Business student Natalia Semaniuk’s pursuit of learning is positioning her for a lifetime of career success
By Marilyn Ferdinand
What do you do when you aren’t sure what to do? If you’re DePaul sophomore Natalia Semaniuk, the answer is, “Try everything and question what you like!”
Semaniuk, a first-generation college student, is a quadruple major in accounting, economics, finance and German enrolled in both the University Honors Program and the invitation-only Strobel Honors Program in Accountancy. She is learning about investment banking as a member of DePaul’s Keeley Center Academy, which prepares students for careers in finance.
Outside of her schoolwork, Semaniuk acts as an Honors Program mentor and accounting tutor and co-chairs the Honors Student Government forum. She is the vice president of business development for the university’s Accounting Club and CFO of DePaul Inclusion in Finance, an undergraduate student organization whose mission is to bridge the gap between qualified diverse candidates and careers in finance. She also volunteers as a financial coach and tax preparer for Ladder Up Chicago, a nonprofit organization that offers free financial services to low-income families.
A resume like that would be the envy of professionals more than twice her age, but her accomplishments arose from a natural curiosity. “I was just genuinely learning what my career could look like because there were all these opportunities available to me,” she explains.
Chasing the American Dream
The opportunities began early. Semaniuk’s parents moved their family from Ukraine to the Chicago area when she was 14. “Sadly, the political environment in Ukraine is not stable at the moment. The outlook for young people is not as prosperous in terms of the opportunities as here,” she says. In the United States, she continues, “it’s a lot more ingrained in our culture and our mindset that you need to evolve as an individual, and there are many more opportunities to connect with people.”
Semaniuk wanted to hit the ground running, but she faced an immediate challenge. “Entering high school, I did not know any English at all,” she says. “So, I started learning English.” At the same time, she explored different courses of study at her school, north suburban New Trier High School.
“Neither of my parents went to college, and neither of them are accountants or finance professionals, so I didn’t have that exposure,” she says. “But I was lucky that my high school offered a lot of business classes, so I had a very good understanding of different fields that I could go into.” Semaniuk excelled at her studies, earning places in advanced placement calculus, economics and statistics classes, and gaining experience as a tutor in her high school’s tutoring club.
In her senior year, Semaniuk had two opportunities to gain real-world experience and network. The first was with a lawyer Semaniuk shadowed on several projects and accompanied to events, where she met a number of professionals who had been finance or accounting majors in college. The summer after she graduated, she was chosen to work with a managing director at Mesirow Financial by a nonprofit organization run by New Trier alumni.
With college looming and no idea what specific field she wanted to pursue, Semaniuk applied to several colleges in Illinois. “I visited DePaul, and it was just a really great experience. I met professors from the accounting, finance and economics areas. I also saw the invaluable opportunity to be exposed to global companies in the heart of Chicago during my studies. That was the deciding moment. I wanted to come to DePaul,” she recalls.
A World of Possibilities
Semaniuk takes advantage of every opportunity to learn and is keeping her career options open. “I’m just focusing on the larger field,” she says. “I’ve been exposed to a lot of tax consulting, including transfer pricing, transactional advisory and international tax consulting, so that is one area that really interests me. But being accepted into the Keeley Academy has made me really open to investment banking. There are so many possibilities for what one can do.”
“Being accepted into the Keeley Academy has made me really open to investment banking. There are so many possibilities for what one can do.”
During the fall quarter, Semaniuk worked part time at Wintrust as a paycheck protection program analyst assisting local businesses during the pandemic. She also was chosen as the top U.S. finalist in Ernst & Young’s 2020 Young Tax Professional of the Year Competition. Semaniuk now interns at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the transfer pricing group.
Working abroad is an option she is considering. Semaniuk, who speaks Ukrainian and Russian fluently, and is a volunteer translator with Chicago’s Heartland Alliance and DePaul’s Translator and Interpreter Corps, says, “I do foresee that sometime in the future I might work internationally. A lot of the big accounting and finance firms have a presence in Europe, and I would welcome the chance to explore other cultures.”
She’ll be adding German to her language repertoire as well. “In my hometown in Ukraine, I was taking some German. After my English got a lot better in high school, I started taking some German classes again.” The University Honors Program requires students to take three language classes, so Semaniuk thought, “‘I already know some German, why don’t I continue with that?’ I’ve just really loved the different mindset it provides, so I decided to major in German as well.”
Semaniuk is used to numbers telling her a story, but the kinds of stories she is exposed to in German classes present a different narrative. “I took a class about Kafka, who wrote in German,” she says. “When you read literature, you have to think about the author’s perspective. You have to think about the surrounding events. So, it really challenges me to use a different side of my mind.”
A Future Full of Promise
As Semaniuk thinks about the business climate into which she will graduate, she has hope that it will welcome a labor force that includes underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, first-generation college students and women who can bring diverse solutions to the workplace. “I initially got introduced to DePaul’s mission within the University Honors Program. Honors students do a lot of volunteering within the surrounding communities. Being exposed to various communities around Chicago has really helped me to see that there is a need for us to pass on our education and to make a bigger impact in the world.”
She also hopes that alumni will give back to DePaul, not only in terms of monetary gifts, but also in terms of time and the expertise that they have. “I think students would be very appreciative of their knowledge and experience. One of my professors drove the point home that my degree is going to be worth more if the next generation is better prepared, more innovative and more diverse.” Like her fellow students who are facing the economic uncertainty that has accompanied the pandemic, Semaniuk is trying to make online learning work and plan a job-entry strategy.
“Of course, there are always challenges,” she says, “but everybody is in the same boat and many companies are still hiring. I’d absolutely recommend to anyone to continue exploring those companies that you are interested in, connect with the recruiters, talk to them about what you are interested in and really get to know the company. I think that if you’re genuinely interested in what the company does and if you have a genuine interest in what you do, there will always bean opportunity.”