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Master of Accounting Alumna Cassandra Burney ’16: ‘Doors Opened That I Did Not Know Were Available’

Cassandra Burney worked for 13 years in the beauty industry and seven of those years as a licensed cosmetologist and educator in the salon of a large department store chain.

Going back to college for a business management degree, however, led her to accounting and a new career where she’s applying her passion for teaching to college students and hoping to help diversify the accounting profession.

Burney (MAC ’16) discovered accounting as an undergraduate business management student at Shaw University, a historically Black college in Raleigh. After accounting professors urged her to change her major to accounting two semesters in a row, she made the switch.

“The beauty of accounting is it’s the language of business, you can get the accounting degree and apply it anywhere, but if you get a management degree, you can’t cross over into accounting,” she says.

As she learned more about accounting as a student, she also got involved in professional organizations, such as the National Association of Black Accountants and the North Carolina Association of CPAs. And she began interacting with people from the Poole College of Management’s accounting department. 

“Doors opened that I did not know were available to me,” she says.

Burney did internships with the world’s second-largest public accounting firm. Convinced of the value of further accounting education, she entered the Jenkins MAC program. The program offers focus areas to interested students, including one in enterprise risk management, which Burney had worked in during her public accounting internships. 

She was nervous, however.

Would a student from a small, historically black college be able to be successful at NC State, which is a much larger institution? Her previous interactions with Poole faculty and staff had felt authentic and welcoming, but the true test would come in the classroom.

Her peers in the program, she discovered, came from a wide range of diverse backgrounds. And everyone — including her — brought something different and valuable to classroom discussions, study groups and team projects.

It wasn’t just the academic environment that was welcoming at Poole. During her first semester in the Jenkins MAC program Burney’s mother grew seriously ill and then died. Her funeral was on the first day of class for her second semester. 

Burney missed her classes that day — the only time she ever missed classes. Her peers and faculty missed her and let her know with an outpouring of support via calls and messages.

“My peers, they were like, ‘Cassandra, we have notes for you when you get back,’” she recalls. “I felt like I had a family to go to [at Poole]. It was easier to get up and go back in that environment because I did feel that genuine connection with my peers, with my professors.” 

She completed her Jenkins MAC degree in 2016, confident and prepared for new professional challenges. 

“The MAC program helped to enhance my analytical skills,” she says. “It provided me not only with the theoretical knowledge, but practical hands-on experience.”

Passion for teaching

After graduating, Burney joined the state auditor’s office in Raleigh. The work was challenging and important, but not necessarily personally fulfilling for her. 

Burney, who had stayed in touch with faculty mentors at NC State, reached out to Kathy Krawczyk, Dixon Hughes Goodman Professor of Accounting and head of the Poole Department of Accounting, for advice.

The MAC degree, Krawczyk told Burney, gave her options. And with her experience as an educator, it made sense to try academia.

Burney is now assistant professor of accounting at Shaw University and earning her doctorate of business administration. She plans to teach, conduct academic research and one day be a senior-level leader in an academic institution.

Her research interests include workplace diversity and its impact on minorities within the accounting profession as well undergraduate success and helping the accounting industry, which has struggled to attract and retain minority professionals.

Her own experience also gives her valuable insights on academic success and career choices she can pass on to her students. “I can help others to navigate the challenges I’ve encountered,” she says. 

Her Jenkins MAC experience has also influenced how she teaches, such as using case studies and practical application. “I’ve started to mirror a lot of what I learned at NC State and bring that into my own classroom.”

For her, Burney says, “Shaw University laid the foundation, but NC State built upon that.”