ASK Blog: “Linking Your Liberal Arts Degree to the Real World”

When I attended SUNY Stony Brook, I majored in French Literature and participated in Stony Brook’s first study abroad Philosophy program at La Sorbonne University in Paris, France. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. So what did I end up doing in the real world? I became a Certified Public Accountant working in various management roles throughout my career, most recently as a Chief Financial Officer of a Long Island financial institution. You are probably wondering how I went from being a French major to becoming an Accountant. Many of my engineering, math, and science friends at Stony Brook would poke fun at me asking what I was going to do with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French.

One thing I should mention is that I was also a Business Administration minor, as I knew that I wanted to pursue a business career, preferably in the international accounting and finance field. Yet at the time, Stony Brook did not have an accounting program, and I was only able to take one accounting class. When I graduated, I admittedly had a difficult time landing a full time position in the corporate world because I was labeled a “liberal arts person.” By networking, I was able to complete a summer internship at a major Manhattan bank, but I was out-competed for full time accounting, finance, and business positions from graduates who had more coursework in those disciplines. Notice, I did not say they all necessarily majored in those disciplines. So the first lesson I learned was you need to ensure you have, at a minimum, some specific coursework in your academic experience that matches your employment goals. For example, if you are looking to be a financial analyst, you should demonstrate that you have taken some finance and or analytical classes and did well. I was looking for banking and finance positions but did not have enough specific coursework.

So after my summer internship ended, I decided to attend graduate school and earn my MBA degree in Finance. It turned out to be a good decision, as it made me more employable, and I was able to land my first job as a Program Administrator for a major aerospace manufacturing firm. Suddenly, I was viewed as a liberal arts guy with a technical background. I firmly believe that business employers love liberal arts majors because they tend to be good communicators, they can read and write well, and they are overall well rounded, a must if you are to succeed in the business world. Employers just also need to see that you have the capacity to learn and perform a technical function. I later decided to become even more technically proficient by obtaining my CPA certification, which included working at a public accounting firm for several years.

Once certified, I was really able to put it all together. I worked at an international aerospace company where I was in charge of a Turkish joint venture; I had the opportunity to travel to Turkey several times. I later landed an international finance management position at American Express in their New York City Headquarters. The combination of being a CPA/MBA and demonstrating a love of foreign culture as a French major at Stony Brook helped me land the position. After almost eight wonderful years working in Manhattan and periodically traveling abroad, I decided to find work on Long Island in order to help raise my family. Once again, proving that I could be a critical thinker, flexible, and well rounded, I landed a senior finance position at a major credit union on Long Island without having any prior banking experience. I later became the Chief Financial Officer of a mid-size credit union on Long Island.

The critical traits and skill sets I developed over time started with majoring in French and studying abroad while attending Stony Brook. Keep in mind, the liberal arts background I obtained at Stony Brook provided me with a foundation I could not otherwise get later on in life. Learning a language and studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You don’t have to be an Accounting major in college, get an MBA in accounting, and think nothing but accounting to land quality senior financial jobs later in your career. You can be a liberal arts major and combine it with some technical coursework and experience to help you become a well rounded professional with a capacity to do technical work. That’s what employers look for, and that’s what I always look for when I hire financial professionals.

— Rocco Sabino ’84

Rocca Sabino '84Professor Sabino is a member of the Business Department here at Stony Brook, teaching ACC 596: Financial Accounting Theory and Analysis. He has over 25 years of domestic and international accounting and financial management experience in the manufacturing, financial services, and community banking industries. Sabino has held the positions of Chief Financial Officer at several credit unions on Long Island. In addition, he’s held various senior level finance positions at American Express, which included Director of an international reporting and analysis team responsible for 50 overseas markets, addressing local economic and currency fluctuation issues. Previous to American Express, he was the financial manager of a foreign joint venture of Loral Corporation, a global aerospace manufacturer. He is a CPA and holds an MBA in Finance from Hofstra University, and a BA from SUNY Stony Brook in Foreign Language and Business Administration. He also earned a Post Masters certificate at NYU Stern School of Business in Accounting with a focus on International Business. Professor Sabino lives on Long Island with his wife, son, and daughter.

ASK Blog
The views expressed by ASK guest bloggers are those of the authors and do no reflect those of Stony Brook University or the Stony Brook Alumni Association.

Making educated career decisions can be difficult at any stage of career development. The ASK (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) Blog is intended for Stony Brook University students and alumni to learn career knowledge and get advice from experienced alumni, working in various career fields, about lessons learned from their career experiences.


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