SFA banking program helps students launch careers before graduating

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Sophie Clakley of Carthage, a senior banking major in Stephen F. Austin State University’s Rusche College of Business, was attending the Independent Bankers Association of Texas annual convention in September 2022 when she struck up a conversation with her future boss.

C Welch, a certified fraud examiner and assistant deputy comptroller for midsize and community banks with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in Longview, was impressed with Clakley and offered her a financial internship at the OCC beginning in January 2023. 

“In just one conversation with Sophie, I could tell she’d be a good fit for the OCC,” Welch said. “Knowing that she planned to earn her degree in banking at SFA sealed the deal for me.”

Clakley’s attendance at the conference was sponsored by IBAT through an educational partnership with SFA’s banking program. SFA offers these types of industry immersion extracurricular field trips to banking majors because they are key for banking students deciding how to embark on their careers and for banking professionals looking for new talent, said David Kaiser, director of the banking program.

“One of the main goals of our program is to help students connect with banking professionals who can mentor them and help them advance their careers,” Kaiser said. “We’re one of the few banking programs in the state that regularly takes students to conferences so they can make these important connections.”

By May 2023, Welch was ready to promote Clakley from financial intern to assistant national bank examiner upon her graduation this month.

“She showed determination, grit and work ethic to finish her degree at SFA this fall while continuing to work full time for the OCC,” Welch said. “Sophie is a joy, and we are so glad to offer her a full-time position.”

Clakley’s new job involves “everything from how to calculate capital all the way up to the credit side,” she said. “And I didn’t have to go through the usual job search stress to get it. I can relax, finish my courses and enjoy graduation.”

At this point, Clakley wants to dedicate her career to being a bank examiner.

“Without us, bankers would be able to do whatever they want,” she said. “As regulators, we develop good relationships with banks and guide them in serving their customers. We help protect those individuals.”

Clakley said the OCC helped her balance school and work.

“My job involves a lot of traveling to banks, but they helped me work around my class schedule,” she said. “Ms. C is amazing, and my colleagues make me feel comfortable.”

Clakley also said Kaiser’s career mentorship and connections are a huge benefit to students in the banking program.

“Mr. Kaiser has helped me through all of this and has made a true impact on my whole life and my future,” she said.

For more information on SFA’s banking program, visit sfasu.edu/banking.