After spending more than a decade as a financial auditor in Algeria, Zerrouk Bessa ’20 made the decision to put his life in Africa on hold to pursue a master’s degree in management at SUNY Potsdam—the newest program in the Department of Business Administration.
Bessa arrived at SUNY Potsdam with three degrees, one in finance, one in taxation and one in law. He started his career as a tax inspector where he was in charge of controlling fiscal statements for private companies. As part of the auditing process, he would look for errors or fraud within the companies’ financial statements. Later he became a financial auditor where he was tasked with more comprehensive oversight of businesses, working with everyone from oil companies to mining companies in an effort to make sure they were meeting compliance regulations.
He arrived at SUNY Potsdam with the goal of doing performance auditing—a more in-depth look at the overall economic health of a business. “One of the reasons that I am here at SUNY Potsdam is that I need to completely change the way that I audit. I’m looking to improve an organization’s performance,” Bessa said. “The idea is to use the same standards for accountability and reporting as other modern nations.”
Bessa put his career on hold last fall when he began his new journey at SUNY Potsdam. The management program has given him the chance to build on his already extensive knowledge in finance. Bessa has been focusing on leadership organization at SUNY Potsdam under the guidance of his professors.
“What I like about the program itself is that the professors are committed and are supportive. They provide more than knowledge—they provide skills,” he said.
For instance, Bessa took a research and technology class with Dr. Tony Betrus, which proved to be very beneficial. He learned how to conduct research, administer surveys and he discovered how to use an innovative and technology-based approach to solving business problems. “The way Tony managed the class was amazing! I learned a lot about the academic way to deal with problems and how to do research,” Bessa said.
At 38, Bessa is one of the older non-traditional students at SUNY Potsdam, yet he has connected with younger students through his leadership role on campus. He spends around 20 hours a week working as a graduate assistant in the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, where he helps to oversee the Potsdam Diversity Ambassadors and Mentors program. He has been able to share his cultural experiences and values with students participating in the program, talking about everything from academics to their personal lives. “I provide them with support, advising, mentoring, and at the same time we share our personal experiences,” Bessa said.
Recently, with the support of Lora Lunt, a professor in the Department of Modern Languages, Bessa led an interactive presentation about the peaceful revolution currently happening in Algeria. His discussion, “Can Students be Effective Politically,” allowed students to have a rich debate about the political turmoil in Algeria.
“It was challenging for me to make a presentation in English. I was using some techniques that I’ve used in my classes about being effective. I tried to present objectively about the events that are unfolding in Algeria. It was my way to support my people in Algeria. What’s happening right now is historical—the people have decided to take their future in their own hands through peaceful protests,” Bessa said.
Bessa is the first person in his family to leave Algeria, and despite the challenges of traveling to a new country as well as using English as a third language (he’s also fluent in Arabic and French), it was a smooth transition because of the SUNY Potsdam community. “I was just saying to President Esterberg during a recent reception for international scholars and students, ‘you not only provided me with admission into this amazing college, but you also provided me with a big family, and I’m proud to be part of this family,’” he said.
With his first year coming to a close, Bessa is exploring summer internship possibilities. He has been meeting with staff from SUNY Potsdam’s Office of Experiential Education and lining up interviews with potential site supervisors. Additionally, he has participated regularly in workshops about preparing for job interviews, updating his curriculum vitae and writing cover letters. “I think all of the networking events that SUNY Potsdam offers are important. I strongly recommend that every student take advantage of opportunities offered by the College,” he said.
After getting his degree in spring 2020, Bessa plans on applying for Optional Practical Training, which provides opportunities for international students to temporarily work for up to 12 months for a U.S. employer to gain practical experience directly related to their major area of study. He will then head back to Algeria where he intends to incorporate his business management skills from SUNY Potsdam into all of his future job prospects.
For more information about the Department of Business Administration, visit www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS/BusinessAdmin.
Article by Marissa Kresge ’20 and Jason Hunter