After a 25-year journey to the CPA, Althea DeGree has learned that she is resilient, courageous and her certification can make an impact onto others.
Senior Program Manager
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
As Senior Program Manager at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), an independent bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, it’s our job to regulate financial institutions across the country.
In my role, I’m like the female version of Batman – I come in and save the day! I work across many departments at the agency and provide leadership and guidance. Essentially, I help my colleagues see things they may not have thought about before. Numbers tell a story. It’s one of the reasons I love being a CPA.
Bank supervision is a phenomenal industry to work in. So much is changing, not least because of the rise of bitcoin and crypto currency. At the OCC, our remit is no longer just about regulating national banks. It excites me that we’re on the cutting edge of this unchartered territory — this innovation. I’m so grateful that I get to work in these spaces and learn about what’s impacting the world.
Inspiring the next generation
This year, I’ve been in charge of the OCC’s high school internship program. Our students learn about the financial industry and what the OCC does. The major challenge we’ve faced is that our interns have had to do the program virtually, because of the pandemic. It’s hard for the students, but they’re doing brilliantly.
A 25-year journey
After I graduated from American University in 1989 with a degree in accounting, I sat for the CPA exam for the first time – and I didn’t pass. Over the next 25 years, I had 6 children and a fulfilling career working in tax at a big corporate, in-house at AT&T’s managerial accounting department, and founded a private school for home schoolers. But I never gave up on becoming a CPA.
The final push
In May 2012, I received my MBA from Howard University. During that time, my mentor gave me a copy of A White-Collar Profession by Theresa A. Hammond. It’s a phenomenal book about the discrimination of Black people in the certified public accounting profession.
It was the push I needed to sit for my CPA. I felt I owed to all the Black people who didn’t have the same opportunity. It took me 11 attempts to earn all four parts, but in 2015 I got my CPA licence. My CPA experience taught me that I’m never too old to learn. It’s also shown me that I have courage, agility, and that I’m resilient. And because of that, I can help others. The CPA has been a great doorway to making an impact.
The importance of a mentor
For anyone working toward the CPA right now, my advice is to find a mentor — someone who has been there and done that who can motivate you. A mentor helps you navigate things that you might not see. They hold you accountable.
I don’t fit the mould of a typical accountant. When I was studying for my CPA, one of my mentors said to me, “you’re the accountant with too much personality!” I can’t just sit behind a desk. But I’m proof that there are no ‘right’ characteristics that you need to be an accountant.
Looking to the future
Accounting opens doors in so many ways. I’m grateful that the OCC has a commitment to education and learning and bettering employees. Once I retire, I look forward to some aspect of educating people in accounting and continuing to mentor people doing their CPA.