By Liz Warren-Pederson


When Lydia Buchanan graduated with her accounting degree from the UA, she scanned the program and found just a handful of other women in her class of about 60. “I didn’t recognize one name,” she said. “Where had these women been in my classes?”

As one of the few women in her program, and at a time when the campus had few support resources for career search, Buchanan felt like she was on her own. “It was sink or swim,” she said.

So she swam. After graduation, she joined a real estate company, but selling houses was not a good fit. “I was interested in the numbers and how you make something work,” she said. She was hired on by a metallurgy company, then a mining consulting firm as a cost accountant. That sink-or-swim attitude came into play almost immediately when her hiring supervisor left the company just 10 days after he’d hired her. “I learned how to do things on my own,” she said. “I learned that if you don’t know where it is, you look for it. I learned to ask the right questions. It was a good learning experience.”

Later, when she was hiring staff as the comptroller of a Southern California developer, she aimed to find talent with that same level of self-reliance. “And they never let me down,” she said.

By the late 80s, her father began buying up property in Oregon. The two joined forces and began building houses together in an entrepreneurial partnership that spanned 14 years, until her father passed away. Her accounting background became invaluable as she began navigating the challenges of trusts, wills, and living estates. “Without my education and experience, I wouldn’t have known the right questions to ask,” she said.

Around the same time, she reconnected with the Eller College. A gift of appreciated stock made financial sense for her family, and gave her the chance to make a difference in the form of a scholarship open to anyone, but focused on women in business. “Part of the application process is an essay that asks students to discuss how to encourage women to succeed and progress in business,” she explained.

This year’s awardee is Hannah McBride. Like Buchanan, who grew up in Yuma, McBride is from a small Arizona town: Kingman. “I decided to go to the UA because it has a good business school,” she said. She also majored in accounting. McBride, a graduating senior, had an offer on the table from the Arizona Auditor General’s Office. She turned to her mentors in the department and to Buchanan as she considered her options. “The accounting faculty encouraged me to stay on for another year to complete the master’s in accounting program,” she said. They also encouraged her to negotiate her offer, and the Arizona Auditor General’s Office agreed to defer it for one year. “The level of support is amazing,” McBride concluded.

Buchanan agreed: “It’s so different today than it was when I was here. And that’s a good thing.”

Top photo of Lydia Buchanan and Hannah McBride by Sarah Mauet.