First-Generation College Student and MAC ’05 Alum’s Work Enables Broader Access to Educational Resources
By Caroline Barnhill
A first-generation college graduate from the Carolina Sandhills, Sandi Matthews first came to Raleigh, N.C. to start her undergraduate career at Meredith College. After graduating magna cum laude with her bachelor’s degree, she joined the Jenkins Master of Accounting (MAC) program in 2004. And, in the years since, she’s been living out NC State’s mission to Think and Do – a journey that’s taken her all the way across the globe.
It all started, Matthews says, with a desire to pursue her CPA licensure.
“I had some amazing mentors who were CPAs and encouraged me to work toward my CPA licensure – and because the Jenkins MAC program is ranked one of the top programs in the States, I decided to apply. I was honored and absolutely delighted when I was accepted into the program,” she says.
Matthews says the MAC program played an instrumental role in growing her confidence and honing her critical thinking and presentation skills. And while she enjoyed each of her classes, her class on auditing, internal controls and enterprise risk management with KPMG term professor of accounting Mark Beasley was most impactful.
“The class stood out to me because of how it prepared me for my next role as an auditor. I didn’t just learn the ‘whats’ behind audit procedures, but the ‘whys’ as well. As an auditor, it’s important not to wash, rinse and repeat procedures year after year – but to apply critical thinking skills to assess risks and design audit procedures accordingly,” she explains.
The MAC program also provided her with several networking opportunities, Matthews says. From volunteering at Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) workshops to attending Meet the Firms events, she was able to connect with business executives from across the nation and grow her professional skills.
Another highlight, she says, was the opportunity to dive into academic research through a graduate assistantship under professor of accounting Al Chen.
“I conducted research on the economic feasibility of new hog waste technology in North Carolina. Because I grew up on a farm and my family had hogs, I had direct experience with hog waste – and while it may not be a glamorous research topic, it is important to understand if we want to take meaningful steps toward reducing pollution,” Matthews explains.
Ever since, that passion for making a lasting impact on the world has followed Matthews throughout her career. For the last 15 years, she has served in multiple capacities within the not-for-profit sector – including serving as a controller with the North Carolina Community Foundation, a consultant with Booksmart Solutions and a technical manager for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), where she helped design the Not-For-Profit Certificate Program.
Today, Matthews lives in New Delhi and serves as head of finance for the Indian subsidiary of Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organization providing free online educational resources to students and educators around the world. Hired in 2018 to set up the subsidiary, Matthews implemented accounting systems and operational processes from the ground up.
One of the most challenging parts of the role, Matthews says, is maintaining Khan Academy’s books in U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (U.S. GAAP) for global consolidation while simultaneously maintaining them in Indian GAAP in order to meet local audit requirements of the subsidiary.
As a first-generation college graduate, I feel deeply connected to Khan Academy’s mission to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.
“I enjoy this challenge and feel privileged and honored to be part of a team making a difference in education,” Matthews says. “As a first-generation college graduate, I feel deeply connected to Khan Academy’s mission to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.”
Looking back, Matthews is grateful for the many opportunities she’s had to leverage her accounting skills for good – and acknowledges that one piece of advice from her academic advisor at NC State changed the course of her career for the better.
“I always knew I wanted to apply my skills to a good cause, which is what drew me to the not-for-profit sector in the first place. As I prepared to graduate from the MAC program, my advisor strongly encouraged me to attend Meet the Firms events and consider public accounting before taking an immediate deep dive into the not-for-profit world,” Matthews says.
At the time, she says, she had been accepted into the Peace Corps and was heavily considering it as her next step. Following the counsel of her advisor, however, she chose to join RSM International as an auditor.
“I’m glad I heeded this advice to take the public accounting route. I learned so much in my 15 months with RSM International and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. The breadth of experience you get in public accounting can’t be matched in industry,” Matthews explains. “And when I became an auditee, I had the context I needed to interact with auditors. Sometimes there can be tension between auditees and auditors but I have more empathy and understanding because I’ve sat on both sides of the table.”