In her second week at Xavier, Margaret Weidner was wandering around Hailstones Hall, looking for the business school, when she bumped into Sandy Richtermeyer. As the accounting professor showed her the way to the business school office, Weidner shared that she was majoring in Accounting.
That's all it took to create a long-term relationship that led to two internships in Cincinnati, a Fulbright project in the Indian Himalayas and the launch of her career as a Certified Public Accountant with Ernst and Young, one of the largest accounting firms in the world.
"The key thing I point to whether it's Xavier or Ernst and Young was the people who supported me, like Sandy," Weidner says. "She helped me get internships with these companies. And at EY, when I told them I was leaving (for her Fulbright project), they were so supportive, and they helped me come back to EY. So having those people help me is what made the difference."
It also helps that Cincinnati, with nine Fortune 500 companies, is recognized as one of the best cities in America for young professionals to get started in their careers. So it's no surprise that a student like Weidner would benefit from internships that tapped into her skills in accounting. What made the difference for her was how her professors encouraged her to tap into Xavier's resources among local business networks.
"All these people have helped me by taking what I like to do and pushing it one step further," Weidner says.
At Richtermeyer's urging, Weidner went to Meet the Firms Night at Xavier as a freshman to learn about networking. She ended up with an internship with Grant Thornton the following summer of 2009 after her sophomore year, working on employee benefit plans and learning the basics of auditing.
But her second internship with Ernst and Young led directly to the job she's held since graduation as a Certified Public Accountant. She was offered the position after attending the company's Emerging Leaders one-day networking program that summer, and she took off the spring semester of her junior year to spend three months with EY during their busy season.
"I worked with clients in the middle of the financial audit season," she says. "I put in a lot of hours, and it was good. I gained a lot of practical experience."
At the end of the internship, the company offered her a job to start after she completed her senior year.
Weidner's interest in accounting began with her father. "My dad was a CPA. He said I could do whatever I wanted if I studied accounting. Now, to most people, that would seem to mean, you could do whatever you wanted if whatever you wanted was to become an accountant."
Once at Xavier, however, Weidner's interests expanded when she realized that accounting also applies to sustainability and the environment. For her second major in Economics, she took a class in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, which helped her understand how to integrate sustainability into her accounting career.
"I just really got interested in it and started taking as many classes as I could in resource economics, and all my electives were around ecology," she says.
Realizing she could marry her skills in accounting with her passion for the environment, she applied for and earned a Brueggeman fellowship at Xavier. She chose the economics of water as her year-long research project and spent two months in India the summer after graduating in May 2011, gathering data and studying Hindi.
The fellowship was a turning point for Weidner, who found another mentor in director James Buchanan. "He helped me write my Fulbright application to show how I could apply my accounting skills to sustainability," she says.
She returned to Cincinnati and, already certified as a CPA, started her job as a financial auditor at Ernst and Young in October. Six months later, she learned she had won the Fulbright scholarship and began preparing for her return trip to India the following summer.
As a Fulbright-Nehru student researcher in economics, Weidner partnered with an economic research institute and conducted household surveys in 19 mountain villages of Uttarakhand, gathering data on management, availability and quality of drinking water.
She spent 13 months in India for her project, "A Comparative Analysis of Water Management Strategies in the Indian Himalayas," and learned about how much water Indian households use on average.
When she came back, her job at Ernst and Young was waiting for her, even though she had to reapply. "EY was great. They said come back whenever you're finished."
Her Fulbright project has paid off in many ways, including at her job, where she now works in Climate Change and Sustainability Services. Weidner and her team help companies prepare data-heavy reports about their environmental impact in such areas as greenhouse gas and water consumption-similar to what she learned from her research in India.
"More and more companies are reporting on their water usage, and they're trying to establish whether they're working in a water scarce region and how much water it takes," she says.
"We work with them to be sure the information they're disclosing to their stakeholders is accurate," she says. "Everything I do in my job now is working with sustainability professionals from all different disciplines. But I'm always the accountant in the room."
Now living in Portland, Ore., Weidner is far from her Midwestern roots and the city that helped lay the foundation for her promising career. No worries. The internet's ubiquitous nature allows her to work from almost anywhere and stay connected to the city that helped launch her career.