DENTON (UNT), Texas — Grant Thornton, one of the largest professional accounting services networks in the world, has named a University of North Texas student its first fellow.
Sonja Hightower, a first-year doctoral student and former lecturer in the UNT College of Business Department of Accounting, is the first person to be honored as a Grant Thornton Doctoral Fellow in Accounting. The fellowship comes with a $40,000 award to be divided over four years as long as Hightower meets yearly application criteria.
“This is a really special opportunity to be the first university to have a student named as a recipient,” said Marilyn Wiley, dean of the College of Business. “Grant Thornton is a known leader in accounting, and we are immensely proud that this firm has chosen to support one of our students and to support our efforts to continually attract high-level talent.”
Hightower has more than 20 years of experience in accounting, finance and banking. Before enrolling at UNT, she was a senior vice president of internal audit and compliance for Vision Bank in Oklahoma. Her professional credentials include certification as a public accountant and internal auditor. She is also a chartered global management accountant and a certified internal auditor. Hightower has a master’s degree in business administration and two bachelor’s degrees.
“With my background, I understand the challenges in bringing academia and practice together,” she said. “Practitioners and researchers are too far apart. I don’t want to just talk about what isn’t working. I want to determine how we can make accounting better and help bridge the gap between academics, practitioners and standard setters.”
Throughout the fellowship, Hightower will be mentored by Tyler Jones, an audit services partner in the Dallas office.
“We have a great relationship with UNT, and we’re trying to further entrench our brand with professionals in academia,” said Jones, adding that Hightower’s doctoral studies provide opportunities for collaboration on ideas for research.
“We have 8,000 professionals and 58 offices in the U.S.,” he said. “As she explores opportunities to do research, she can use me and the resources of our firm.”
Grant Thornton has plans to expand the fellowship program in the future to additional universities aligning with their market territory structure.
“Sonja will forever have a tie with UNT, but there is also an idea that, yes, she will be considered an alum of Grant Thornton as well,” said Jones.