Alumni Spotlight: Pam Rhea, Cost Accountant Austal USA

Pam Rhea

The story of my time at the University of South Alabama is different than the majority of students who attend.  I moved to Fairhope in 2003 as a single Mom.  In December 2008, working at a company for five years, I was laid off, so I decided to bite the bullet and finish my education. I chose to attend the Mitchell College of Business to get my degree in Finance.

At that time, I  had hours from the other institutions, Mississippi State and Houston Community College (HCC).  At HCC, I took accounting classes and loved them.  Life gets in the way of our dreams sometimes and that is what happened to me.  I worked in Corporate America for many years without a degree in a larger city. At that time it was possible to move up without a degree.  I actually worked at Enron for 5 years and was there for its demise.

The family owned company I worked for here in Alabama was different than anything I had done before.  I knew one day I would look back and be thankful for being laid off, but it was very difficult at the time.  I was 48 years old and the mother of a nine-year-old son.  Fortunately, we lived with my Mom and she was willing to help me finish school.  It was a proud moment to have my Mom and my son at graduation.

I loved my time at South. Each semester I took 18 hours and 15 each summer.  I wanted to finish as quickly as possible.  I loved all of the professors in the Finance Department; they left a great impression on me.  Dr. Hunsader was very instrumental in my goal to succeed in finance.  Many of my professors were very helpful and eager for all of us to learn.  I took a communications class my third semester and my professor encouraged me to double major in Accounting.  I was scheduled to graduate in May of 2010 and decided to follow her advice, which pushed out my graduation date to December 2010.  I am very grateful for the advice, but those accounting classes were difficult!!

After graduation, I received an internship in the Regions Trust Tax department.  Most of my experience during my career was in analysis – budgeting, forecasting, trend analysis, etc.  The tax thing was a whole new concept for me.  I know there are many people that love the tax world; however, I am not one of them.  I knew after my first tax season, this was not the field for me!!!  I interviewed for Austal USA at the same time as Regions, but did not get called for that position.

A year and a half later, an opening for a Cost Accountant became available at Austal USA.  I interviewed for the position and thought it had gone well.  One week went by and then four.  I had given up hope when the recruiter called and offered me the job, with a significant raise.  I have learned so much from my time with Austal USA.  My four-year anniversary is this month and sometimes I am amazed with how much I have learned in such a short time.  As a cost accountant, I am doing general accounting tasks and analysis, working with all levels of management.

The shipbuilding industry was new to me and I have enjoyed learning what it takes to build one of these fantastic ships.  I have volunteered at several of the christenings and it fills you with pride to know that you are a part of something that will be used by the United States Navy.  Sometimes it slips your mind in the day-to-day work schedule and it is nice to be reminded of the importance of building a safe ship.

Now I look back and realize that the layoff was a positive event in my life.  I enjoy my work and appreciate that I can support myself and my son.  The University of South Alabama is a major factor in my success.  Next year, I will be sending my son to South and I know if he takes advantage of everything South has to offer, he will find success in his life also.


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