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

Tracey Gates, a principal auditor with the Secretary of State Audits Division, graduated from The School of Business at Portland State in 2011 with a BA in Accounting. Gates is a Portland native, having lived in Oregon’s metropolitan area her entire life. She currently lives on a small, 9-acre small farm outside Molalla with her husband. In their free time, they raise cows, pigs and chickens. Thanks to her successful career, she has fulfilled a  lifelong dream of owning a horse (soon to be three!).

Gates recounts her experience of being an older student at PSU, and how taking a diverse range of classes set her up for success in a field that benefits from a multifaceted background.

What originally led you to PSU?
After graduation from high school, I decided not to attend university as originally planned (I originally wanted to be a doctor). Instead, I took classes at Clackamas Community College, and in my first accounting class found my calling. Not being patient at that age, I transferred to a business college, where I obtained an associate's degree in applied science / accounting. 

Over the years, I continued my education at community college, building up transferable credits here and there. I eventually started my own bookkeeping and accounting business to assist my husband’s construction company and began building clients. Eventually, I became a licensed tax consultant and enrolled agent and added taxes to my business services. 

Jump to 20 years later, when I was taking my son to Freshman orientation at PSU in 2008. 

Maybe it was the beautiful campus draped in fall colors, but the visit made me realize how much I really wished I had gone the 4 year college route and earned a bachelor’s degree, so I could become a CPA. 

I ultimately sold my tax and accounting business, and went back to school first at Clackamas Community College, then transferred to The School of Business as an accounting major.

Please describe your career path after graduation.
I was very interested in auditing after taking my required auditing courses. I had heard about the secretary of state audits division during an on-campus career event where I chatted for a bit with an auditor who is now an audit manager. The agency hires interns every summer, so when they opened up an internship position, I applied and was invited to interview. I got the position and was allowed to start as soon as I finished up the summer term and graduated. I stayed on as an intern until December. At that time, several staff auditor positions opened up. I applied and was hired, making a seamless transition from intern to full employment.

Eight years later I am still employed with the audits division, although now I am a principal auditor. I was promoted about a year ago after working my way up as a staff auditor and a senior auditor.

What do you like most about your job and / or career?
Every audit is different. We rotate teams, so you don’t always have the same staff or audit managers. I’ve had the opportunity to do a wide variety of audits, including financial audits, opinion audits, federal compliance and performance audits. Auditing requires not only knowledge of accounting and reporting, but also auditing standards. Additionally, it requires a great deal of critical thinking and writing, which I love. Plus, you get to work with other like-minded governmental accounting nerds. We can chat for hours about the intricacies of a particular special revenue fund, or the impact of GASB 68 on pension reporting (love those deferred inflows and outflows of resources!)

What is it about working in government that you value most?
Auditing state government dollars provides a first-hand look at how our government works. It allows you to see the impact of the taxes and fees you pay, and help ensure those dollars are spent appropriately, and that programs work efficiently and achieve the goals intended. You get to meet people at all levels of government, from accounting technicians and program staff to legislators and oversight commission leaders. The first Secretary of State I worked with was Kate Brown, our current governor, who often would stop by our desks just to chat and say hi. I was honored to work with Dennis Richardson before he passed away earlier this year from cancer. I don’t think there’s any other industry where you can feel like the work you do is part of something that is important and impacts the public at large.


How did your experiences at PSU lead you to a career in government?
I had a great academic advisor, Elizabeth Almer, who was also my 300-level accounting professor. As an older student, I wasn’t looking for an entry-level CPA firm position, and I also wasn’t interested in going back into taxes. I loved auditing, and she suggested that I check out either CPA firms that specialized in governmental auditing or jobs in government. It was great advice and led to the work I do now.

How did your time at The School of Business impact your business / accounting mindset today?
I entered the CPA world at a time when fraud cases such as Enron and WorldCom resulted in stricter regulations governing reporting and transparency. The lessons learned from these and other cases of malfeasance were a running theme throughout many of the required School of Business courses. My mindset now is one of making sure that information is accurate, and our government reports provide the required disclosures in a transparent and understandable fashion. 

What skills and/or experiences gained at PSU have you found most valuable?
Outside of required business courses, I was able to broaden my horizons by taking courses that tapped into a diverse set of interests. The sheer variety of topics available for study at PSU is mind-boggling, and I considered changing my major on several occasions. For example, I was able to take courses in health-care economics and formal logic (loved that last one). My capstone was the natural food industry, where we worked with a local co-op organic grocery store and visited an organic farm (a far cry from accounting.) I am looking forward to heading back to class after retirement to investigate more of what PSU has to offer.

What inspires you?
I’m inspired by coming home after a satisfying day at work, watching the sunset over the fields, riding my horses, and caring for my family and my livestock.

What advice do you have for current or prospective School of Business accounting students? 
Stay organized, have a study plan and make good use of those hours between classes to study. If you get stuck, take a walk or go to the gym and work out for a half-hour. Make time to visit with your advisors — they know the accounting industry and can help you find your niche and achieve your goals. Consider what skills you may be weak in and take extra courses to improve, for example, writing or public speaking. Look for opportunities to improve those areas outside class as well, by joining clubs or organizations.

What advice do you have for accounting students that have recently graduated?
Research the organizations you are applying for and understand what the job entails. We have had many applicants who didn’t understand what the audits division even does. In this day and age of information freedom, there’s no excuse to not do your homework. You will stand out from the rest and be able to ask intelligent, relevant questions and may improve your chances of landing the job. Also, be sure to highlight other skills and interests you may have obtained through other jobs or volunteer work. Maybe you were a cashier in a retail store, that required you to balance the till each night. Think about how these kinds of skills might make you more valuable in the position you are seeking.


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