“Commitment, Appreciation and Grit”: An Interview with Alexis Alvarez

I spoke with Alexis (CRSM ’15, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ’19) at his home during a break from his new job at PwC. He just recently finished his Master’s in Accounting Science and is prepping for the CPA exam, so I promised to keep it brief. That wasn’t easy; he’s a thoughtful guy with some very interesting observations. We spoke about his successes and failures at CRSM, and his perspective about achieving goals in his chosen field.
The following conversation has been edited and condensed.

Thanks for taking a time-out for me, and congrats on your Master’s degree – that’s a challenging program.
Yes, especially from U of I’s Gies School of Business. The undergraduate was a challenge, I got my first “D” ever there…I don’t get “D’s”! [laughing] But my Master’s concentration in Tax and Data Analytics…now that was tough!

Can you talk a bit about your transition from CRSM to college?
I was thinking about medicine or biology, and was accepted at a number of four-year programs, but instead went to College of Lake County for my first two years. Our family’s financial situation had changed. My mom lost her job and my dad sustained a back injury, so I decided to stay close to home. The transition from CRSM to CLC was not a problem, but U of I was a different story. I can say that CRSM’s high academic standards and Dr. Odiotti’s consistent message about GRIT prepared me.

I did see that your academic work at CRSM was top-notch.
Yes, but I learned a difficult lesson about that – grades aren’t the only thing. I lost my place as a Schuler Scholar – not because of academics, but because I wasn’t a “fit” for the program. The fact is, I wasn’t participating fully in the programs and activities they offered. I was warned, but I didn’t get it. Now I know; you have to fully commit, and show your commitment. And that only happens when you appreciate what you are given.

That is eloquent – almost sounds like a proverb.
[laughing] It’s turned out to be true for me. By the time I finished CLC, I had become interested in accounting. I was grateful for the chance at a spot in the Business College at U of I, and almost out of nowhere, Mr. & Mrs. Chris Perry appeared and furnished a huge scholarship that allowed me to finish my undergraduate work, debt-free. Ms. Murphy helped me with my essay. There were many others. The CRSM experience with all the activities and the CRSM network is amazing.

The Corporate Work Study Program and Campus Ministry can have a lot to do with that.
They both had a huge impact on me. I worked at Wintrust Bank, the offices at Mariani Landscaping and in the engineering & marketing departments at Anixter. In junior and senior year I was a fill-in guy for many Campus Ministry volunteer trips. Those experiences were really important.

How has the pandemic affected you?
It’s affected my whole family. I had to finish my Master’s remotely. I went home for spring break and, aside from packing up my apartment, never got back.  I graduated in May of 2020. Luckily, I was offered an internship at PwC and as a result, a full time position. I’m working remotely at home, watching my sibs going to school remotely; and as difficult as it is, they may be getting a hidden benefit. I’m telling them that this is how college works, there will be no one around pushing you to finish. Most of the work happens outside of class – it’s your responsibility to manage it. In a way, they’re being groomed for college.

Great point. You mentioned that you have plans for giving back, possibly speaking with CRSM students. What would you say?
First, I’d tell them what I learned from my Schuler experience. I would also tell them that school can be difficult. You work and you work, you get your grade, and then…you simply start again in a new semester. But at a job, if you work really hard and do well, you get to see more results. So I would say, stick with it, use your GRIT. The returns get better and better. I would also say, have faith; and trust in God.

Merry Christmas to you and the family, and good luck with your CPA exam.
Thanks! We’ll be busy making our traditional Birria. Merry Christmas to you too!