On at least two occasions, Ashley Hevener has known, deep down, almost instantaneously, where she wanted to be. One was a campus visit to Eastern Mennonite University that changed her already-made plans, and the second has taken her to 21 countries.
As a high school junior in Kansas, Hevener decided she wanted to go to an East Coast college, and after a week-long excursion to visit different schools, settled on a Boston school. But at the 2005 Mennonite Convention, an EMU recruiter invited her to visit the campus.
“I was on campus for three days, and I fell in love with it, the people, the atmosphere,” she said recently. “I called my mom and said, ‘I’ve got to turn down the Boston offer. I’m going to EMU.’”
After graduating from EMU in 2010 with degrees in accounting and business, Hevener earned a master’s degree in accounting from James Madison University, and had four second-round interviews in D.C. that resulted in job offers. The first interview would have sufficed, however – when she left the interview, she again called her mom and said, “I have to work here, or I’ll die.”
Black and white
Hevener admits she is prone to hyperbole, but she has always liked unambiguity. She’s a numbers person, after all, something that her satisfaction in accounting coursework brought into focus.
“I’m a nerd at heart,” she said. “I really like the puzzle aspect. I like the black and white aspect, that debits equal credits. In class if I could not get the answer to equal out, then I knew something was wrong. There was no grey area, and for just how I thought, that was the best thing.”
That made one class particularly challenging, though: Auditing. It’s a subject and accounting field that Hevener describes as “theoretical and hypothetical,” much less black and white, and more grey. Coming out of that class, she said to herself, “I don’t know what that is, but I hate it. I never want to do that.”
And then her career took her directly there, into auditing. Now, she said, “I love it.”
Hevener is at Kearney & Company, an accounting firm in Alexandria, Virginia, that serves the federal government. She manages six auditing projects for which she travels extensively, working with up to 50 clients in any given year. She is “always learning new things,” she said.
As an auditor, Hevener has to get to know the programs she’s examining so that she can understand where risks might exist in their processes, and then develop test procedures around those risks. It’s completely different for each client, she said, although often she can apply what she has learned from working with one client to other situations.
There’s still the “black and white” of numbers, but Hevener’s role is to look at the bigger picture – with the added challenge of being compassionate. “I have to make sure clients are spending federal money in alignment with contractual terms,” she said, but that doesn’t mean she has to be “gotcha” accountant stereotype.
“There’s a correct way of letting people know they maybe need to change things, to deliver news in a way that allows them to walk away not feeling completely destroyed,” she said.
Hevener points to several undergraduate experiences at EMU that especially equipped her for her work, including managing both the men’s and women’s volleyball teams.
“I had a planner, a schedule,” she said. “I was balancing a full school load, going to practices and games, and on the hook for the coaches and athletics director. I had to make sure that any one of my stakeholders didn’t feel less important than any other. And it was built in to my college life – I never realized it was happening.”
Another draw to EMU for Hevener, for which her appreciation has only grown, was its cross-cultural program. She spent six weeks one summer in Nigeria, where she wore traditional African clothing, had her hair weaved, and was given a Nigerian name by her host mother. On campus, she was surrounded by people from other countries or who had spent significant times abroad.
Hevener’s more recent travels for work have been domestic, but past trips to developing countries with coworkers have made her realize the profundity of the cross-cultural program.
“Half of them don’t have an appreciation for the experience, and they can’t wait to get back to the United States,” she said, “and the other half are kind of interested in it, but really just walk around in shock and awe.”
Seeing her colleagues’ discomfort in foreign settings has made her realize “how many Americans either don’t have the opportunity to travel abroad, or choose to ignore that there are that many different cultures. That was something that I definitely picked up at EMU.”
Boring? Not quite
Hevener knows that the fields of accounting and auditing can sound boring. But she said she gets to work with a lot of different people, and she actually likes going to work.
“When I look at how many hours I work, and the fact that I don’t hate my life,” she said, “I think it speaks a lot to my company.”