Meet Karen Vlach

Meet Karen Vlach, Featured 2010 College of Business Graduate

  • Browerville, Minn., and Beaver Dam, Wis.
  • Accounting major, certificate in business communication
  • What's next: Working for Ecolab Inc. at its corporate headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., as a financial analyst

Karen Vlach came to UW-Eau Claire hoping that a college education would help her land a "decent" job when she graduated.

"Five and a half years later, I have blown the 'decent' job goal out of the water," Vlach said. "Not only do I have an excellent job, I have a career, I have a future, I have a clearer view of the world, I have optimism, and I have the confidence, skills and experiences to tackle just about anything. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has changed my life."

While juggling classes, projects, papers and exams was sometimes overwhelming, Vlach said UW-Eau Claire's people and programs motivated her to keep seeking out the next opportunity.

"UW-Eau Claire demanded the perfect amount of challenge and provided the perfect opportunities," said Vlach, who was among the UW-Eau Claire seniors to receive an Outstanding Senior Award and to appear in the 2010 edition of Who's Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges. "If I kept fighting, the achievements kept coming."

During her years at UW-Eau Claire, Vlach completed four internships at three different Wisconsin and Minneapolis corporations.

As a financial analyst intern at Ecolab this summer, she analyzed a $560 million division using a classification that was new to the division. She then shared her findings and recommendations with Ecolab employees during an hourlong presentation.

Vlach also served as an audit intern for Boulay, Heutmaker, Zibell & Co. in Minneapolis from January 2009-March 2009; as a corporate accounting intern at Actuant Corp. in Milwaukee from May 2009-August 2009; and as a corporate treasury intern from May 2008-August 2008.

When not working as an intern, Vlach kept busy on campus and in the Eau Claire community.

As a member of Beta Alpha Psi (a national honor society of accounting and finance majors), Vlach tutored business students in accounting. She also tutored accounting students through the Academic Skills Center and served as a teaching assistant for two accounting professors.

As a volunteer for the Financial Literacy Improvement Program, Vlach spent more than 30 hours working to teach families personal finance concepts. In addition, she volunteered to review and test the financial statements of a local church.

More on Karen Vlach

Future plans: After graduation, I will spend several months studying for the four parts of the Certified Public Accountant exam. In July, I will return to Ecolab Inc.'s corporate headquarters in St. Paul, where I will work as a financial analyst. As a financial analyst for the company, I will have the opportunity to work in three different positions in my first three years. This will be a great challenge for me and an opportunity to learn different roles.

My long-term goals are less clear. An overarching goal is to use my talents, education and experiences to help others. One possibility would be to work for a not-for-profit organization as an accountant. I want to give back because I realize how fortunate I am. Fewer than 30 percent of Americans hold bachelor's degrees, and I believe my education creates a duty and desire for me to help those who aren't as fortunate.

A UW-Eau Claire person, class or project that made a positive difference in her life: First was earning the business communication certificate. As a freshman and sophomore I dreaded taking speech class. I pushed it off as long as possible. Eventually I had to take it. The night before a speech, I'd have a hard time sleeping, and during the speech my hands and legs would shake. I got through the class, but I was very glad when it was over. Then I found out that I had to take another presentation class—this one with a business emphasis. Again, I pushed off taking it, and again I was very glad when it was over. Around that time I got the crazy idea to earn the BCOM certificate, which would require me to take two additional presentation classes. I figured it would only help me. Plus, I knew plenty of room for improvement remained. Now, I actual enjoy giving speeches. In fact, I just received the "Best Presenter" award in my final presentation class. These classes taught me that a lot is possible if I put in the effort—even with something that used to cause me to literally sweat and shake and lose sleep.

The second positive difference was from taking two women's studies courses. Those classes taught me about life. Life is filled with unearned privileges and conversely, unearned injustices; everyone has a different web of characteristics that works for or against them. I view the world differently because of the things I learned. Plus, I learned that as a strong, smart and motivated woman, I have the ability to tear down some of the injustices that women and other disadvantaged groups face every day.

The last and most important positive difference were my professors. They were certainly a big part of what made this university so great. A special thanks to Paula Lentz, J. Roger Selin, Jay Holmen and Jack Hoggatt. These professors made me a better student—and more prepared for the future—by pushing my limits. Plus a special thanks to Jim Rundall and Fred Kolb. They were my friends as much as they were my professors.

Highlights of her life at UW-Eau Claire: An easier question may be "What was NOT a highlight of my time at UW-Eau Claire?" Thinking back, my biggest learning experiences came outside the classroom.

Starting with the obvious, I completed four full-time accounting internships. The first two were at Actuant Corp.'s headquarters in Milwaukee. The first summer I worked in the treasury department and the second summer I worked in the corporate accounting department. Actuant has subsidiaries all over the world so I learned a lot about international business. The third internship was at Boulay, Heutmaker, Zibell, & Co. PLLP, a public accounting firm outside of Minneapolis. I was an auditor, which meant that I traveled to clients' offices, spending one week at each place helping my team audit the clients' financial statements. My fourth internship was at Ecolab Inc. My role was like a financial analyst because I had a project to analyze a certain part of the business in a new way. Thankfully I had all those presentation classes because I had to give a one-hour presentation at the end of that internship!

Besides the internships, I also worked as a tutor in the Academic Skills Center. I love accounting but a lot of students hate it. My students improved their accounting grades, but more importantly, by the end of the semester their view of accounting improved from "hate" to "strongly dislike." I think that's the biggest success.

Another highlight was volunteering as a mentor in the Financial Literacy Improvement Program. My job was to work with a client to help her learn more about personal financial matters. She was very financially unstable, which made her life more unstable, which led to more financial instability. Her situation never changed for the better during the time I was trying to help her. I felt discouraged, like I was failing as a mentor. Eventually, I learned that it was up to her to actually change her situation; I could only help her if she wanted to make that change. I consider it a highlight of my time at UW-Eau Claire because it made me more zealous to help others in the future.

How she defines the UW-Eau Claire Advantage: If you have the desire to really make something of yourself at UW-Eau Claire, you will have opportunity upon opportunity to do so. At very large universities, I think most opportunities are limited to the very best and brightest. At small universities, opportunities just don't exist. My experience tells me that UW-Eau Claire provides excellent opportunities for anyone who will work for them.

Her advice to incoming UW-Eau Claire students: Start small. My first two years at UW-Eau Claire, I did very little to build my resume—no work, no on-campus organizations, no volunteering, no special activities. Instead, I learned how to perfect getting good grades, whether on papers, projects or exams. Once I learned how to master my GPA, then I started doing the extras. I began with low-commitment activities like working a few hours on campus and joining an organization. From there I added more challenging and time-committed activities each semester. These ended up being the most rewarding activities. In 5˝ years, I accomplished everything I wanted to and much, much more. Take time to master academics, then slowly add on activities. By your third and fourth years, you'll be involved with some great activities and will still have the know-how to keep up your GPA.

Source: UW-Eau Claire News Bureau

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