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Student Story: A Q&A With Former Accounting Student Allegra Petras

We interviewed Allegra Petras, who returned to college after two decades away from higher education and enrolled in the Hawai'i CC Accounting program. She talked about the experience of returning to college and being a Hawai'i CC student. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in California. I moved here about two and a half years ago to Hawai'i. About 20 years ago I got a bachelor's degree in engineering. And for the last 17 years I've been a stay-at-home mom raising four awesome kids, but they are older now and don't need mom as much.

And what made you decide to make the leap and enroll in Hawai'i Community College?

I’ve always had a natural inclination for numbers, and I did all our family's finances and helped my husband with his renewable energy business, doing the budgeting, the books. So applying to Hawai'i Community College in the Accounting department was just something that I thought I would be pretty good at it and I wanted to learn more about, so I went ahead and just tried a few classes to get going.

Once you tried a few classes, what did you find?

I found I was pretty good at it, and that it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. Accounting is a pretty terrifying subject for most people, including myself, and when the staff or my teachers broke it down for me into manageable pieces it was like, hey, this isn't that hard, and I can build off of it, and I still am building off of it. So I continued down that course and learned more practical skills that I found that I could use every day. I could go to work and apply what I learned the night before, so it was pretty cool.

What was it like coming back to school after being away for so many years?

The experience was a little terrifying because I thought I was going to be the oldest person in the class, and oh my gosh, it’s just going to be a lot of people just out of high school. But that wasn’t the case at all, so I wasn’t actually the oldest one in the class, which was kind of a relief, and it was a total mix of people from all different backgrounds, all different experience levels, so that was cool.

What was your impression of community college?

I went to a four-year college, so I wasn’t sure what the difference would be at a community college, and what I really learned was you can just get such a great practical education that you can go and use right away and better yourself in your job and improve your skill-set. And you know, from there, the options are limitless.

Going back to Hawai'i Community College also reminded me that I love learning so much, and it was something that I sort of put aside as I was helping my children. I realized something that I really wanted to do was go get my MBA, this is something I've always wanted to do and I was hearing on the radio about this distance learning Executive MBA program at Shidler College of Business at UH Manoa. I’m in the program now, so I'm just loving it. It was the right choice for me. It's hard but it was the right choice, and my goal now is to graduate in 2022.

How did these practical skills help with your family business?

Oh, it helped so much. I mean just first of all, I can say that the practical application was there from day one. Specifically, the QuickBooks course really helped. I use QuickBooks now every day, and that’s not an easy, intuitive program to learn. Also, just in all my accounting courses I learned how to read financial documents. I knew sort of what they were, but not really how they related, and now I can look at them, I can talk about them and I can even kind of make them with QuickBooks.

The other experience that fully stuck with me is my income tax preparation course. Through this course I became certified by the IRS to be a volunteer tax preparer and my class took us to Goodwill where we would help people in the community file their income taxes. So I got to learn the skill, practice in real life and help people, which was so neat. 

And now that I have the skill for myself, I feel comfortable actually doing my own taxes to a certain extent and that’s just a great life skill that everyone should have because taxes are always there.

How did your experience at Hawai'i CC change you?

My experience at Hawai‘i Community College has changed me in that it gave me a platform to rediscover me. I set that aside for a long time for my kids and my husband and my house, and that was important work, but I knew there was something still inside me I needed to do, and it gave me those baby steps to start and figure out what it was I wanted to do. It gave me the courage and the confidence to go apply for a master’s program. I don’t think I would have done it if I hadn't come back and taken classes here.