Samuel Wilson graduated near the top of his high school class and had many options when it came time for college.
“A lot of my classmates were going to prestigious universities, but I decided to attend College of DuPage,” he said. “People would say to me, ‘You’re going to COD? You can do better.’ Then I would think, ‘Am I making the right decision?’”
It was difficult for Wilson to question his choice of COD, which was like a second home to him. His parents—who both work at the College—brought him to the former early child care center on campus when he was 3. He later participated in classes offered through Continuing Education’s Kids on Campus and Teens on Campus programs, the latter helping him get a head start on his high school coursework.
After being inspired by his high school accounting teacher, Wilson reached out to Maureen McBeth, COD Accounting professor and program chair, to learn more about his career options before starting at the College.
“Problem solving and reasoning are two skills that have always interested me, and she explained how these core skills aligned with accountancy,” he said. “She told me why accountants do what they do and explained the many career options.”
Buoyed by this conversation yet still unsure whether accounting was the right career path, Wilson applied to COD and was named a Presidential Scholar, which covered two years of tuition as well as enrollment in the Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa. He initially signed up for two accounting classes—both taught by Associate Professor of Accounting Chris Ferro—and loved them. His only wish was that the classes had been in person, as all students were learning remotely due to COVID-19.
Still, the pandemic did not keep Wilson from taking full advantage of his time at COD. He joined the Accounting Club, serving as a board member his first year and as president his second. In this role, he planned and moderated presentations and brought in professionals from the IRS, FBI and the Illinois Board of Examiners who spoke about careers and opportunities within the field.
Wilson said his best experience at COD was spending two years with the Accounting program’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), which provides free tax preparation for members of the community during tax season.
At COD, you don’t just learn the material to pass the test. I learned the material, took the test and then applied the knowledge through programs like VITA.
“Being a VITA assistant was challenging as I managed our clients who wanted to book tax appointments and selected which tax preparer worked with each client,” he said. “As the tax preparers are students who are learning tax law, it was necessary that I lead with confidence and give the students a great sense of direction so they could succeed in preparing taxes.
“Working with VITA allowed me to apply my knowledge to help real people. When I did people’s taxes, it didn’t feel like I was working, and if you do what you love, you won’t regret it.”
Wilson was also an Honors Scholar and the lead organizer of the College’s Chess Club, through which he showed many students how playing chess can develop career-ready abilities.
“By helping people to plan and strategize, manage risk and execute a cohesive plan, I hope that playing chess encouraged our members to apply these concepts to their future career paths,” he said.
Another key experience was his participation in the pilot cohort for the year-long Career Ready Scholar Program, which provides a series of career preparation activities with the guidance and support of the Career Services Center. One of the program’s highlights was participating in a job shadow experience, and Wilson met with the partner of a mid-sized accounting firm to learn more about his chosen career.
“More often than not, college students do not have internship and networking techniques mastered,” he said. “Talking with the Career Services department helped me understand the process of what you should wear to an interview, words and phrases to avoid, how to maintain eye contact, and how to incorporate many of the National Association of Colleges and Employers competencies into your answers to interview questions. I feel everyone should be part of this program!”
His busy schedule also included working as a math tutor at Mathnasium. In his free time, he enjoys organizing board game nights with family or friends, and he hopes to someday create his own game that would bring families together.
He is also completing the Python Language Proficiency certificate at COD, knowing that accounting and computer science are becoming more integrated with each other. He hopes this knowledge will make him a strong candidate when applying for his first job.
Wilson, who is earning his Associate in Arts degree, was named one of the College’s two outstanding graduates. He also received a scholarship from the Illinois Community College Faculty Association (ICCFA), awarded to only seven community college students in Illinois annually.
Having been accepted into the prestigious Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Wilson will pursue a bachelor’s degree in Accountancy.
“My career interest is to become a tax accountant, helping many community members understand the complex nature of the business world,” he said. “With this knowledge, I hope to significantly impact the world by preventing white-collar crimes and stimulating the mobility of many working-class people who often get taken advantage of through the sophisticated nature of tax law.”
Considering all that he has accomplished, Wilson attributes his ability to be proactive to his mother, a first-generation immigrant from Thailand who also attended COD.
“It’s not the struggle of her story that pushes me, it’s the opportunities she took advantage of,” he said. “I don’t want to waste any opportunities. I view everything as maximizing my options.
“My grandparents also help by giving me a space in their house that I can use as my own. Having a place where I can work to excel is exceptional, and I’m fortunate to have this space I can always come back to and know they are there for me.”
As for COD, Wilson knows it was the right choice for him.
“In high school, I was ridiculed for going to COD, and yet at COD the faculty challenged us, and I made so many connections just by reaching out to the Accounting program,” he said. “My friends at four-year institutions don’t talk about opportunities, and I feel some students get lost in the chaos there. At COD, you don’t just learn the material to pass the test. I learned the material, took the test and then applied the knowledge through programs like VITA. Opportunities at COD are accessible to all students.”
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