How a Three-Month Stay Turned into a Lifetime of Learning
Fabiana M. Mello, CPA, a native of Brazil, left to study English in the United States for three months when she was 19. The only problem was she didn't want to return home. "I saw an opportunity to earn a living here," she says. After realizing her potential to become an accountant and a CPA, she decided to attend Essex County College and then Montclair State University for her bachelor's degree. From there, Fabiana never really stopped learning,
She passed the CPA Exam in six months, then eventually earned her Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF), Certified Municipal Finance Officer (CMFO), Certified Tax Collector (CTC) and Qualified Purchasing Agent (QPA) certifications. And now, as the chief financial officer of the Borough of Lincoln Park, she is in the process of studying for her Registered Municipal Accountant (RMA) licenses.
"Math was also easier for me since I was just learning the English language. Little did I know that accounting is a whole new language," admits Fabiana. And since she likes problem solving, governmental accounting particularly suited her. From working on water utility issues, redevelopment challenges, town events, road upkeeps and repairs, and the development of new sports fields, she solves lots of problems.
"Everything I do has a long-term impact. The borough will be debt free by 2030," she says. "When I first started this job, I thought I might be bored coming from a CPA firm, but I am always learning new things. The laws are constantly changing."
Fabiana very much enjoyed her forensic specialty as an accounting manager at DiGabriele, McNulty, Campanella & Co., LLC in Fairfield. "In forensic accounting, there were no guidelines for the solutions, so you really had to be creative," she explains. But after a close mentor espoused the benefits of working as a municipal CFO, she was enticed by governmental accounting and all the hands-on projects that went along with it. She was appointed assistant CFO for the town of Paterson and eventually moved to CFO in the Borough of Lincoln Park in 2017.
And signs were there that she would be a natural in accounting even as a kid. "I grew up liking math and always liked the office environment — paper, pens, calculators. I actually collected pens and papers," she admits. "I thought it would be harder in the U.S., but I have a good work ethic, which helped." Her passion to perform was evident during her first internship with DiGabriele, McNulty and it's why they asked her to return several years later.
Though her family keeps her busy, she still enjoys her day job. At age 22, her son, John, is not exactly ready to follow in his mom's footsteps, and her two other children — Logan, age 9, and Luke, age 6 — do not have much of an idea about accounting just yet. But that doesn't stop her from encouraging them all to go into accounting one day. However, she and her husband, Rafael, will keep an open mind when it comes to their children's careers.
One thing she does push for, though, is for her children to embrace their Brazilian roots. While the coronavirus pandemic made her emphasize "the important things in life," according to Fabiana, it also helped her connect with her culture again. During the past few months working at home, she was able to sign both of the younger boys up for virtual Portugese language lessons. Her older son, already fluent in Portuguese, goes back every year to Brazil, but now her younger children will have an opportunity to experience the language.