Accounting alumnus profile: Nicholas Gilliam '17

Setting students up for success — Nicholas Gilliam '17, originally from Apex, graduated magna cum laude from Appalachian State University's Department of Accounting in the Walker College of Business. He was also an Honors College student and was active in the Student Government Association.

Now a graduate student in the University of Notre Dame's Master of Science in accountancy program, Gilliam looks back on what prepared him for his first destination after college.

"As a whole, Appalachian sets its students up for success at the caliber they desire, without letting them get lost in the shuffle. Faculty, staff, administrators and the community as a whole treat you as an equal and value what you have to offer," said Gilliam.

On the value of general education courses:

"One aspect of a liberal arts education that gets the occasional knock is the general education requirement — it can be seen as a waste of time. From my graduate studies, I've seen that in today's climate, more and more emphasis is being placed on the ability to create synergies across fields of study," Gilliam said.

"More times than I can count, I have seen a topic I learned in a gen ed class reveal itself in one of my higher level accounting courses. By garnering a well-rounded perspective of the world, Appalachian students stand to be competitive in whichever field they choose."

On the Honors College:

"The Honors College at Appalachian has and most likely will always be the most transformative experience of my life. Coming into Appalachian, I was unsure of myself and was unsure of what I wanted to be academically, all without even knowing it. Within my honors courses, I was told to worry about the content and that the grade would follow," he said.

"Professors lead you through thought-provoking discussions and exercises that spark curiosity in the subject matter and culminate as genuine knowledge — not just GPA points. As I've gotten older, I've learned to rein my ideas and interests in, to be more effective (a little less 'burn twice as bright and half as long,' and a little more 'slow-burning machine'). I owe this to my advisors within the college.

"The honors community places emphasis on the 'why.' Your professors don't answer questions for you; rather, they push you to find the answers on your own. ... You learn to take what you learn further than just an exam by applying what you learn," he said.

"I've learned that if I work to understand course material at a deeper level, by asking questions, looking for issues that haven't been presented and coming to my own conclusions, the rest follows. In graduate school, you'll find that there's too much to memorize. You can't rely on high school cramming habits. After graduating from the Honors College, you have a skill set that allows you to pull meaning out of assignments and coursework. I can't stress the importance of that enough."

On being an accounting major:

"When people hear that I'm going to begin work at an accounting firm, they immediately jump to the conclusion that I'll be sitting behind a desk, alone, crunching numbers late into the night," Gilliam said.

"What I always have to explain to people is that accounting is no longer a solitary profession. More and more, we see that the accounting industry is becoming one that relies on 'people skills.' That necessity to be able to interact with a variety of people (your team, your clients, third parties, etc.) coupled with complex problem-solving is what I love."

Ironically, Gilliam came to Appalachian with intentions to transfer to his dream university. He felt defined by his GPA, he said, and believed a different school — which hadn't accepted his application in high school — was surely a better place for him.

He soon discovered, however, that being in a place where you feel comfortable allows the rest to fall in place.

"I can still distinctly remember, as new Honors College students were led on a tour through campus, I was already falling in love with App. I remember being afraid that if I liked App too much, I wouldn't be able to transfer out. How would I realize my ultimate goal and get to the place I 'knew' I was supposed to be? The end of my first year came and I'd become a Mountaineer. Now, it's so easy to look back on 18-year-old me and laugh," he said.

Gilliam said he's "so thankful" for the Appalachian Experience. "As cliche as it may sound, what matters is being in a place where you feel comfortable — the rest follows," he said.

As testament to this, Gilliam points to where his Cone Hall peers from the Honors College headed after graduation from Appalachian:

"They have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees, to study at Cambridge, to begin medical school at the University of North Carolina, to study in world-renowned physics programs, to begin grad school at the nation's No. 2 health care administration program, to accept job offers at large financial firms, to intern with Tufts University European Center in France, and beyond," he said.

"As for me, I was offered Dean's Scholarships to both the University of Notre Dame and Wake Forest University."

About the Honors College

More than 500 students are enrolled in Appalachian State University's Honors College, which serves a diverse group of high-achieving, high-potential, highly motivated students from all majors. The Honors College helps students develop independent and creative thinking and high-level research skills; promotes interdisciplinary inquiry; and nurtures cultured and caring exchanges of ideas. The college's enhanced academic experience prepares students for success in graduate or professional school and for leadership roles in their lives, communities and careers.

About the Walker College of Business

The Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University delivers transformational educational experiences that prepare and inspire students to be ethical, innovative and engaged business leaders who positively impact our community, both locally and globally. The college places emphasis on international experiences, sustainable business practices, entrepreneurial programs and real-world applications with industry. Enrolling approximately 3,000 undergraduates in 10 majors and 175 graduate students in three master's programs, the Walker College is accredited by AACSB International – the premier global accrediting body for schools of business. Learn more at

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.


“As a whole, Appalachian sets its students up for success at the caliber they desire, without letting them get lost in the shuffle.”  Nicholas Gilliam ’17
Published: Feb 28, 2018 3:19pm