Cookie Mom’s Handling of Dough Bakes Up a Sweet New Career

Rita Bronson earned a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science in 1994, but never worked in her field of study because she got married and started a family soon after graduating. Her husband was in a training program with the U.S. Department of Energy and the family moved quite often. After the training program, he worked at the Nevada Test Site and Rita’s family lived in Las Vegas for six years before transferring to Los Alamos 11 years ago.

When the youngest of her three children started kindergarten, Rita decided to go back to college at the University of New Mexico – Los Alamos (UNM-LA). She thought she wanted to pursue nursing and started by taking a physiology class. But when she quickly realized that she wasn’t cut out to be around sick people all the time, Rita talked with Dr. Cindy Rooney, Dean of Instruction at UNM-LA. Cindy learned about the discipline, bookkeeping, and organizational skills Rita enjoyed putting into practice as a successful Girl Scout “Cookie Mom”, and suggested she look into financial accounting. Rita had received and distributed 20,000 boxes of cookies valued at $75,000.00 by Los Alamos County troops each year.

While at the Los Alamos County Fair with her kids, Rita ran into Grace Willerton, the Accelerate program’s Career Technical Advisor. Soon afterwards Grace sent her an email inviting her to apply to the Accelerate program while attending UNM-LA. According to Rita, the invitation changed her life.

Accelerate is a pilot program of the Regional Development Corporation in collaboration with six northern New Mexico colleges, including the University of New Mexico – Los Alamos (UNM-LA). Funded by a five year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy/Office of Environmental Management, the program aims to increase retention, career readiness, and certificate and 2-year technical degree completion of non-traditional students in northern New Mexico. More than 500 students have been served by Accelerate to date.

Throughout the academic year, the Accelerate program’s Career Technical Advisors serve as coaches, advisors, and mentors to help students navigate through any issue that might affect their school work. They also help students find internship opportunities and facilitate career readiness training to prepare students for the workforce.

Needing experience in her new field of study, Rita took the Accelerate program’s career readiness class and also applied for one of the sought-after paid internships with local employers. She didn’t know who in town would be willing to work with her, but once again Grace came to the rescue. Grace knew Beth Breshears of Hartway & Breshears, CPAs, LLC, and asked if she would be interested in working with a student intern. Beth wasn’t quite sure if this would work out. The firm had never agreed to work with student interns before due to concerns about the security of their client’s information. But after receiving Rita’s resume in November of 2014, Beth and co-owner Lorraine Hartway agreed to interview her. Rita had just finished crafting a professional resume and a personal “elevator pitch” in the career readiness class and was thrilled when she used both to land the internship opportunity in January 2015.

Lorraine Hartway says she could tell at that point that Rita might be a good fit for the company, saying “Even though she had little tax background, if someone is smart and interested, you can teach them anything. Finding a person that fits in with the company culture is really important ”. Lorraine recalls that when she graduated from college and went to her first interview with an accounting firm in Santa Fe, she had absolutely no idea what an accountant really did. She now realizes that if she had been given a similar internship opportunity, she would have been better prepared.

Near the end of the 100-hour internship, the firm offered Rita a permanent position with the company. Rita began her new position just before tax season – the busiest time of the year for any CPA firm. According to Rita, “This time of the year employees work 6 days a week, but I don’t mind. The company understands that family life is very important and they work with us on a schedule that fits with our other responsibilities. I love my new position, my fellow employees, and my supervisors. Everyone is hardworking, supportive, and responsible and we are treated with respect and as adults.”

Rita is on target to graduate in May with her Associate of Applied Science in Accounting. Beth and Lorraine have recommended that Rita continue her education to the intermediate accounting level. The basic ingredients Rita possessed as a Girl Scout Cookie Mom have been added to, baked, and removed from the oven as a whole new career.

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