Christian Brown

Christian Brown earned his accounting degree from UMSL in December and secured a job as a staff auditor working at KEB’s office in downtown St. Louis. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Christian Brown’s first few months in the “real world” have flown by.

He’s had a lot of new information thrown his way since starting his job as a staff auditor at KEB, a midsize accounting firm with offices in St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Milwaukee and across central and southern Illinois.

There have been software programs to learn and new clients to meet seemingly every week for the recent University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate, who earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting in December.

As Brown was discussing it all last month from a ninth floor conference room that looked out south from the Gateway Tower, in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis, he found it hard to believe that only a few months earlier he was sweating what he might be doing after graduation.

“I tried so, so hard in college,” Brown said. “I wanted to be able to point to something outside of it as soon as possible. To have that happen – and not only have it happen at the beginning of the year but also be doing well – I can’t be more happy in the situation that I’m in.”

Teresa Balestreri, the director of Career Services at UMSL, sees a lot in Brown’s story that other students can learn from.

For starters, Brown was proactive about getting his job search started well before he graduated. Balestreri said he started his TritonCareers profile in March 2020 and met with coordinator Tyler VonJensen last July to gain insight on how to begin finding a job.

Brown had a chance to talk to several potential employers at last fall’s virtual internship and job fair in September, and posted a well-polished resume to TritonCareers in October.

That’s how KEB ultimately discovered him.

“Career Services is not a placement agency, but we want to help connect students and recent graduates to employers,” Balestreri said. “Taking advantage of all of our services, working with the dedicated faculty at UMSL and staying involved are key to securing an internship or job.”

Kali Patterson, KEB’s director of audit quality control, reached out to Brown to see if he’d be interested in applying for a job. She also conducted an initial interview with him after he completed a risk assessment test meant to gauge his math and reading comprehension skills.

Brown also met with a manager and one of the partners at the firm last fall before receiving a job offer. He didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“First and foremost, I wanted a firm that was midsized, a little bit more personable,” said Brown, whose mother works as a tax accountant at UHY LLP and recommended her son find that type of environment. “Knowing about my mom’s and my cousin’s experience at a midsize firm and the type of training they received, I thought that would be best to help me grow.”

KEB was also only 20 minutes from his home in Fairview Heights, Illinois, and he liked what he learned about the company’s core values and the people the firm has working for it.

Brown, who worked as a tutor and was a member of the accounting club during his time at UMSL, had a good foundation in accounting terminology, data manipulation and using Excel when he started his job, though he’s still needed time to get used to KEB’s processes and the CCH Engagement software he uses for much of his work.

While Brown’s the first to admit he has much to learn, he’s made a strong early impression with the firm.

“Christian has a great attitude,” Patterson said. “That has impressed me since Day One. He wants to do well, he is happy and energetic and already part of the team. He participates in all KEB team-oriented functions and always seems to genuinely enjoy being here. A good attitude goes a long way! He is also eager to learn.”

Balestreri said Patterson has reached out to here to talk about recruiting other students from UMSL.

Brown wasn’t always so career-focused. In fact, he didn’t know what he wanted to do after he graduated from high school.

When he was 19, he moved to Seattle, living with some friends and working odd jobs as he tried to learn about the world beyond his hometown.

“I didn’t want to waste thousands of dollars not knowing what I want to do,” he said.

Brown enjoyed the experience on the West Coast, if not all the rainy days in Seattle, but after a year and a half, he returned home and enrolled at Southwestern Illinois College, beginning the journey to where he is today.

He decided to try accounting, thinking he had the mathematical mind for it and having seen the lifestyle it had helped afford his mother. He stuck with it after doing well in his managerial accounting course at SWIC.

Brown went on to earn an associate degree and made the decision to transfer to UMSL on the recommendation of some friends already enrolled at the university.

“I’m so glad that I chose UMSL because of the instructors that I’ve had,” said Brown, who was quick to note Assistant Teaching Professor Marcia Countryman, Assistant Professor Jennifer Wen and Professor Jennifer Reynolds-Moehrle and Instructor Jim Horne for the way they engaged their students and the lessons they delivered in his accounting courses.

Brown plans to return to UMSL this summer to begin taking graduate courses in accounting as he begins to prepare for the CPA license exam.

“That’s something that they want every staff auditor to get, so we can do more high-level stuff,” he said. “I want to get on that as soon as possible, and that is the next step for me.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik