One of Olive Monye’s personal heroes is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister of Nigeria. “I was incredibly proud of her, because we both come from the same state in Nigeria,” Olive said. “Northerners and westerners usually have the upper hand when it comes to political appointments in the country. It gave me a great sense of joy to see a southern woman like myself attain such an important height.”
Growing up, Olive says it was not uncommon to hear about Nigerian politicians diverting government money into their pockets. Okonjo-Iweala battled financial corruption through reforms that increased fiscal transparency, and her efforts gained international recognition.
Like her hero, Olive became interested in fighting financial fraud. And also like her hero, she pursued her college education in the U.S. Olive researched colleges in Pennsylvania, where she has relatives. She called the schools on her list and was impressed by how friendly and welcoming Immaculata’s staff was.
“It wasn’t easy to come to the U.S.,” Olive acknowledged, mentioning the different culture and different accents she has had to adapt to. “I didn’t think it would be wise to put myself in a place where I couldn’t cope.” Immaculata’s manageable size appealed to her, and since she was born into a Catholic home, IU’s Catholic heritage helped her feel comfortable.
“I love that we have one-on-one interactions with our teachers,” Olive added. Instructor Eileen Raffaele gave her a love for the material in her accounting and finance double major, starting with her introductory class. Olive could see that Eileen cared not just about the subject matter, but about her students. “She cares if they’re doing well,” Olive noted. “It’s not something everyone has.”
With encouragement from Eileen and other caring professors, Olive gained confidence. “Initially it was really difficult getting a message across to people,” she said, referring to the way Americans struggled at first to understand her Nigerian accent. She sometimes grew tired of explaining what she meant, so she stopped asking questions in class. But when she realized her teachers welcomed her questions, she wondered, “Why am I being hard on myself?”
In her auditing class with Eileen, Olive learned to examine financial statements to detect fraud. “We were taught not to believe in everything we see,” she said. She liked the challenge of uncovering hidden problems in income statements and balance sheets. “It was taxing, but I really enjoyed it,” she commented.
Eileen encouraged Olive to join the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA). “You get to talk with people who are doing what you want to do,” Eileen told her. After joining, Olive decided to apply for a competitive PICPA scholarship. Eileen recommended her for the award, writing, “While her [4.0] GPA is an accurate measure of her technical skills and speaks to her commitment to her educational goals, it doesn’t adequately address her leadership skills, strong ethical standards, commitment to giving back through her volunteering activities and general warm, friendly and helpful personality.” PICPA awarded Olive a $4,000 scholarship, one of the highest amounts offered.
“It felt really good to be selected,” she said. “I’ve had some good opportunities, and it’s all because of the professors at IU. The one-on-one connection is everything.”
Last year, Olive mentored first-year students in a class focused on personal financial management, taught by business professor Elizabeth Faunce, Ph.D. “Sometimes I stayed back and listened to what she had to say, even after my part was over,” Olive recalled. “It was really helpful.” Elizabeth emphasized the importance of building a personal credit score, beginning in college. Olive comes from a family wary of loans, but Elizabeth’s class helped her see the value of paying off small debts quickly to demonstrate credit worthiness. “After that class, I am in the process of getting a credit card and credit score,” Olive said. “IU teaches you how to excel not just academically, but in every other part of your life.”
Olive is preparing to excel after she finishes her degree in 2022. She wants to become a certified public accountant and use the skills she learned in her auditing class to investigate fraud and embezzlement, similar to Okonjo-Iweala’s work in Nigeria.
“Just like myself, she came to the U.S. as a teenager for studies, and ever since, she has attained heights she probably never thought she would,” Olive reflected. ”I want to have an impact on society just like she has, and I think I am just on the right track to do so.”