As a youngster, Casey O’Neill told her parents there were two things she did not want to be when she grew up: a certified public accountant (too boring) and a farmer (too much work).
And so, of course, O’Neill is wrapping up her business degree (with a concentration in accounting) online this fall while traveling across Europe (working on farms).
Along with her husband, Roger Schwitalla ’16, and brother-in-law, O’Neill will be taking part in an international program called Workaway, in which participants receive free food and lodging in exchange for a few hours of work each day. They’ve booked one-way flights this September for Sweden, where they’ll work until the weather turns cold. The trio will then head south to wherever the farm work takes them — the only commitment being the three classes O’Neill needs to complete for her degree.
“We’ll be playing it by ear the entire time. I’m really looking forward to it,” says O’Neill, a Windham, N.H., native who now lives with her husband on her grandfather’s farm in Haverhill. “We’ll get to really experience the local culture and get to know people, as opposed to being a tourist somewhere.”
Just don’t get any ideas about O’Neill sitting in a cozy European cafe with her laptop each afternoon.
“It won’t be quite that romantic,” she says with a laugh. “I’ll be spending hours working on a farm, and then at 3 o’clock I’ll log in to take a quiz.”
Like farming, accounting seems to be in O’Neill’s blood. Both her parents — alumni Nancy (Dudley) ’79 and Randy ’87 — are certified public accountants. Rather than follow directly in their footsteps, O’Neill began college in 2010 at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., where she studied liberal arts and nursing — and met Roger.
She returned to New England in 2013, however, to help care for her ailing grandfather. That’s when she realized that maybe accounting wasn’t such a bad idea after all, especially at her parents’ alma mater.
“I talked to my parents more and realized that accounting has a lot of flexibility,” she says. “You are able to spend a lot of time with clients and I enjoy that interaction. You really get a sense that you’re helping people because it is such a technical skillset.”
O’Neill has taken advantage of several internships and part-time opportunities to complement what she’s learned in the Manning School of Business, including two tax-season internships at Baker Newman Noyes and her current temporary job in accounts payable at Outerwall, makers of the Redbox and Coinstar kiosks. The company recently purchased Gazelle, which buys and sells cell phones, and O’Neill is helping as they merge their accounting systems.
“I’d just taken Advanced Accounting, which is all about consolidations, so a lot of things I’m doing now make a lot more sense since I’d taken that class,” O’Neill says. “Working in different companies and with different software systems, it really opens up what you learn in the classroom.”
O’Neill has also taken advantage of as many scholarship opportunities as she can. This spring she was one of 35 accounting students from across the state to receive a scholarship from the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants. She received the $2,500 LitmanGerson Associates Scholarship. O’Neill was also awarded scholarships from the Financial Executives Institute in Boston and the Accounting Department.
O’Neill says she and her husband, who graduated from the university this spring with a history degree, chose to continue their educations at UMass Lowell for its convenience and affordability.
“I’m coming out of the school with a really practical degree, where I already have job offers, and less than a new car’s worth of student debt. It’s a great situation,” O’Neill says. “I really appreciate UMass Lowell. I’m so glad I chose them. It’s been a wonderful experience — so flexible to do school and work and take care of family.”