St. Francis College provided Valentina Papeo the opportunity to not only overcome her extreme shyness, but to emerge as a stand-out leader in the challenging accounting program.
Valentina grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and graduated from Fontbonne Hall Academy in Bay Ridge in 2016. While she entered SFC undecided about her major, she quickly found a home in the accounting department, thanks to the dedicated, transformative faculty she encountered there.
As the president of SFC's Accounting Society since May 2019, Valentina has helped recruit guest speakers and organize networking events for her peers. Her proudest achievement in that role involves a different aspect of money, however. Valentina lost her mother to breast cancer in January 2020. In homage to her, Valentina led the Accounting Society's participation in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, an American Cancer Society fundraising campaign. Their efforts raised $1,400 for the cause last year. This year, she spearheaded yet another breast-cancer fundraiser with her Society colleagues, bringing in more than $2,700.
With a perfect 4.0 GPA, Valentina has already accepted a full-time job offer from KPMG which, along with EY (Ernst & Young), PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), and Deloitte, represent the world's four largest accounting firms, known collectively as the Big Four. She joins a long list of SFC accounting grads who work in highly coveted Big Four jobs.
As she nears her winter 2021 graduation, Valentina reflected on her SFC career and what's next.
How did you choose St. Francis College?
I had a cousin who went to St. Francis and was in the accounting program. And St. Francis actually came to my [high] school and that's another way that I was able to connect.
How did you decide on accounting as your major?
When I was graduating from high school, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do [professionally]. I was 17 and so confused. I had a different [intended] major every week: I was going to be a doctor, a lawyer, a businessperson. Apparently when I applied [to St. Francis], I chose a communications major with a concentration in marketing. I don't even remember doing that.
In the first semester, the College places you in classes and you attend five days a week, just getting a feel for things. One of the classes that I was placed in was Accounting 101 with Professor John Lombardo. I was so shy. I sat in the very back of the room and Professor Lombardo said, "okay, everybody's going to move up to the front." He was just such a welcoming professor.
By the end of the semester, Professor Lombardo told me "you really have a knack for this class, I recommend switching majors." I'm so happy that I was in his class. He was the one who recruited me.
Did you intern while in college?
The summer going into junior year, I started an internship at National Grid, in their tax department. National Grid has a close relationship with St. Francis' accounting department.
Then last summer, I wanted to expand my horizons. I started at KPMG over the summer, interning in their real estate practice group. Due to the pandemic, everything was virtual, but I was still able to meet a lot of people. It was a really great opportunity and they offered me a job starting next October .
You have an outstanding GPA. What's the secret to your academic success?
I want to succeed, but I want to help others succeed with me. My mom always taught me since I was young, that anybody can be smart, but it takes something special to be kind. I feel like I study better when I'm in a group of people and I can help explain [the material]. I'm diligent and I do my work, but I think that a lot of people have that quality. I think it's more so that I work well with others.
And obviously, the accounting professors at St. Francis [played a big role]. I can't speak highly enough of them. They really taught in a way that was very easy to understand. Not that the classes were easy, but because they were just great at what they do, that they could communicate [the material] so well.
What else made the St. Francis experience special for you?
Everybody's so friendly and so willing to help each other go the extra mile, get an extra internship, do well on that next exam. In every single area of my life at St. Francis, it's just been people wanting to help you do well.
You're president of the Accounting Society. How did that come about?
When I first started [at SFC], I can't explain how shy, how anxious I was to even be starting college. Professor Lombardo took me aside one day and said "why don't you come to an Accounting Society meeting, see what it's about? We have a really great [guest] speaker today."
I went and he said "ok, we're going to talk to people here. You're going to introduce yourself to them." I was so nervous, but he told me after that I did well and should come to more meetings.
So I started going. At one point, the person who was going to be president asked me to run for vice president. I had no desire at first to be on the executive committee, but once I got on, I found I really enjoyed it, helping find speakers and networking. I eventually worked my way up to president.
What next for you after graduation?
First, I would like to get my CPA. Hopefully I will get that done before I start at KPMG. And then I really want to grow as a professional in the industry. I still have so much to learn, so much knowledge to apply practically. I'm excited to grow within KPMG, hopefully move my way up to senior manager in the coming years.
What's your message to incoming SFC accounting students?
First, I would congratulate them and tell them they've made an amazing choice. My advice would be work hard and be kind. If you're kind to other people and you do your best, people notice that.
Any parting words to the St. Francis College community?
I just want to thank everyone for the experiences I've had in the last four and a half years. I was shy when I arrived, and I was able to grow here. I learned how to speak in public settings, and now public speaking is second nature to me. I made so many great friends. Every single person here really embodies the Franciscan values of charity, humility, wanting to do well and to help others. I hope that in the future, I can find some way to give back to the St. Francis community.