Interview with accounting alumna Christa Wolfe
Author: Crista Tappan, The School of Business
Posted: October 28, 2019

Christa Wolfe graduated from The School of Business at Portland State in 2002 and 2003 with dual BAs in accounting and general management. During the winter term of 2016, Wolfe returned to PSU and taught a government accounting & not-for-profit class. 

Wolfe met her husband, a fellow PSU alumnus named Justin Wolfe, in an audit class during her first year at PSU. The couple has been married for nearly 17 years and shares three children together. The class that Wolfe and her husband met also happened to be the very first class that Professor Elizabeth Almer, taught at PSU in 2001. 

Wolfe shares her journey since graduating from PSU and her advice for current students who are considering a career in government.

What originally led you to PSU?
It was a combination of things.  I knew I would be majoring in accounting and PSU had one of the best pass rates for the CPA exam, which was a goal of mine.  This was coupled with my desire to commute to school and save on housing costs by living with my family in Happy Valley.

Please describe your career path after graduation.
Getting that first job was difficult – it was post the dot com bubble and 9/11.  After a long search, I obtained a position with a small local tax firm called Tom Dragicevic, PC (now TD Consulting Group, PC) because I thought that I really wanted to work in taxes.  What I learned was that I enjoyed financial statement preparation and assurance services much more than tax. I moved to Merina & Company, LLP, a local firm specializing in governmental audit, so I could have the opportunity to learn full assurance services such as an audit. There I obtained my CPA license while learning valuable skills. I then put my governmental audit experience to use in a finance position with Oregon’s Departmental of Environmental Quality.  I finally landed at Clackamas County, where I was progressively promoted in the finance department from audit manager, to assistant director, then deputy director, and now director.

What do you like most about your job and / or career?
First, I have to say the people that I work with are amazing — both talented and dedicated.  Second, I enjoy the variety. In my day, I may spend time on topics such as bond financing, budgeting, financials, complex contracts, meetings with Elected Officials or Executive Management, to having conversations about deferred building maintenance or updating our current ERP. 

What is it about working in government that you value most?
I love working in the community that I live in (I’m a Clackamas County resident).  Every day, every single decision that I make or someone on my team makes, it has an impact on my community and I really value that.

How did your experiences at PSU lead you to a career in government?
It’s all about building connections.  We had a very strong Beta Alpha Psi chapter when I was at PSU and we (students) built strong connections with each other as well as through networking.  I would have never landed a job in government had I not kept up my relationship with my close friend Tonya Moffitt, CPA (now managing partner of Merina & Company, LLP).  That connection helped me land a job in governmental audit, which opened the door for my career.

How did your time at The School of Business impact your business / accounting mindset today?
The School of Business is future forward-thinking.  I believe that I still carry with this me today in my work as I am always working with my team to find ways to improve, advance, or become more technologically current (which is a challenge for government).

What skills and/or experiences gained at PSU have you found most valuable?
Like most, I have drawn upon the technical skills and the group project work that you learn at the School of Business. In a career, you find that almost every task is a group project — so have an open mind, respect differences of opinion, deploy people to their strengths, pick up the slack when needed and you will get a lot accomplished.  

What inspires you?
I come from a family of very artistic people — so for me inspiration comes from music, the ballet or theatre, visiting an art gallery, or appreciating the beauty of the outdoors. I actively engage in these by volunteering at my daughter's dance school, teaching an adult beginning ballet class, viewing my mom and her friend’s latest creations at the Three Rivers Art Guild, and vacationing with my family in beautiful places here in Oregon. These things inspire me, fill my bucket and help me come back to work recharged and ready to go.

What advice do you have for current or prospective School of Business accounting students?
Don’t be afraid to get involved— consider volunteering for the tutoring lab, become a BAP officer, network, build connections. Also, look for internship opportunities.  While there aren’t a lot in government yet, there have been a few locally. We have hosted several here at Clackamas County.

What advice do you have for accounting students that have recently graduated?
Be open to change.  We often graduate with one certain career path in mind, but life throws us curveballs and sometimes things just don’t turn out the way we envisioned.  I thought I would be working in tax, but my career took a few twists and turns, all leading up to this moment. I’m truly grateful for how my career evolved.

To learn more about the Accounting Programs at The School of Business, and how to begin a career in government accounting, email Accounting Programs Director Elizabeth Almer or visit our website.