August 18, 2017

Alum Byron Downen: counting on success

When Byron Downen graduated from Hiawatha High School in 2013, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to major in or follow as a career. He enrolled at Kishwaukee College.  “Kish is the perfect place for somebody who's either just starting off, someone who's unsure what they want to do, or someone who wants to save money,” he explained. “It's affordable, class sizes are small which gives faculty the chance to personally support you, and there's a little bit of everything for those wanting to experiment.” It worked out perfectly for Byron. One of the classes he experimented with was accounting with instructor Everett Westmeyer. Today, Byron is finishing up his Master’s degree in Accounting at Northern Illinois University.

“I decided to become an accountant during the first semester of my sophomore year at Kish,” he said.  “I came to Everett when I was unsure of a major but I started to like accounting. He spent a lot of time with me to help me reach my best decision.”

Everett Westmeyer, who was recently named a recipient of the Illinois CPA Society’s 2017 Outstanding Educator Award, is known as an educator who challenges his students to think outside the box. Byron noted, “He teaches by asking students questions as opposed to simply lecturing and he pushes all of his students to see the big picture. It is a refreshing change of pace, as opposed to working problem by problem. I enjoyed it immediately.”

It also prepared Byron for the upper-division accounting coursework at NIU. “Everett's teaching style is most similar to the styles used by NIU professors in the upper level program, hands down,” he said. He added that Kish overall had given him the foundation he needed to build on to be successful when he transferred to the university.

What attracted him to accounting? “I enjoy the variety of things I can do with an accounting education. I can do audit; I can do tax; I can do corporate accounting. I can even become an FBI special agent if I wanted, as a forensic accountant. I also enjoy working with numbers and using the computer. Plus, the accounting process truly helps me see the entirety of a business, so I know why I'm doing what I do,” he explained. “Numbers are way more interesting with dollar signs in front of them!”

Since transferring to NIU, Byron landed an internship with the accounting firm Grant Thornton in Chicago in Spring 2017, handling the procedures and work-papers related to the financial audit of a company. He has a job lined up with Grant Thornton in their Tampa, Florida office, when he completes his Master’s degree.

Byron is still in contact with Everett Westmeyer. “Everett is still a huge mentor to me,” he said. “Becoming an accountant was a great decision for me. I continue to bounce ideas off of Everett when it comes to school, work, or even life. Everett is the reason I'm an accounting major today.”

For more information on Accounting and Business programs at Kishwaukee College, contact Kathy Mershon in the Math/Science/Business Division at 815-825-9307 or at