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Accountants’ daughter, chemistry major, now pursuing MBA

Barry McNamara
08/31/2011
Sara Wenzel ’10 knows science, having majored in chemistry at Monmouth College, and she is getting valuable experience in both science and business while studying for her MBA at the University of Kansas. Specifically, that would be “the family business,” as she is now focusing on accounting – her parents’ profession – after a few years of denial.

“I have chosen accounting and finance as a focus in my studies in business,” Wenzel said. “Those subjects are appealing to me due to the emphasis on numbers, graphs and analytical techniques.”

Wenzel is able to stay active in science, too, thanks to her internship at the Lawrence Regional Technology Center.

“I’ve worked with chemists, biologists, pathologists and engineers,” she said. “I have performed extensive research and developed feasibility studies, along with other duties, for a variety of potential start-up biotechnology companies and license agreements.”

Most of the clients Wenzel works with are university researchers or local scientists with new inventions or discoveries. They are pursuing options for protection and commercialization of their new ideas, which usually involve drugs, instruments, processes or software.

“I see new science every day, and most of it would impact human life dramatically, such as cancer research or new medical devices,” she said.

It was the excitement of such scientific developments that initially drew Wenzel to chemistry and away from her parents’ profession.

“I decided to major in chemistry because I was pretty good at it in high school and I found it to be the most interesting and exciting out of all the other subjects. I loved that I got to do some math with stoichiometry and got excited about learning all of the particular aspects of processes that I took for granted. “

Wenzel said she heard great things about Monmouth’s chemistry program, claims that were verified by positive classroom and research experiences during her four years on campus. She said she also enjoyed two summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) opportunities at the University of Minnesota and the University of Kansas.

“I wanted to go all the way and earn my Ph.D.,” she said.

Back in the day, hadn’t she also heard great things about Monmouth’s accounting department?

“I did not want to pursue accounting at first because I thought that since my parents were accountants, then it must be boring,” said Wenzel, who also blamed a lack of exposure to the subject in high school. “I was so wrong!”

What changed her mind was the realization that “I wanted to apply my technical background in a different way than laboratory research. I entered into the business field because I knew that so much of science is impacted by business and vice versa, and that I could continue to make a difference in this way. I knew I wouldn’t be leaving science behind, and I haven’t so far. Maybe that’s because they go so perfectly together.”

Wenzel continued, “Accounting is all about researching, calculating and presenting business information in an intelligible fashion, either internally or externally. It’s every bit as interesting as chemistry – what’s not to love? Some people would guess that I would choose entrepreneurship and innovation as a concentration in my MBA program due to my background, but I like accounting too much and couldn’t help myself.”

After graduating and obtaining her CPA license, Wenzel hopes to get into public accounting.

“Many CPA firms audit and offer consulting services to the biotechnology industry, and specialists knowledgeable in the workings of this area are at an advantage,” she said. “In addition, most – if not all – companies need accountants and others to run the business successfully, and this includes firms in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and life science. I could imagine myself working internally for one of those companies.”

Wenzel understands that as a businessperson working in those fields, it is imperative to have some understanding of the science that is involved in the products or processes that are being licensed or commercialized within the company. It’s important so that technologies can be accurately validated and evaluated in terms of intellectual property, market landscape and overall value and opportunities in the global economy.

“Monmouth College really prepared me for this type of career path because of its liberal arts emphasis, which constantly challenged me to change my thinking and develop according to diverse learning environments,” she said. “Also, I was happy that the classes were rigorous and thought provoking and that taught me to always continue to give my best effort, which is 100 percent necessary in the real world.”

Wenzel said she also appreciated Monmouth’s instruction in the various forms of communication necessary in the business world.

“I do feel like I’m an asset because it’s easier for me to dig right in to a new project rather than spending time learning the basics to understand the technology,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that my background in chemistry is the reason that I was hired. I can understand the principal investigators and what they are going through, how their labs operate, and what their needs are, and this is something I know my employers appreciate.”

When Monmouth College’s Class of 2017 matriculates in the fall of 2013, they will be the first class to use the new Center for Science and Business for all four years. Wenzel was asked what she would tell those freshmen as they start their Monmouth experience.

“My advice would be to pursue science as a major or at least take more than the required amount of science to graduate. College is the perfect place to take detailed classes about chemistry, biochemistry, physics and math, which can be difficult to learn in other settings.”

The advances in biotechnology and its presence in the economy are only becoming more and more substantial, she said.

“Those who do not understand science will miss out on an incredible opportunity in business as well as in science,” said Wenzel. “The new research and developments that lead to the betterment of humans cannot occur without scientists, but these same developments cannot ever make it to market and financially succeed without businesspeople. We have to work together.”