[IMGCAP(1)] During my first of two summers as an intern at Ernst & Young, I had the opportunity to go to a New York City high school with my fellow audit interns to teach students about financial planning processes. I had a flashback to my own high school experience at A. Philip Randolph High School in Harlem, New York City, where I had a wonderful mentor: Ms. Helise Owens of the Minds Matter program. She met with me every Saturday throughout high school to expose me to the possibility of higher education. She made a difference.  

At Ernst & Young, there was a structure in place to help me balance work, personal life and community service. I was only an intern, but already I was making a difference. The experience allowed me to help urban youth in the same way Ms. Helise helped expose me to college and Georgetown University. As a first-generation college graduate, I’m so excited to launch my career at a firm where there is a global commitment to education access and one-third of the employees are in their family’s first generation to attend college.

First-generation college graduates do not get there alone. I certainly didn’t. Like many, I couldn’t have come this far without help from my family — especially my mother. She left school after fifth grade to help support her family. But she inspired me and made sure that I valued honesty, hard work and persistence.  

I can remember exactly when I first knew I wanted a career in accounting. In high school, I was always good with numbers, so when I got to Georgetown, I tried an accounting course. For me, that course was a revelation. Numbers were not just numbers; they represented a reality — dollars or units of inventory — and by becoming an accountant, I could have a career and make a difference. So I committed to a double major in accounting and finance. Some people will tell you that this is the most difficult undergraduate degree at Georgetown. I won’t argue. By my senior year, I was carrying six business courses while studying for my GMAT. I’m happy to say that I graduated in four years and I am joining Ernst & Young’s New York office this October.

I had offers from other accounting firms, but from my first interview at Ernst & Young, I felt that I was in the right place for me. My internships truly helped me envision my career path and confirmed that Ernst & Young is the place to launch my career. I had several mentors during my first summer of internal, actuarial work and opportunities to understand how the audit service line operates.

Now, as a Latina and a first-generation college graduate, I am looking forward to beginning my career. This summer, I am taking courses for my master’s degree, sponsored by Ernst & Young.  I know there will be hard work ahead, but I also know that I’m working in an organization that prioritizes work/life balance. I will have time for my family, time to give back to my community and time to expand the mentoring I did with cousins and neighbors while I was an undergraduate. Things are truly beginning to add up.

Jennifer Estrella, a 2009 Georgetown University graduate in finance and accounting, was involved in Ernst & Young's corporate responsibility efforts to encourage at-risk youth to finish high school and pursue a college degree while she was an intern with the firm. A first-generation college graduate who hails from Harlem, Jennifer looks forward to continuing her efforts to encourage students to pursue higher education when she joins Ernst & Young's audit practice full-time in October 2009.