From Zurich to Austin: Kathleen Powers ’05 Leaves Corporate World for the Classroom

posted 2011.09.30

Whenever Kathleen Powers ‘05 used to introduce herself as someone who worked in the tax field, she inevitably received a barrage of questions about personal income tax returns. Ironically, the former PricewaterhouseCoopers tax manager has never even completed her own tax return; however, she has audited the books of countless corporations over the course of her career in Switzerland.


While at NC State, Powers participated in a summer study abroad program in Vienna that sparked her interest in spending more time on the European continent. After completing her undergraduate degrees in business management and accounting, and a master’s degree in accounting at The Ohio State University, Powers decided to return to Europe.

After reviewing opportunities in countries ranging from Australia to England with her Park Faculty Mentor Dr. Roby Sawyers, an accounting professor in the Poole College of Management, the pair ultimately decided that Switzerland was a perfect match. The Swiss office was interested in someone at the junior level to support the expansion of the tax accounting practice, and Powers was keen to put her German minor to use in mastering the Swiss German language.

Powers experiences the stunning beauty of the Swiss Alps.

“After graduate school, I felt that something was missing and I needed a change to re-awaken my drive and passion,” said Powers. “Building a life in Switzerland—a country I had never even visited—was definitely going to be a challenge.”

Working in the PricewaterhouseCoopers Zurich office, Powers successfully navigated challenges involving culture, language, and customs to develop and foster strong relationships both externally with clients and internally with her colleagues.

“Switzerland was an amazing opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Powers. “In addition to the work experience and all of the adventures, the conversations I had with friends and colleagues on topics such as politics, healthcare reform, the economy, and immigration have challenged my thoughts and opinions and helped mold me into the person that I am today.”

Powers during a visit to the Greek town of Nafplio.

While in Zurich, Powers discovered how much she appreciated the theoretical aspects of accounting—debating the interpretation of standards, the effect of tax policy on decision making, and the “ideal” tax rate. She then came to the stark realization that her current profession would not allow her to pursue those aspects.

As a result, Powers recently returned to school this fall to pursue a Ph.D. in accounting at the University of Texas at Austin. After completing her doctorate, she intends to pursue a career as an accounting professor.

“The Park Scholarships program has challenged me to continuously become a better version of myself,” said Powers, reflecting on her undergraduate experience. “It prepared me for life after NC State by instilling in me the idea that every person has the power to make a difference.”