to the courses he took through SUPA in high school and the requirements of his dual major, he not only earned the necessary 150 credits to take the CPA exams but exceeded them—with a total of 190!

As he prepares to join KPMG this fall, there’s no slowing him down. His priority is getting a jump on his CPA exams. Colon has already been studying four to eight hours a day with a goal of taking his first exam in the summer. True to his incredible work ethic, Colon says, “It’s very time consuming, but I’m eager to complete them all as soon as possible.”

There’s little doubt, he’ll do just that.