Senior public accounting and political science major Haley Coller has taken advantage of all that Gustavus Adolphus College has to offer. And when she graduates this spring, she’s ready to take on the world. The Bloomington, Minn. native will spend several months backpacking across Europe before beginning her career in asset management at Goldman Sachs in New York City.
Described by her professors as an intelligent and inquisitive leader, Coller grew up in a single-parent household as a middle child with two brothers. At the age of 10, she joined Big Brother Big Sister and was paired with mentor Deirdre Ryan.
“She was initially very shy,” Ryan recalled, “but during subsequent meetings I got to know the athletic, happy, good-humored, and stubborn sides of Haley.”
Coller points to the relationship with Ryan and access to other Big Brother Big Sister resources as being key to her college search and decision. As a senior at Bloomington Kennedy High School, she applied to 26 colleges and universities. “I had no idea what I was doing,” Coller said. “I’d always dreamed of going to college, but I knew I’d need help to make it happen.”
After narrowing her options to the University of California, San Diego; the University of Denver; and Gustavus, Coller eventually decided to be a Gustie after experiencing the warmth of the people on campus. “I felt like I mattered here,” she said.
At Gustavus, Coller threw herself headlong into campus life. During her time “on the hill” she’s been a Gustie Greeter, president of the Model UN, treasurer for the Pan-Afrikan Student Organization, and a member of the accounting club. After benefiting from her relationship with Ryan, Coller has become a mentor herself, serving as a peer career advisor, vice president of business education for Gustavus Women in Leadership, and a member of the mentoring club.
“She’s extroverted, bright, and fearless,” economics and management professor Kathi Tunheim said.
After being exposed to the National Association of Black Accountants’ Accounting Careers Awareness Program (ACAP) in high school, Coller maintained relationships that led to an internship with “Big Four” auditing firm Ernst & Young (EY) after her sophomore year at Gustavus. During her summer at EY in Minneapolis, she rotated through the assurance, tax, and advisory arms of the business. The in-depth experience exposed Coller to audit work, business technology, international tax law, and the professional expectations of a successful multinational firm. She also worked on a weekly intern newsletter and helped to develop and organize ACAP for the next generation of students. “EY has a great culture and the internship was a wonderful experience,” Coller said.
The next summer, Coller found an internship a bit farther from home – at Goldman Sachs in New York City. For the first time, she was truly on her own. She found summer housing in Union Square near New York University and jumped headfirst into the fast-paced world of asset management. “I knew no one. All of the other interns were from Ivy League and top East Coast schools,” recalled Coller, who was Minnesota’s only representative in the program.
She quickly set to work to prove that she belonged. Though Coller downplays her motivation to succeed, Ryan wasn’t surprised to see the Gustie thrive. “Haley has a driven focus around owning her own destiny, seeking to understand what’s needed to achieve her goals, and planning and executing to meet those needs,” Ryan said. Tunheim agrees. “She’s results-oriented and can assess and diagnose the situation and read people quickly before stepping up to lead,” the professor explained.
In addition to her daily assignments with the asset management team, Coller also worked on projects with interns from across the globe to explore business process modeling. Every day she took pages of notes and reviewed them each night. “You need to be a sponge and ask the right questions,” Coller said.
Her hard work paid off when she was offered a full-time position with the financial giant at the end of her internship. After considering her options and weighing a few different opportunities, Coller accepted the job and will head back to New York City in January 2017 after her trip to Europe.
As Coller reflects on four years at Gustavus, she’s thankful for the well-rounded experience she had on campus. “The inquisitive nature that I developed through a liberal arts education really helped me prepare for the next step. I might be in a class that I didn’t know anything about, but I had to take the right notes and take time to learn the processes and ask the right questions,” she said. “Gustavus provided me a platform that prepared me to network, interview, and perform at a Fortune 500 company.”
“In today’s marketplace our students need liberal arts experience coupled with hands-on professional experience,” Tunheim added.
With her future plans secured, Coller hopes to enjoy every minute of her last semester on campus by continuing to cultivate relationships with friends and professors. She also took a moment to offer advice for other Gusties: “Not every school has faculty and staff who are willing to go beyond the scope of the curriculum to assist their students, but Gustavus is different. Take advantage of their knowledge and connections. Numbers, formulas, and calculations are valuable assets to know in business, but ultimately what makes the difference in corporate America are the impressions you make on your employer and the ability to build rapport with clients.”
After watching the young lady grow throughout her four years at Gustavus, Tunheim is excited to see what the future holds. “Life is about continuous learning and improvement,” she said. “I hope that Haley leaves Gustavus understanding that the choices she’s made and the relationships she’s built have been good ones.”
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