As the first in her family to attend college, Torres seized leadership opportunities at UMass Dartmouth that transformed her into the professional leader she was destined to be.
Click. Click. Click. The sound of calculator keys under Claudia Torres’ (’19, MBA ’20) fingers echoed in her Wakefield, MA office that overlooked two ponds that snapping turtles called their home in the summer months. Through the glass window panes was a landscape she never imagined would be hers to look at every day, from her own cubicle no less.
A CPA and successful senior tax associate at CohnReznick LLP, Torres’ life unfolded in ways she never thought possible. As the daughter of immigrant parents from Portugal, she lived in a modest household where her dreams were nurtured by her family’s hard work and determination to give her a life full of opportunity and promises of success.
“My parents were born in Portugal. My mother’s family spent a few years in Mozambique, Africa, while my grandfather served in the Portuguese Navy,” Torres said. “They moved to Gloucester, MA, over 50 years ago. Being Portuguese meant that I obviously spent some time on the SouthCoast when I was younger.”
No stranger to Portuguese restaurants and cafes alike in the SouthCoast, UMass Dartmouth was always on Torres’ radar as an option for a high-quality education, but she faced doubt from others that made her hesitate over attending college. Despite having support from her family, she said, “I wasn’t sure about going to college because when I was younger. I had teachers that told me I would be lucky if I made it through high school even though I was a good student.
“Regardless of this being a major transition for me, college was very overwhelming because of the doubt I faced,” Torres continued. Inspired by the grit and determination of her family, attending a higher education institution was a daunting goal, but one that she leapt through hurdles to achieve.
Savvy leadership and community ties at UMassD
While the SouthCoast wasn’t exactly unexplored territory for Torres, UMass Dartmouth was. She wasn’t sure what field of study to pursue, what clubs to join, and where all the hottest spots on campus were. As she settled into her new life as a college student, she experienced homesickness just like every incoming Corsair, uneasy about being so far from her family and everything she’s ever known.
“When I started taking classes at UMassD, I would study by the water,” Torres said, recalling how many memories she made with family along similar shores. She couldn’t help but wonder if she was out of her element as the first to attend college in her family, doubt from the past resurfacing to haunt her. “Even if the weather was bad, I would park my car and listen to the waves. We had something similar to Gooseberry Island in Gloucester, so it reminded me of home when I missed it.”
From doubt to dividends, Torres persevered through the accounting program and found a second family in the Charlton College of Business. She said, “The first two years at UMass Dartmouth were really difficult for me, and then I took Accounting 212 with Professor Christopher Jacobsen. I felt like he was always there to help and was dedicated to student success. I feel that way about the entire Charlton College of Business team of faculty and staff. They’re the reason why I stuck through those two years, as rough as they were.”
“I’ve known Claudia since she was a sophomore. I had her as a student in my class once every single year while she was at UMassD, and her determination to succeed was through the roof,” said Jacobsen. The pair would grow so close that Torres became Jacobsen’s graduate teaching assistant while continuing her accounting studies at a higher level. “She cares about her education and others’ academic experiences, too. You could tell she understood the material and wanted to help others to their best in class, so that’s why I chose her as a teaching assistant.”
With all doubt chased away by UMassD’s esteemed faculty with big hearts, Torres blossomed into the leader she was destined to be at UMass Dartmouth. She became the president of Beta Alpha Psi for two years and got the organization to superior status, meaning the organization achieved certain benchmarks of excellence; it’s the only time in UMassD history.
This was accomplished by bringing in professionals from local accounting offices to improve students’ resume building, interviewing techniques, business writing skills, and more. Torres said, “I was really pushing myself to get superior status for Beta Alpha Psi on top of all of my classes, but I really wanted to leave that legacy behind at UMass Dartmouth.”
Torres also started Beta Alpha Psi’s annual study event that continues to help UMassD students pass their accounting classes with flying colors. She said, “The reason why I wanted to start the study event was because I felt like students didn’t have a way of getting help with accounting classes, especially if they were non-majors. If you’re a marketing student, accounting isn’t going to be your strong suit.”
Being the president of Beta Alpha Psi and running study groups introduced Torres to a multidisciplinary friend group that spanned all departments, something she yearned for since arriving as a first-year. Endless support and encouragement similar to that of her family’s eased her homesickness and fostered a deeper connection to UMass Dartmouth within her, branding her a Corsair for life.
Crunching numbers to make her family proud
After earning her undergraduate degree in 2019, Torres returned to UMassD for her Master’s in Business Administration and wasn’t required to take any foundation courses because she had the excellent grades to skip them. She finished her MBA in 2020 and passed the CPA exam by the end of 2021. Torres also got her Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) waived because of her outstanding academic performance and remarkably high GPA.
While a student, Torres had an internship with Kevin P. Martin LLP, now CohnReznick LLP, and built a sturdy relationship with the top 20 accounting firm, one born from her professional reliability and unmatched skills. Torres said, “My understanding of data science and the concept of standardization from UMassD has made my work with standard work papers more efficient. While it’s the same across a lot of companies and industries, I have an edge with my skills from CCB’s accounting program. I always got compliments during my internship on how much I knew, and I feel like that was because of classes like Jacobsen’s.”
While public accounting has its challenges and versatility is a must-have skill, Torres strives to be the best senior tax associate and CPA, motivated to match the same effort and support her parents gave her throughout her entire life. Even as an adult, she seeks their pride in everything she does, “My parents are the ones who sent me to college, even though they didn’t go themselves. I can’t disappoint them, and it’s not like they’ve ever put any pressure on me. I just want to do more for them because they’ve always done more for me.”
As a first-generation college alumna, Torres stopped at nothing to transform her humble beginnings into a thriving future that her family would be proud of. After breaking through generational barriers to learn how to balance the books, each spreadsheet Torres does as a professional accountant now is a testament to the dreams woven by her family when they embarked on a journey to a new country.