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Cleary empowers Cathy Sharef to be all she can be, and more!

I was shy and introverted when I first came to Cleary,” and today, less than one year after graduation from the university, Cathy Sharef is a financial planner with a prestigious firm, the youngest professor at Cleary, and a confident “bad ass,” she laughs.

She came to Cleary on a soccer scholarship and a well-defined plan to fast track her career as a CPA. Within two years, she tore her ACL three times, had to give up soccer, joined the school’s bowling team, and redirected her academic goals.

Initially, “I wanted that big CPA track and started taking graduate classes at Cleary,” Cathy says. She especially was pleased that her professors were from “real world businesses like Merrill Lynch and Raymond James,” she reports. Cleary prides itself on strong faculty/student connections, and Cathy tapped the insights from these seasoned professionals.

“I wanted to be diverse and leave Cleary with more than an accounting degree,” Cathy decided.  Through the guidance, support and resources of Cleary staff, Cathy chose to obtain two bachelor’s degrees – Business Management and Public Accounting – and a master’s certificate in Financial Planning – all in five years! She graduated from Cleary in May 2022 with a great job waiting for her.

“Cleary helped me find the right classes, guided me in the direction right for me, and supported me academically and athletically,” she announces.

And when Cathy disappointedly gave up soccer, the athletics staff offered her an opportunity to continue competing in sports. “They suggested I join the bowling team, where I wouldn’t risk reinjury. I said goodbye to soccer, but it was a happy beginning for me with bowling,” she smiles. “No matter what, I was still able to be part of a team. It was so heartwarming that Cleary kept me in the game.

“I found Cleary athletics a family atmosphere. The coaches always are there for you making sure you come to practices, go to classes and find a happy medium between the two,” Cathy points out. “And the athletic training staff are on site, ensuring your body and your mind are well-prepared for your sport.”

Cleary also helped Cathy land an internship with Northwestern Mutual Financial Services. The Career Development staff worked with Cathy to build a resume that opened up this opportunity for her. After four interviews, Cathy was hired to serve a one-year internship, and after graduation, she was offered a full-time position as a financial planner.

“Cleary made sure my internship was relevant to me and my career goals; I was timid and nervous at first, but, thanks to Cleary, I was able to say, ‘I can do this!’”

And today … Cathy is one of only 13 percent of female financial planners and advisors in the entire country, a statistic she is determined to change.

Cathy also works as an accounting professor at Cleary. At age 24, she is the school’s youngest professor.

“Being close to the age of most students can be an advantage,” she finds. Students seem to relate to her better, they seem comfortable with her, “they ask questions about how they can get an internship like mine, how they can get into a role like mine and what my career path was. I show them the path I took and how they can relate that to themselves.” Many students see Cathy as a trusted resource and support system.

“Cleary helped me change my mindset that the field of financial planning is a male dominant one,” she points out. “I used to be nervous and shaky when I got up in front of a group, but Cleary gave me the tools and confidence to overcome those obstacles. They helped me feel more outspoken, more driven and more confident.

“I am authentic! Cleary found this in me and helped me develop strengths I didn’t know I had.

“Cleary has given me purpose; the purpose to help others, to help others searching for direction and who they want to be, and to feel important. Cleary has given me the purpose to do what I am doing now and do it well.

“I said to myself, ‘you can do this girl, you got this!’”