This article was featured in the Fall issue of Dividends magazine, which will be arriving in your mailbox this month.
By Kayla Panizzon
Not all models need a runway, especially if you’re a role model like Meagan Schroder CPA, CGA.
This is not your typical CPA success story. This is a story about bravery, determination and the importance of role models. This is a story about Meagan and Joanna Schroder, two sisters, born 15 months apart, who grew up in a small town with little in the way of role models. At times it even seemed that there were more people working against them—in fact, Meagan once had a teacher tell her she would never graduate high school, let alone attend post-secondary. To boot, nobody thought that Meagan had the guts to leave her community, her sister, and everything she knew, to set out on her own and pursue her career. The easy thing to do would have been to stay put, but Meagan was never really fond of doing things the easy way.
To the surprise of her community, peers, and family, Meagan left her small hometown to pursue a future in accounting. “When I told my dad I was going to NAIT, the pride he felt, I could hear it in his voice; it really kept me going.” Meagan’s dad has always been one person who was an important role model to her. Being a successful entrepreneur himself, he has all the traits of a mentor: Meagan’s father persevered through times of adversity, business failures, and incidents of racism. Meagan describes him as the rock that provided for his family, and he always encouraged his children to pursue their education.
She would need that support as she entered post-secondary. Moving from a small town to the big city, away from her sister, whom she did everything with, was hard on her, and Meagan and her grades suffered as a result. Voices from her past began to haunt her; she started to doubt herself and wondered if she was doing the right thing. But, all it took was one call from her dad to pick her back up. “I was scared to tell him I was failing,” Meagan admits, “but he told me I would never be a failure in his eyes.” With a smile and eyes welling up, she says she knew her dad’s words were confirmation she was on the right track. “I don’t think I would be where I am today without him. If he hadn’t instilled that determination in me, I probably wouldn’t be pushing forward every time I have a failure or make a mistake.”
And push forward she did. She forged her own path, with her father at her back, and in October of 2014, she opened her own accounting firm, Roth Schroder Professional Corporation with partner Tope Roth CPA, CGA.
Shortly after the firm was established, Meagan found out she was pregnant. So, in the whirlwind that is life, she gave birth to her daughter in February of 2015 and, with the support of her husband, decided to return to work after only three months of maternity leave to help build her new business.
By emulating her father’s entrepreneurialism, Meagan, in turn set a strong example for her sister, Joanna.
Joanna followed a slightly different path, pursuing a career as a social worker. After three years of emotionally taxing work in this field, she realized this was not something she could do forever. In the midst of her career dilemma, she suffered a hardship many may find hard to imagine—she lost her first born child, Kaiden, tragically and suddenly. During this dark time, she had the support of her sister, who helped her find the strength inside herself to charge forward. Joanna picked herself up and re-entered the workforce, but this time in business administration at her father’s company, Schroder Oilfield Service in Wabasca, Alberta. She discovered she really loved working in a business atmosphere. It challenged her without the emotional stress that came with social work.
It was at this time Meagan started to play a different role in Joanna’s life—not as a little sister or best friend, but as a role model. Meagan saw Joanna’s potential and drive and encouraged her to pursue a career in accounting. Joanna was up for the challenge but hesitant to leave her nation. As a way to chase her dream of being a CPA while staying part of the Bigstone Cree Nation, Joanna began taking distance education at NAIT. In her second year of study, she had to choose the area of focus for her business diploma. It was Meagan’s love for accounting and level of engagement with the work that made Joanna chose accounting.
Although Joanna is well on her way to fulfilling her dream of becoming a CPA, there are still many obstacles she faces every day. She remains in Wabasca on the Bigstone Cree Nation, and taking distance education means being three and a half hours away from any other students, teachers, or tutors. All she has are her notes, and of course, her role model, Meagan. “I don’t sit in a classroom or have an instructor, I can’t even make the tutorial sessions because I live 3.5 hours away. So, Meagan is my teacher. She has always been my go-to person, from when we were growing up, to now, in my work and with school.”
It is clear Meagan has had a huge impact on the life of her sister, simply by being there and showing through example the future you want is possible, regardless of barriers and limitations.
When Joanna was asked what she would like to say to her sister role model, she replies, simply, “Thank you.” Joanna expands that by saying, “Meagan is such a good example to Aboriginal girls and Indigenous people. She has shown me and others that we can break the cycles of alcohol and drug abuse, of violence, that have plagued us as a people for so long.”
“The role models in these [Indigenous] communities are so essential to bring future generations up, and Meagan is doing that. She is being that role model for all of us.” – Joanna Schroder
The CPA Education Foundation’s No Limits initiative is about empowering role models and creating scholarships that translate into opportunities for bright individuals in Indigenous communities like Meagan to become CPAs and role models.
Meagan knows people who have endured far harder upbringings and situations than she has. She admits it was hard for her to break out of the cycle, and can’t imagine how hard it must be for those in far worse circumstances. Meagan recognizes the slightest opportunity could change the course of someone’s life, making them an exemplar to others in their nation, band or community, and allowing a different cycle to begin—a positive one.
Meagan has had people from her community say, “do you realize how different you are? You have your own business, you’re Aboriginal and you’re female. Do you realize how crazy that is?” But to Meagan, it shouldn’t be “crazy,” the situations you are born into shouldn’t be limiting. When she reflects on her success thus far, she knows her work is not done.
She wants to continue to be a mentor for her sister and others. She believes if you can break down just one barrier, or help just one student, then you can create a ripple effect that can permeate communities and open doors for young business professionals. She wants other Indigenous people to know that they can break down barriers, pursue their dream career, be exemplars for young people, and live out their dreams and aspirations. When asked why she is a mentor, Meagan simply shrugs and says “why not? Why wouldn’t I help someone be all they can be?”
Futures are looking bright for the two sisters. Meagan’s accounting firm is thriving, as their client list continues to grow, and Joanna is now 26 weeks pregnant with her second child and is nearing the completion of her business diploma. With the help of No Limits, more Indigenous men and women can break the mold just as Meagan and Joanna have. Support No Limits today for the CPAs of tomorrow.
Access the full Fall 2017 edition of Dividends on cpaalberta.ca.