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April 12, 2004

Student profile: Chris Lee is taking care of business

By Jennifer McNulty

After two years of community college, Chris Lee was ready to transfer to a UC campus. Accepted by Berkeley, Davis, and San Diego, Lee chose UCSC because he had heard good things from his instructors at Diablo Valley College about the attention and opportunities for undergraduates at UCSC.

Chris Lee, a business management economics major and president of the University Economics Association, has become known among other students as a helpful resource.
Photo: Jennifer McNulty

Profiles of other outstanding UCSC students are available online.

“I knew what I wanted to do, and I’d gotten a feel for how college worked,” recalls Lee, who graduates in June with bachelor’s degrees in business management economics and psychology. “I’d developed my study skills, and when I came here, I was really ready for it.”

Lee discovered business during his first quarter.
“I didn’t understand what accounting, or business, was until I began taking classes,” says Lee. “It’s all about learning how to talk business. I found I really enjoyed it.”

Gregarious and poised, Lee joined the 100-member University Economics Association (UEA) as public relations chairman during his first year on campus, and has worked tirelessly on behalf of econ students ever since, most recently as president of the group. Thanks to Lee’s persistence, Ernest & Young joined the other top international accounting firms that recruit UCSC students.

“If you go to UC Berkeley, you don’t have to prove to anybody that you got a good education, but I wanted to show Ernest & Young that Santa Cruz has got it going on,” says Lee. “I kept calling, and they rebuffed me, but I kept on it until they decided to try us out. As it turned out, their top three recruits came from UCSC. We have amazing students here who can do business.”

Like most of the top students in the business management economics major, Lee has a job lined up after graduation. He’ll join PricewaterhouseCoopers as an associate in the firm’s Silicon Valley office, earning a starting salary of $50,000.

“People think auditing is boring, but it’s more like being an FBI agent,” says Lee. Auditors travel to company offices and spend about two weeks onsite, examining financial statements, interviewing company officers, and “looking at everything from all the angles.” For Lee, the work offers variety, challenge, and the opportunity to use his “people skills.”

“Because you’re the auditor, they’re scared of you, so you need to build rapport,” says Lee, who believes UCSC students are among the nicest, most down-to-earth people he has ever met.

Lee worked his way through community college as a server at T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant, developing the discipline, focus, and self-confidence that helped him succeed at UCSC. To help others succeed at UCSC, Lee spends several hours each week tutoring students in introductory economics, intermediate accounting, and macroeconomics.

Lee’s day begins at 6 a.m., when he heads out for a six-mile run and some weightlifting in the gym, followed by an 8 a.m. class. A sharp dresser, he wears a button-down shirt and tie on the days he tutors. Lee has become known among students as a helpful resource, and at 10 p.m. he is often still fielding calls from peers seeking his counsel on everything from career choices to wardrobe advice before a big job interview. “I feel a lot of responsibility for the students,” says Lee. “I really care.”

His outreach efforts as UEA president brought him to the attention of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which recruited him for a much-coveted summer internship last year. He attended the firm’s “Institute of Leadership” at Disneyworld with hundreds of other students and another leadership conference in San Diego.

“Before I came to Santa Cruz, I’d never had a leadership position in my life,” says Lee. “I learned as I went.”

Lee, who will spend time this summer preparing to take the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam, was the first UCSC recipient of a scholarship from the Silicon Valley chapter of the California Society of CPAs.

Introduced in 1998, the business management economics major has become one of the most popular majors on campus, and UCSC has become a key recruiting destination for accounting firms. But instructor Bob Shepherd, who has taught accounting at UCSC for more than 20 years, says the major is satisfying more than student interest.

“I've taught in other schools, and I've never seen the leadership talent we've got here,” says Shepherd. “Students like Chris are going out there and assuming leadership positions in the industry. We’ve got the top firms recruiting here, and they like the hires they’re making."

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