October 11, 2018 • By Christine Byrd
When Simone Mendez graduated from The Paul Merage School of Business in June, she didn’t say “I graduated.” She said, “We graduated,” to acknowledge the huge role her parents played in getting her to this milestone.
“They have been a pivotal inspiration to me,” says Mendez of her parents, who immigrated from Belize and settled in Southern California. Growing up, Mendez always knew she wanted to work in business like her father, who is the CFO for a commercial real estate company. Not only is that dream coming true, but her new office at EY in the tax group this month is right down the street from his — close enough for them to have lunch together.
The path to this point wasn’t always obvious. Mendez went to a tiny liberal arts college across the country to study business and pursue her collegiate volleyball career. “What’s ironic is I wanted to get away from my parents in college,” she laughs.
After graduating, she worked at an IT company in Los Angeles, providing help desk support and managing the office. Despite her success improving the help desk’s 24/7 support, she says, “I realized this wasn’t something that I could do for life.” Which led her to ask herself the question: “What do I want to do?”
Mendez enjoyed working with the accounting department in her job and the deep insight into the company she gained from their financials. “I was especially fascinated by taxes and how you can save money for the business through taxes,” she says.
When it came time to apply to Master of Professional Accountancy programs, Mendez was attracted to UCI’s close-knit community. The staff, she says, would remember all kinds of details about her life, and ask about her commute or how her sister was doing. “I wanted to be in a program that’s totally dedicated to their students like UCI,” says Mendez. “At other schools, I could tell I was just a number and a statistic.”
The most valuable part of her MPAc experience was the early preparation for succeeding in the job market. Mendez’s competitive mindset helped, too. With her NCAA volleyball days behind her, she now coaches CrossFit on weekends. So it’s no surprise that she approached networking and recruitment with the mental determination and fortitude of an athlete.
Even before classes began in the fall of 2017, Mendez was participating in workshops and networking events for incoming students. Throughout the fall, she attended guest lectures by CEOs and accounting professionals, plus additional networking events.
“Simone is tenacious and detail-oriented,” says Joina Hsiao, assistant director of career services for MPAc. “She did her research prior to fall recruitment and was well prepared to interact with accounting professionals during networking events.”
By the time Mendez was meeting recruiters, she was ready to talk with them. In fact, at one event a student from another school came up to her and said he could always spot the UCI students based on the way they carry themselves, the way they dress and the little extra details such as their portfolios and notepads.
Before the end of her first quarter, Mendez had accepted an offer to join the tax group at EY, one of the Big Four accounting firms. Post-graduation, she started working at the firm.
“EY is a place where I can grow,” says Mendez. “I’m working 70 hours per week, and I feel like I can be true and authentic to myself while working at EY.” She has also been impressed with the number of female partners and women in leadership roles throughout the company.
Which is exactly where she sees herself someday. “I am an ambitious person, and I can’t see myself being stagnant at any position. So, I’ll be taking on more work and responsibility,” she says. “Eventually I will be a partner at EY.”
Certainly, that will be an accomplishment she can celebrate with her dad over lunch.