From lacrosse to accounting: Ta brothers taking over Saluki land

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From lacrosse to accounting: Ta brothers taking over Saluki land

November 05, 2015, Katja Sonkeng

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Brian (freshman) and Steven (senior) Ta, first-generation accounting students from Chicago, Illinois.

What does a contact team sport such as lacrosse have in common with accounting? The answer is the dedication and loyalty of two first-generation accounting students, 21-year-old Steven Ta and his 18-year-old brother, Brian Ta.

With their extraordinary passion and drive, the Chicago natives have touched the lives of many of their fellow classmates – and SIU College of Business faculty and staff members, too – even as they have left their individual marks on the local community in Carbondale. Both have become an integral part of the Saluki family.

After Brian Ta followed in the footsteps of his big brother a couple months ago, they aired their thoughts on brotherhood and their SIU education while offering some valuable words of wisdom for prospective SIU students.

“I chose SIU because of its beautiful campus,” Brian Ta said. “When I came for a visit during my sophomore year in high school, my brother Steven showed me around and made me talk to (former School of Accountancy Director) Marcus Odom, who got me really involved.”

Although he initially considered attending Western Michigan University, the 18-year old Thompson Point resident opted to become a Saluki instead.

“I already felt involved on campus before I got here,” Brian Ta said.

The very same feeling brought his big brother to Carbondale three years ago.

“What separated SIU from the rest was just the Southern hospitality,” Steven Ta said. “I met Assistant Dean Jill Gebke and Marcus Odom, who was the director of accountancy during my freshman year, and they introduced me to a lot of opportunities.”

Fast forward to 2015, and the senior accounting major is now wearing multiple hats. He serves as president of the Accounting Society, vice president of Beta Alpha Psi, student ambassador for the Illinois CPA Society and past president of the lacrosse club. The latter, in particular, is a source of pride and accomplishment for the budding Deloitte representative.

“When I got here, they previously had four club members, and I built that program up to about 30 students,” Steven Ta said.

Among those students is his little brother, who was on the lacrosse travel team in high school and planned on going to college for lacrosse before he caught the same passion for accounting that Steven Ta already possessed.

“I remember taking my first test and thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is accounting and it’s so much different – and something that normal people don’t do in their everyday life,’ ” Steven Ta said.

He aced the test, which he said made him think that “maybe this is a calling for me to pursue, and I decided that it was my destiny to become an accountant.”

Back then, the senior accounting major had no idea what impact his decision would have for himself, let alone his little brother and his entire family in Chicago.

“Our parents are very proud of us going out there and exploring by ourselves what college is all about, and pursing a bachelor’s degree or perhaps even a master’s degree in accounting,” Steven Ta said. “Coming from a blue-collar background, it is truly special for us to get a white-collar job and get out in the real world to make some money and support our family.”

By being the first in their family to make it to college, the Ta brothers have experienced firsthand the perks and challenges of being first-generation students.

“When I came here, I was really frightened,” Steven Ta said. “While all of my friends were equipped with tips and guidelines from their parents, this was a brand-new experience for me and my family. Yet, at the same time, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and that is for me to explore who I truly am.”

Remembering his own struggles at the beginning of his college career, Steven Ta strongly encouraged his little brother to find his own path through college.

“One thing I regret is that I never joined a social fraternity,” Steven Ta said. “I told Brian to explore options, join a fraternity and do something unique that makes you stand out, just be yourself and find out what makes you happy.”

Brian Ta took his brother’s advice to heart. Three months into his freshmen year, and he is a participant in the mentoring program – and he’s also involved with the Lacrosse Club, the Illinois CPA Society and Accounting Society, and a proud member of Alpha Tau Omega.

“Volunteering outside of school with my fraternity is so far one of my best experiences here at SIU,” Brian Ta said. “We worked over 10 hours of community service, and I just really felt involved with the local people around here.”

Another highlight of his first year as a Saluki was the etiquette dinner hosted by the College of Business specifically for freshmen.

“I thought this was very useful,” he said. “I learned how to cut chicken properly, and where to put my arms on the table.”

When he returned home for his first fall break, those table manners drew a lot of attention.

“Coming from a Chinese-American background, we usually eat with chopsticks,” Brian Ta said. “So it’s definitely weird, yet unique, to use silverware – and our parents did not expect to see us learn all of those skills.”

Despite attending the same university and sharing a passion for accounting, the two rarely talk about school or their major when they travel back home to be with their family.

“At home, we talk about sports and girls,” Brian Ta said.

“We are brothers, so we fight, we bicker,” Steven Ta added. “That’s what we do.”

When the brothers are not busy pursuing their professional and educational goals – including running a joint business they have had since high school, which consists of buying and selling sneakers and textbooks online – and trying to make it into one of the four big accounting firms, the young entrepreneurs are likely to be found in the weight room of the SIU Recreation Center, in lacrosse practice, or at one of their favorite eateries: Buffalo Wild Wings, Thai Taste and Fujiyama Restaurant.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Brian Ta’s first final exam week is quickly approaching. Steven Ta’s advice to his little brother – and to all freshmen, too – is to manage the most stressful time of the semester this way: “Start talking to your professors, step into their office and introduce yourself to them.”

Speaking from his own experience as a freshman, Steven Ta added that “eating healthy and exercising is the best way to cope and control stress.”