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The power of perseverance

Drew Davis (MAC '24)

Something just didn’t feel right.

In 2021, Drew Davis (BA ’23, MAC ’24) was four semesters in at UNC, majoring in biology on a pre-med track. He had told himself and his parents that he wanted to be a doctor, the first in his family.

Very few people from Davis’ rural hometown of Murfreesboro, North Carolina, had become doctors.

“I was seeking the distinction of being a first-generation college student and also being the first-generation college student who was able to do that,” he says. “I lost sight of the fact that I needed to be a first-gen who pursues what he’s made to do rather than what he thinks will impress others.”

Long before he began college, accounting was his dream career. Heading into his junior year, Davis changed his majors to economics and Hispanic linguistics with an eye toward entering UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Master of Accounting (MAC) Program.

That meant two years of 15 to 17 credits each of his final four undergraduate semesters — and a full slate of summer courses. He took his first undergraduate accounting course with Professor Tamara Barringer.

“Her motto for us was to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he says. “I really took that to heart. I had been stuck between choosing the comfort of finishing those last two pre-med years and choosing the path that I should take for the career that would better suit me. The mental comfort of making that switch was something that you just can’t beat.”

The life Davis long wanted is now before him. After graduating from the MAC Program in June 2024, he’ll move to Charleston, South Carolina, to work as an audit associate with accounting firm Forvis.

“I thought I wanted to be a pioneer in my family with medicine,” he says. “But really, I realized I could be a pioneer with accounting.”

Finding the best path

Davis fell in love with UNC the way many 3-year-old North Carolinians do: watching Tar Heels basketball.

Starting in middle school, when he said he wanted to go to college that meant becoming a Tar Heel. His parents encouraged him academically but didn’t pressure him.

For those growing up in Murfreesboro, with a population of about 2,500 in the northeastern corner of the state, 10 miles south of the Virginia line, going to a four-year college wasn’t necessarily the usual path.

Drew Davis (MAC '24)

Many born in Murfreesboro stay in Murfreesboro. Everyone knows each other. It’s an hour and 15 minutes to the nearest Target. Davis didn’t get Wi-Fi in his home until he was 20 years old.

There were 17 people in his high school graduating class. He wanted to go to a college with 17,000.

“I was ready,” says Davis. “I was ready to face a bigger world, to put myself out there.”

Much of his early intellectual curiosity centered around numbers; he was a bit better and quicker at math than anything else. As a child he liked everything to be in a certain order.

When he said he wanted to be a doctor, his parents encouraged him but thought perhaps he had a truer calling.

“Moms just know,” says Davis. “When I told her I wanted to be a doctor, she said, ‘OK, think about it.’ They wanted me to figure it out on my own. And then when I told my mom that I wanted to be an accountant, she was like, ‘Yes. That’s right.’”

At the same time he considered dropping his biology major, he discovered all that UNC had to offer in accounting. He learned that vast experience with accounting or business wasn’t a prerequisite for getting into UNC Kenan-Flagler’s one-year MAC Program.

“What I knew was that the program is prestigious and that you’ll get a good job coming out of it,” he says.

He joined the MAC Mentorship Program, which helps undergraduates learn more about the degree itself but also the finance and accounting industries through mentorship sessions, career panels, networking and an undergraduate research course taught by Barringer. The course includes students participating in a case competition with coaching from accounting professionals.

“It was absolutely wonderful because I was embraced so kindly by the MAC team. I fit in. I was confident. I felt like I had a place,” says Davis. “It just felt like I was at home. I felt like there was nothing left to figure out.”

“Go after it.”

Davis’ dad was a quiet guy unless he was talking about his son.

“He always had such unique ways of showing that he loved me and that he was proud,” says Davis. “He would come up to me smiling from ear to ear, saying stuff like, ‘I’m proud of you, boy.’ He was just over the moon about the fact that I was a UNC student and then he was over the moon that I was getting a master’s degree.’”

His father died in October 2023, just months after Davis entered the MAC Program. Though he took a break to be with his family, Davis soon came back because he knew his dad would have wanted him to.

“I can still hear him saying, ‘Go after it,’” says Davis. “But the thing about that is I know that I really can’t ever come up short because I know he’d be proud anyway. It’s not just receiving my diploma anymore. It’s a lot more than that now.’”

Drew Davis (MAC '24)

The MAC Program’s supportive and intimate learning environment draws each 80-student cohort close to its teachers and to each other, something that was especially valuable to Davis as he coped with his father’s death.

“The support I felt from faculty, staff and my fellow students made it as easy as it could be to bounce back from something really difficult,” he says. “The MAC Program just completely built my accounting knowledge from the ground up. I feel very comfortable and very confident about a lot of things. I just feel ready for whatever is next.”

Getting married is also next. In August 2024, he’ll wed Anna Neil (BA ’23). They met their first year at UNC; Davis walked with her to class every morning. He proposed on their third anniversary.

“I’m excited to start the new life ahead of me,” says Davis. “It’s the start of my career, the start of my marriage and the start of moving somewhere new. I’m excited to keep taking the bull by the horns and tackle what’s next. There’s beauty in those kinds of challenges. I learned to embrace that at Carolina.”