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Dean’s Award 2024 – Accounting major Sukhleen Kaur bucked tradition to leave India to pursue her degree

Sukhleen Kaur, an Accounting major, is the Dean's Award winner for the College of Business. (Sacramento State Student Affairs/Hazart Sanker)

Sukhleen Kaur landed her dream job before she even graduated from Sacramento State.

“I’m a tax auditor for the Franchise Tax Board,” Kaur said. “I audit corporate taxes. … I love numbers and solving problems, and when they balance at the end, it gives me a happy feeling.

“Even when they don’t, I like to look back and find out where the difference was.”

Eight years ago, Kaur bucked tradition and left her native India at the age of 17 to go to college, becoming the first girl in her village to leave the country to pursue higher education. This month, she will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and is the 2023-24 Dean’s Award recipient for the College of Business.

Deans’ Awards are given at Commencement to the top graduating student in each of Sac State’s seven academic colleges.

“It was so amazing to find out,” she said. “I was not looking forward to hearing the announcement because I thought someone more deserving than me would get it. But my family was really happy.”

Kaur faced many obstacles to achieving her dream. Girls in the small village where she grew up were not encouraged to pursue education, she said. Women were supposed to be subservient to men, and daughters were considered a burden.

“One of my friends got married right after high school just because her family wanted her to, but I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone,” Kaur said. “My family always supported me and taught me to be independent.”

Confident in her family’s support, Kaur came to the United States alone in 2016 to attend Kansas University. After the first year, however, her family could no longer afford the tuition, and she moved to California to live with cousins. She took a full load of classes at Sierra College and worked three jobs to pay for her education.

“I could do accounting 24/7. It’s not like a regular job where you have to do the same thing over and over again. Every day I learn something new. And I’m serving Californians.” -- Sukhleen Kaur

While at Sierra College, Kaur and her fellow students founded the nonprofit Cello Chocolate, which supports cacao farmers around the world. She served as the vice president of operations, gaining valuable hands-on experience running a real business.

“I learned a lot and it was for a good cause,” Kaur said. “I would go every day, even though I wasn’t getting paid, because I wanted to learn the real-world business.”

After Kaur graduated from Sierra College, however, she had to leave the student-run company. To make matters worse, she had to put finishing her degree on hold because, as an international stuednt, the cost of continuing was too high.

She worked as a bank teller for Wells Fargo until she received her green card, making her eligible for scholarships and financial aid. By fall of 2022, she was at Sac State.

“With all the struggles I’ve been through it sometimes felt like I might never be able to get through it, but I am actually very grateful for all the struggles because they changed me into the person I am,” Kaur said.

“Now, I feel like anything that comes my way, I can face it.”

Kaur worked as a student assistant for the Franchise Tax Board until landing a permanent tax auditor position.

“I could do accounting 24/7,” Kaur said. “It’s not like a regular job where you have to do the same thing over and over again. Every day I learn something new.

“And I’m serving Californians.”

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About Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State in 2022. A former newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee, she spent several years juggling freelance writing with being a mom. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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