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Prof. Julie Dawson Prof. Julie DawsonJulie Dawson has taught accounting at Carthage for almost 30 years, but another number provides a more meaningful measure of her career.

“I have kept up with at least 200 alumni,” says the assistant professor of accounting and finance. “I always want to know: How’s your career going? How’s your family? We have a sense of belonging to a close community, and that makes Carthage a unique place to teach.”

That’s become a defining advantage for the College: a faculty commitment to provide both academic rigor and individualized support along the path to a rewarding career.

This feature story first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of The Carthaginian magazine.


“I always say I have the best job in the world because I get to work with young adults who are so intellectually curious. I can have incredible conversations with them,” she says. “They work very hard, and they’re incredibly kind; I root for all of them.”

The feeling is mutual. Backed by glowing recommendations from students and colleagues, Prof. Dawson won the 2022-23 Distinguished Teaching Award — Carthage’s highest faculty honor.

“She takes a specific interest in each of her students, and we can tell she genuinely loves each one of us,” one student wrote in support of her nomination.

Of course, in the not-so-touchy-feely business world, results are king.

When Accounting Today crunched the numbers in 2021, Carthage ranked in the top 6 percent nationwide for first-time success rate on the CPA exam. An industry group has withheld subsequent results during a transitional phase in the exam, but the College’s extremely high internship and job placement rate suggest it’s no fluke.

In August, Sierra Sonnemaker ’23 begins work on the tax staff of Plante Moran in Schaumburg, Illinois. The recent graduate calls Prof. Dawson “hands down” the most influential Carthage faculty member in her growth.

Competing on the Firebirds’ tennis team for four years alongside a demanding major tested Ms. Sonnemaker’s time management. Four classes with Prof. Dawson sharpened her specialized skills, with test questions modeled after the ones on the actual CPA exam.

Ms. Sonnemaker passed the first two parts of the licensing test even before graduating. Nationwide, there’s a roughly 50 percent success rate on each section.

“When you get to the exam, it’s already something you’ve seen before,” the young alumna says. “So it’s not too much of a surprise.”

For her part, Prof. Dawson brings plenty of applicable experience and connections. She started out as an auditor for Deloitte in Davenport, Iowa, and still consults for some local nonprofits to keep her knowledge current.

For her part, Prof. Dawson brings plenty of applicable experience and connections. She started out as an auditor for Deloitte in Davenport, Iowa, and still consults for some local nonprofits to keep her knowledge current.

With her guidance, rising sophomore Isaak Gotberg ’26 of Kenosha has already secured two prime accounting internships. He’s working with Deloitte this summer — one of three Carthage interns in the 18-person Milwaukee cohort — and has another spot reserved for next summer at fast-growing Sikich LLP.

Touching base even before he enrolled, Prof. Dawson arranged for Isaak to take her Financial Accounting course right away in fall. That’s a semester earlier than schedules typically allow, giving the eager freshman a sneak peek into the profession.

Professor Julie Dawson, right, hugs faculty colleague Laura Huaracha after receiving the 2022-23 ... Professor Julie Dawson, right, hugs faculty colleague Laura Huaracha after receiving the 2022-23 Distinguished Teaching Award. Prof. Huaracha, the previous year's winner, presented the award May 26 during a year-end reception.

Using a “flipped classroom” model, she assigns a roughly 45-minute video for students to watch in preparation for class. Bringing their notes to the classroom, they spend the period running through practical examples.

“To me, that’s the best way of learning,” Isaak says. “I learn best by doing things.”

Earning a reputation as a master scheduler, Prof. Dawson sees academic advising as one of the best parts of her job. By demonstrating how he could fit everything he wanted from Carthage into four years, she turned Isaak’s nervousness to relief.

He’s also halfway through a yearlong term as president of the Carthage Accounting Association, a student group advised by — you guessed it — Prof. Dawson.

A Bright Forecast 

Steadily ranked among the 10 most popular majors at Carthage, accounting is now part of the School of Business and Economics. Prof. Dawson says the more targeted focus “allows for agile problem-solving and dreaming.”

One year in, she’s excited by the momentum this new academic division has already gained. In part, she credits founding dean Jim Padilla for quickly identifying faculty strengths and putting them to use on students’ behalf.

One of the first changes to emerge is a new Bachelor of Science degree option for accounting majors. Consisting of 150 credits — 20 more than the Bachelor of Arts officially requires — the B.S. track will equip students for the more expansive CPA exam coming in 2024.

By enrolling in J-Term each winter, Carthage students can still finish in four years. At most other schools, it takes five.

The deeper dive into accounting won’t come at the expense of a liberal arts foundation. Learning to think critically, to communicate clearly, to work in diverse teams — these vital skills will remain well-integrated into the Carthage experience.

“Accountants actually speak and write more than they crunch numbers,” notes Prof. Dawson. “When we talk with recruiters, they always ask: ‘Do your students have the whole package?’ They are looking for people with strong interpersonal dynamics.”

Conducting an external audit, for example, requires a delicate balance. It’s a pressure-packed situation for the client.

“You go in and learn about their business practices, their culture, their dialect. Then you turn around and point out any errors,” she explains. “It’s important to make your clients feel comfortable talking to you and to communicate results in a constructive, positive way.”

Beyond the classroom, Prof. Dawson brought the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to Carthage in 1993. About 30 volunteers, all certified by the IRS, prepare taxes for low- to moderate-income households free of charge.

Administered by the United Way, VITA has served at least 20,000 local families over the past three decades.

“She’s been a mainstay for the program and one of the reasons it has grown so much,” said Carolynn Friesch, CEO of United Way of Kenosha County.

Long before making a career in higher education, Prof. Dawson saw it from two distinct vantage points as a student. She earned an undergraduate degree from Augustana College and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She sees a continued bull market for those with a “distinguished and versatile” accounting degree from Carthage. Graduates have held controller positions at organizations as varied as the Chicago Bulls and the Field Museum.

“Every organization needs accountants,” says Prof. Dawson. “In whatever field or geographic area that you would like to start your career, there’s a strong chance you can do that with an accounting degree.”


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