Heer Patel feels an adrenaline rush whenever she’s scrutinizing a client’s receipts, bills and invoices, hunting for red flags while performing an internal audit. 

“I find it thrilling. It’s so suspenseful as you try to find where the mistake is at,” says Patel, a senior business major from Lowell whose concentrations are in accounting and finance.

Patel’s interest in auditing bloomed during a staff accountant internship her junior year at Novogradac, a national firm that specializes in tax, audit and consulting services for clients in the affordable housing, community development and renewable energy sectors.

The four-month internship at Novogradac’s office in Andover, Massachusetts, didn’t just sharpen Patel’s accounting skills; it also led to her being chosen for the firm’s Building Opportunities program, a new initiative designed to provide college students with mentoring and education on things like low-income housing tax credits. 

“I am learning so much,” says Patel, who was among 32 students from 24 universities nationwide — including Boston University, New York University and the University of California, Berkeley — selected for the program. She meets weekly on Zoom with her mentor, a staff accountant, to discuss her career goals, the CPA exam and what it’s like to work at the firm.

Born in India, Patel immigrated with her family to Lowell when she was just a year old. She got to know UMass Lowell through her participation in the String Project, a program that provides music instruction to K-12 students from the Merrimack Valley.

“I wanted a college that I could afford, and that has diversity and inclusiveness and makes me feel welcome,” she says. “UMass Lowell was perfect.”

As the first person in her family to attend college, Patel was invited to participate in the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), which provides extra help and a supportive community for first-generation college students. 

“I honestly didn’t know what ‘first-generation college student’ meant until joining the RHSA,” she says. “I was like, ‘OK, we’re celebrated?’ I didn’t know that I should be proud of it. But now I appreciate it so much.”

Patel has served as an RHSA peer leader ever since. She also mentors first-year international students through the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ Pair-Up Program, an experience that she says “has helped me become more culturally aware and grow as a person.”

That growth is evident in her role as president of Joy Tong Women in Business, a student organization that she joined in her first year at UML.

“The business school became my home through Women in Business,” says Patel, who credits her extracurricular activities — which include serving on the student mental health advisory board for UMatter2 — for “giving me a name and an identity on campus.”

Patel, who is a member of the Honors College, wants to pursue a master’s degree in accounting right after graduating in December 2022. Until then, she plans to keep setting a positive example for her fellow River Hawks.

“I take my leadership roles on campus as a way to express my journey, to tell people, ‘Here’s how you can make it better,’” she says.