Haverhill’s Jasmine Varona First to Complete NAF Academy of Finance

Jasmine Varona and Lori Capra standing outside the Pulichino Tong Business Center Image by Ed Brennen
First-year accounting student Jasmine Varona, right, is the first to complete Haverhill High School's NAF Academy of Finance, a program launched by her "biggest mentor," teacher Lori Capra, left.

By Ed Brennen

Jasmine Varona has hit the ground running at UMass Lowell.

But that’s really no surprise, given that the first-year Manning School of Business student from Haverhill, Mass., has been getting a running start on college for years.

Varona is the first student to complete Haverhill High School’s NAF Academy of Finance, a certificate program developed by the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants (MSCPA) in partnership with UMass Lowell to introduce young students to the accounting profession.

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” Varona says of joining the program, which required her to complete a 120-hour internship and pass a college-accredited accounting course while in high school.

Combine that with the courses she took through an early college program at Northern Essex Community College, and Varona arrived at UML with a 27-credit head start on her business administration degree (with a concentration in accounting).

“It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it,” says Varona, a first-generation college student who received the MSCPA’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship.

Varona traces her interest in business back to her sophomore year of high school, when she took a personal finance class with her “biggest mentor,” Haverhill High School teacher Lori Capra. Capra recognized Varona’s potential and told her about the NAF Academy of Finance she was launching at the school the following year.

“Jasmine’s a go-getter,” says Capra, who has taught personal finance and accounting at Haverhill High for 20 years. “Not only is she a hard worker, but she is a leader. She just has a magnetic personality.”

NAF, formerly known as the National Academy Foundation, is a nonprofit organization that partners with high-need communities to introduce high school students to careers in engineering, finance, hospitality and tourism, health sciences and information technology.
Jasmine Varona and Lori Capra sit on a bench and talk Image by Ed Brennen
Jasmine Varona, left, and Lori Capra catch up on a bench outside the Manning School of Business, where they are both now taking classes.

When the MSCPA was looking to launch the first NAF Academy of Finance in Massachusetts, it turned to Capra in Haverhill.

“It’s great to see this collaborative effort bring students to the accounting profession through early exposure in high school,” says Manning School Dean Sandra Richtermeyer, who joined the MSCPA board of directors earlier this year.

Manning School Assoc. Dean Jennifer Percival is on the NAF Academy of Finance advisory board, as is accounting alum John Geraci ’97, a managing partner at LGA — the accounting firm where Varona did her 120-hour tax internship earlier this year. 

“I’m more into audit, but my mindset was to get as much experience as I can get right now because everything is so competitive,” says Varona, who also did a two-week summer internship with the MSCPA in 2019.

Attending UML wasn’t a requirement of the NAF program, but Varona chose the school for its value and because she can commute from home. The fact that one of her favorite hometown restaurants, Tacos Lupita, also has a location two blocks from the business school was an added bonus.

After her first day of college classes in a COVID-19 world — sitting with her laptop at home in Haverhill, meeting her marketing and pre-calculus professors and classmates over Zoom — Varona didn’t hesitate when asked about her goals as a River Hawk: “Graduate with good grades, get an internship, get my CPA license and go for my master’s right after that.”  
Jasmine Varona holds her NAF Academy of Finance certificate alongside Lori Capra at Haverhill's graduation Image by Varona family
Jasmine Varona received her NAF Academy of Finance certificate from her mentor, Lori Capra, at Haverhill High School's graduation ceremony.

While Varona has moved on to college, she may soon cross paths with Capra at the Pulichino Tong Business Center; Capra is pursuing a graduate certificate in business analytics from the Manning School.

“I knew from speaking to accountants in the field that accounting is gravitating toward data analytics. I want to keep up with the times and bring some of that back into my classroom,” says Capra, who began the four-course program last spring by taking Analytical Decision-Making Tools with Assoc. Prof. Thomas Sloan.

“I’d been out of the classroom for 13 years, and he made me feel very welcomed,” says Capra, who was impressed by how smoothly Sloan transitioned the course online in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was funny because here, I was the student, and he was modeling the right way to do it,” Capra says. “So as a teacher, I could take some of his methods and apply them to my own classroom.”

Capra plans to accept around 10 students for the NAF Academy of Finance each year. They now have a good example to follow in Varona, the program’s first graduate.

“She’s the trailblazer,” Capra says. “I hope she never cools down.”