June 30, 2021 • By Laurie McLaughlin
Sitting where she is now at a Big Four accounting firm in Costa Mesa, it comes as a surprise to hear Brittney Nolivaiko MPAc ’18 admit she was uncertain about admittance to UCI.
“At the time, I thought if I could get into a UC, that would be really big for me,” she says. “It was my goal, and UCI, with its prestige and reputation, was my top choice.” As a Santiago Canyon College (SCC) transfer student, Nolivaiko was accepted and graduated in 2013 with two bachelor’s degrees: one in psychology and social behavior and the other in criminology, law and society. Two years later, she returned to UCI and earned a Master in Professional Accountancy (MPAc) from the Merage School in 2018.
Today, Nolivaiko is an external audit and assurance senior at Deloitte, and her career has expanded quickly in the three years since she joined the firm. “I landed a job at Deloitte through the MPAc program,” she says. “The School hosts all kinds of social events, seminars and on-campus interviews with the firms in the area, and Deloitte recruits directly from the Merage School.”
“So, honestly, I would not have had this opportunity if I hadn’t been in Merage’s MPAc program.”
The UCI MPAc Pathway Program Is Designed for Transfer Students
A new partnership between SCC and the Merage School helps students like Nolivaiko interested in pursuing accounting careers. The UCI MPAc Pathway program comprises a 2+2+1 course of study: two years at SCC followed by two years at any undergraduate university and a final year studying within the Merage School’s Master of Professional Accountancy program.
“One thing that stood out the most during our admissions interview with Brittney was her genuine determination to complete a graduate degree,” says Burt Slusher, director of recruitment and admissions for the specialty master’s programs, who sees a similar resolve in students throughout the community college system. “This new program maps a clear route to a master’s that looks beyond the traditional four-year degree path.”
Hard Work and Tenacity Pays Off
“I wasn’t the greatest student in high school,” says Nolivaiko, but she did understand that college was an important next step and enrolled at SCC. “I was the first in my immediate family to go to college, and I didn’t have a lot of help in that arena, so I had to figure it out myself.” For four years, she lived on her own, took extra classes to make up for what she missed in high school, worked two jobs and earned an associate’s degree in 2011.
“It took longer than the typical two-year transfer student,” she says. It was a tough journey, but one that has paid dividends in her career.
After earning her bachelor’s degrees, she took a job at Lazy Dog restaurant’s corporate offices in the accounting department, but she didn’t yet realize where she was headed professionally. “I wanted to give real estate a try,” she says. “I did that for two years and built a lot of social skills, but there was not enough stability.”
“So, I took a good, long, hard look at everything I had done up to then, and I knew from my time at Lazy Dog that I liked accounting, but I didn’t want to sit in an office all day. Turns out my audit career meshes the work I enjoyed at Lazy Dog and the social interaction I appreciated in real estate.”
MPAc Balances a Career
MPAc’s one-year program, her deep affection for UCI and the support she received during her undergrad years took Nolivaiko back to her alma mater. “Everyone I knew who went to the Merage School had a great experience, and the School has a good success rate with their students obtaining jobs.”
Her current role at Deloitte is the “heart of the engagement” within her department’s high-level audit of private and public companies. “I manage the whole project, which means I train staff, delegate work up to managers and partners, and make sure the entire audit is moving forward. It requires good communication with team members and the clients,” she says.
“This whole industry moves so quickly. It never gets boring or stagnant. Just when you think you’ve mastered it, they bring you something you’ve never seen before, and that keeps it exciting.”
Her ascension within the company is due in large part to her “unconventional” path to accounting. Through remarkable self-initiative, she brought an understanding of psychology and the law to her MPAc studies, which in turn taught her the language of business that launched her accounting career. While her journey was indirect, she says, it was the right path: “Over the years, I’ve learned that your life and interests take you where they are supposed to take you.”