Overcoming Challenges with Optimism Instead of Anxiety

How the MPAc program has helped me develop confidence in my professional abilities

I still remember how I felt on September 24, 2018, when my parents dropped me off at UC Davis on my first day as an undergraduate student. Tears were welling in my eyes as I watched my parents’ Honda Odyssey drive away, our beloved dog in the backseat and a College of Engineering bumper sticker fading from view.

I always thought I’d be ecstatic to finally leave home and start a new journey; but, instead I felt uncertain and wished I could chase after my parents’ car and return home with them.

For the first time, I was alone in a brand new place without familiar faces or old friends to rely on. I didn’t know how to cook, how to mail a package or even how exactly to make new friends; but, by moving a six-hour-drive-away from home and enrolling in a four-year program, I was forcing myself to go out of my comfort zone and try something new.

Sheena Eustice
Graduating from UC Davis as an undergraduate with degree in managerial economics.

Although there were many bumps in the road—I flunked midterms, switched my major, was rejected by several internships, and even had to scrub floors and wash windows for the one internship—I exceeded my own expectations. I graduated in three years and obtained the position I wanted as a communications intern for the UC Davis Energy & Engineering Office.

Pursuing My MPAc Degree

Fast forward to September 2021. It was my first day of orientation as a student in the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s MPAc program, and the same feeling from three years ago returned. Although I was now a master’s student and knew UC Davis from my time as an undergraduate, I still felt uncertain and doubted if I belonged.

During my time as an undergraduate I worked hard to understand accounting, but didn’t practice my soft skills as much. Walking into a room filled with well-dressed MBA and MPAc students much older and more experienced than me was very intimidating. Although I looked the part, I didn’t feel like a professional quite yet.

Fear of Networking

I remember in one of the first networking sessions I participated in as an MPAc student, how nervous I was to ask a question of one of the professionals. I kept replaying a question over and over in my head, deliberating how I should  phrase it, how I should walk up and introduce myself, and how I should smile. I wanted to provide the perfect first impression. I spent so much time overthinking, however, that I never ended up doing anything. Instead I sat at my table, waiting for the right time and coming up with any number of excuses to stay seated– the line is too long, or I can’t interrupt the conversation–and thus, the opportunity to network passed me by that day.

Fortunately for me, we still had two more weeks of networking. Plus, the MPAc team of directors—William Orta, Alex Minnis and Executive Director Will Snyder—continuously encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and give networking a try. Although I felt defeated that day for missing such a valuable opportunity, Will encouraged all of us to keep smiling and only look forward despite our past mistakes and future uncertainty.

Some of my least favorite activities included starting a conversation, speaking in public, and interviewing with a firm. However, as a graduate student in a class of only 45 seeking a full-time career position, I could no longer hide in the crowd and be successful just by studying alone and passing exams in a bubble. Knowing this, I committed myself to actively working on my weaknesses instead of avoiding them.

Sheena with co-worked at UC Davis Energy and Engineering Department
With my co-worker at the UC Davis Energy & Engineering Office.

Growing My Confidence

Throughout the MPAc program, there were several situations where I felt uncomfortable: networking with new professionals every day, going through mock interviews, and earning a teaching assistant position, where I led discussions in front of a group of at least 20 students. These were all stressful situations I wanted to avoid.

However, the more I did it, the easier it got! Now, having been a teaching assistant for almost two quarters, I no longer get nervous when standing up in front of students or presenting material over Zoom.

After multiple rounds of interviews with accounting firms, I felt significantly more confident in my own abilities. Even when mishaps occurred, I stayed calm and assured.

For example, one day I got lost on the way back home from an in-person interview, and was forced to complete my upcoming Zoom interview in the middle of downtown Sacramento. Despite my embarrassment, I explained the situation to my interviewer and continued the interview from my parked car! I ended up receiving a job offer from the firm later that week despite the blunder.

Enrolling in the MPAc program gave me the opportunity to practice my soft skills in a supportive environment. Now, my fears no longer limit what I can do in my professional life. After receiving multiple job offers at the end of the recruitment process, I accepted a full-time position as a tax associate with PwC in the Irvine office.

Lifelong Benefits of MPAc—More than Accounting

Gaining confidence in my communication skills also helped me initiate conversations with my classmates and establish new connections. Knowing my classmates must be feeling as nervous as I was, I did my best to shed my shy persona and initiated conversations to get to know my peers. Now, I no longer feel like an outsider. I am happy to call many of my classmates friends.

I also still work as a communications intern in the UC Davis Energy & Engineering Office. It is a position I took during my undergraduate here at UC Davis and have continued as I pursue my master’s degree.

As a master’s student working two jobs, in addition to being a member of the MPAc Student Leadership Board, I’ve learned how to schedule and manage my time more efficiently to complete all my tasks successfully.

Overall, my experience in the MPAc program has been about so much more than learning accounting. It has given me the opportunity to meet many amazing people and become a stronger, more confident professional who is no longer controlled by anxiety, but driven to overcome challenges with optimism.