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For Camilo Benitez, the American Dream is Coming True at Georgia State

Ever since his father was a young boy in Colombia, Camilo Benitez says, he wanted to come to the United States so that he could give his family a shot at a better life. If his son’s experience is any indication, he succeeded.

Just weeks into his junior year at Georgia State, Camilo was interviewing for internships in New York. By the time his summer internship ends, he’ll more than likely have a job offer from a major financial corporation. That pace of achievement would be impressive for any student, but even more so for one who didn’t come to the U.S. until he was 10 years old.

Benitez, though, is modest about that résumé — calling it “the least I could do.”

“My parents came here to offer our family better opportunities, and they worked so hard to bring us here,” he says. “My father has succeeded so much despite all the difficulties, like learning the language. The least I could do was try to do even better.”

An Opportunity Arises — at Just the Right Time

Benitez faced his own share of difficulties early on. After graduating from high school in Dallas, Ga., Benitez had a full scholarship to a private university in upstate New York where annual tuition was more than $60,000 — but only a month before his sophomore year was scheduled to start, they told him they couldn’t continue offering the full ride. Benitez found himself scrambling for a place where he could continue his studies.

“I called all the universities — Emory, UGA, Georgia Tech, Georgia State — and because all the deadlines had already passed, nobody could accept me. Georgia State was the only place that would allow me to come here as a transfer student,” he remembers.

While Georgia State might have started out as merely a temporary place for a soft landing, though, it soon became a place Benitez “fell in love with.” He enrolled as a full-time student in the Honors College and changed his major to accounting and finance, and from there the opportunities came quickly. Through ALPFA, the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, he joined a team that advanced to the national level of an accounting case competition sponsored by KPMG; the organization also helped him land the first of many internship opportunities.

“I loved working for Boeing,” Benitez says of the summer internship that followed his sophomore year. “The atmosphere out in Seattle was very different from the east coast. I think the corporate environment’s more relaxed.”

New York Comes Calling

The one tradeoff of the Boeing internship was that Benitez had to turn down an opportunity to join that year’s Panthers in London trip. But when the plane left for the Panthers on Wall Street trip in September, he was on it.

“My advisor for ALPFA, Allison Jacobs, suggested I join Panthers on Wall Street, and she even wrote my letter of recommendation,” he says. “When I came to know a little bit more about the program, I thought this would be a great way for me to network with people from different walks of life and see the opportunities available in New York.”

The itinerary for Panthers on Wall Street is always jam-packed — but for Benitez it was even more so.

“Right before I went, one of the Georgia State alumni who now works for JPMorgan, Christopher Rodriguez, reached out to the Panthers on Wall Street people saying he wanted to help out, and could they recommend anyone for an internship at JPMorgan,” he says. “I knew they’d given Chris my name, but while we were on the trip, he actually scheduled an interview for me. I thought, ‘This is awesome — this trip’s already paying off.’ The last day of the trip was Wednesday, and Friday of that same week, they offered me the position.”

Even Bigger Opportunities Await

By the following spring, Benitez had not one but three internship offers: the one from JPMorgan; an offer from Boeing to do a second summer in Seattle; and one at the Atlanta offices of KPMG. In the end, he went with KPMG based in part on his greater familiarity with the company; he’d interviewed with them once before and had attended one of their diversity leadership programs the summer he worked for Boeing.

However, he says he’s also looking forward to the wide range of opportunities at KPMG, whose main services cover financial advising, taxation, and auditing. “That’s why I’m doing the internship, to find out what I really want to do, accounting or audit,” he says. “As an accounting/finance major I can kind of choose what I like the most.”

Just because he’s chosen to stay in Atlanta for the summer, though, doesn’t mean he’s taken his eye off the Big Apple. In the likely event that KPMG offers him a full-time job after his internship, that position could very well be in New York. Between his father and the Panthers on Wall Street alums who’ve reached out to him, Benitez is confident that he has the role models to be successful whenever that opportunity arises.

“Sitting down and listening to the different recruiters and people who had been in the industry — and a lot of them are alumni from Georgia State — we realized, they used to be us. Just seeing them tells you, yes, it’s possible to work there. You can do it.

“I think I adapt easily to different circumstances. In my life I’ve had to come from Colombia to Florida and from Florida to here, and then from the suburbs to downtown Atlanta. I think that’s why the setting and the pace of New York doesn’t seem like a problem. It’s just something different that I’ll get used to — and that I’m looking forward to.”