By Niccole Miller, Ph.D., MBA, Director of Student Success and Retention
Originally from League City, Texas, Clayton Matthew Petty (“Matt”) was not interested in attending college while in high school. As he neared high school graduation, his career counselor encouraged him to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. Petty decided to join the Air Force and spent four years as an aircraft mechanic.
While stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Petty met his wife, Brianna. As their relationship became more serious, the couple decided that one of their values was to combine their finances when they got married. He was the spender, while she was the saver. Petty said he did not know much about budgeting at the time, but after getting married, he and his wife started a budget, and so began Petty’s interest in numbers.
While in the military, Petty had a supervisor who had a degree in finance. He took an interest in Petty, his future in the military, and asked what his interests were. Petty said his supervisor really pushed him to consider taking classes toward a degree because it would look better for a promotion by showing progression in a certain path. It was mid-June, and Petty’s supervisor told him that he wanted him to have a degree track selected by June 30.
Petty’s supervisor proceeded to spend the next three to four hours with him looking at degree options.
“I had never surfed a collegiate website, course catalog, degree plans, etc. It was over my head,” said Petty.
As their conversation evolved, Petty’s supervisor encouraged him to look into accounting because of his love of numbers and budgeting.
“I tried the [accounting] class and took it in the online college and that was it; I was hooked from there.”
After earning his Associate of Applied Science degree in Aircraft Structural Maintenance from Community College of the Air Force (CCAF), Petty decided it was time to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
“I promised myself I was going to say, maybe not ‘yes’ to every opportunity, but if it was an opportunity nonetheless then, I was going to try to latch onto it because I didn’t feel like I was fulfilling what I wanted to get out of life in the military,” said Petty. “That’s what transitioned me into UCO and into college.”
Transferring into a university from the military is known to be a bit of a process. After being on the phone for two to four hours a day trying to figure out the transition process between getting approval to use his GI Bill, having his CLEP scores transferred, and requesting for his transcripts to be sent to UCO from CCAF, Petty was finally admitted to UCO to begin taking classes starting summer 2019. Prior to enrolling in his courses, Petty met Ms. Joan Caldwell, a student success advisor in the UCO College of Business.
“Ms. Caldwell was excellent. She got me into my college career. She was getting all my transcripts, compiling, substituting courses, and getting everything transferred. I felt so bad for her because I was on the phone with her every two to three days once I was admitted to UCO, so we had fun. The VA center at UCO and the College of Business Student Success Center made it really seamless.”
Petty decided to start fresh with his accounting courses at UCO to make sure he had a solid foundation. His first introduction to a College of Business professor was Mr. Danny Stewart.
“He was a fun first professor to have because he comes from a different generation but he’s also like, ‘there’s no secret sauce; it’s just hard work.’ And his quote, ‘read the freaking question.’ Both of those things were always engrained in me and I didn’t understand why. He’s a professional in his field and is a CPA himself, so that has really paid dividends for me.”
Petty credited his additional letter grade in his courses to following Stewart’s sage advice.
In preparation for the 2020 Virtual Accounting Career Fair, Petty found himself attending workshops hosted by the College of Business Student Success Center and specifically, Jordan Scribner, director of Business Career and Transfer Student Services.
“How I bugged that poor lady,” said Petty. “I’m super detailed and wanted to get my resume perfect because I didn’t want to have my performance lack and then be horrible.”
Petty’s efforts to get all his “ducks in a row” led him to reach out to Scribner for three additional one on one appointments prior to the fair.
While preparing for the career fair, Petty was also in the process of moving.
He recounted, “I had moving boxes behind me and when we were going through my resume, [Scribner] told me I needed to hang curtains on a window and keep it shut and not look at everything else for now.”
Petty was thankful for Scribner’s advice as it helped bring down his stress levels as he prepared for the career fair. He was even more appreciative for her advice regarding his resume.
“She screen shared and tore it to pieces. I was super appreciative of the things she didn’t like so she could walk me through it and help me tailor it to what the accounting principles and partners were looking for. I had a lot of experience and interpersonal skills, but no specific experience. She helped me pick keywords and details of what I had done and how I could tailor it to the needs of the jobs.”
Scribner pointed out how through his work in the military, he had managed over $2 million.
“I just thought they were tools and parts – duh!” said Petty.
In addition to the help he received from the Student Success Center, Petty was complementary of the opportunity to be a member of the UCO Accounting Club.
“It was important because it was the first time I met Mrs. Brittney Wycoff, assurance partner at HoganTaylor. That’s how I initially spoke with her and where I got my first introduction to the accounting firms and people in the industry.”
Through the UCO Accounting Career Fair, Petty had the opportunity to speak to recruiters from Eide Bailly, BKD, and HoganTaylor.
“I think it’s important for students to realize that these are people too. They had these amazing seminars and speak as leaders in the metropolitan area and then statewide in most cases. But then you talk to them and, for example, Mrs. Wycoff. She was like, ‘you can call me Brittney.’ She was telling me about opportunities but I was like, ‘but who are you?’ And she asked me the same question. It was just a really good introduction to understanding that these are people, and that’s what they are first – they’re people, and they want what’s best for you. Like they always say, it takes a village to raise a child. I can attest to that as a college student and then as an entry-level worker, and just everybody all the way up to Brittney’s level right now and your level right now. There are people who you also look up to. And you need them to raise you up just as much as you need self-motivation. That was the biggest turning point for me.”
Prior to the career fair, Petty took it upon himself to reach out to the employers he would be meeting with at the fair via LinkedIn.
“That gave me a good preface and some of the recruiters reached out to me, so it was a good first impression.”
He even took time to prepare a template to review each of the employers’ mission and vision statements, core values, what they were looking for in candidates, questions he wanted to ask them, and so forth.
As far as the career fair went, Petty said, “The [Handshake] platform was excellent. It was just seamless like we were having a conversation.”
Petty was offered second interviews for internships with three firms after the fair. After a second interview with HoganTaylor, Petty was sold.
“Ever since speaking with them when they came to the Accounting Club the year before, they’ve been on my mind and they were my number one for a long time.”
Petty was offered a third interview by HoganTaylor and had the opportunity to speak with individuals who would be his staff colleagues.
“The whole culture is exactly what I wanted.” Petty felt good about his interview and a couple of weeks later, he got a call.
“I remember the specific moment. As intrusive as this may sound, my wife was in the shower and I just remember it because of the way I ran in there. Melissa [the recruiter] called me and she said, ‘Hey Clayton, we’re super excited and loved your interview. All the partners really enjoyed speaking with you. We would like to offer you the summer 2021 internship,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing!’ And she said, ‘But we would prefer a full-time position if you’d be open.’”
Petty said he was floored. “It was a huge shock and exciting moment. And I said, ‘absolutely!’”
In addition to internships in the summers, come spring 2023, whenever Petty has all of his CPA requirement credits complete, he has a seat waiting for him at HoganTaylor as a full-time assurance staff employee.
When I asked Petty what his greatest piece of advice for a future student was, he was more than happy to share.
“Don’t take the workshops lightly, because they’re applicable. Put in the work, take the professional’s advice, and stay humble but directed. I think that’s the biggest thing that you just do your due diligence. A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Editor’s Note: Petty was also selected to the UCO College of Business 2020-21 Broncho Business Leaders (2BL) Class VII. Following an application and evaluation process, students were selected based on their academic achievement and desire to grow their leadership skills. More information about the 2020-21 leadership program class can be found in the press release.