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International Student-Athlete Strikes a Perfect Balance

2019 Graduate Profiles

Anyone working to become a CPA has to be able to see whether things add up. For Milica Maras, Governors State University provided the ideal equation—a place where she could play volleyball and earn her Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree.

The combination proved such a good fit that Maras not only became GSU’s first international athlete, she won awards as she earned a perfect GPA.

Raised in Serbia, Maras attended a specialized high school in Belgrade that focused on business and law where she was introduced to accounting. An avid athlete, she also wanted to continue playing volleyball when she headed to college, but that was an opportunity only available in the U.S., she said.

 Maras came to the U.S. to study at a small college in Texas, which offered her a full scholarship.

Soon after arriving, she longed for a larger university and discovered GSU through a Google search for schools with both an accounting program and a NCAA or NAIA volleyball team.

The search netted great results, and the transition from a small college in the South to a regional institution was as smooth as her serve.

“I didn’t find it hard to blend in at GSU,” Maras said. “Everyone was interested in where I came from, and people would ask me to teach them a few Serbian words.” Maras lived at Prairie Place, sharing the kitchen with students from India and cooking food that intrigued the American students who stopped by to heat up a quick dinner.

“They would pop something in the microwave and say, ‘What are you making? That smells good,’” she laughed.

In exploring accounting classes, Maras encountered university Lecturer Michael Trendell, whose combination of textbook lessons with real-life examples in his auditing course helped Maras refine her professional goals. “He got me interested in auditing because he had many examples from his work life, and that really made sense to me,” she said. “He also made it very clear what was important, which is really helpful when you’re an international student.”

Maras also found a home on the women’s volleyball team, sporting number seven on her Jaguar jersey. Her prowess on the court, where she set records, was matched by her success in the classroom, where she earned a 4.0 GPA, leading to an NAIA-Daktronics Scholar-Athlete Award from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, one of 14 selected out of approximately 2,300 NAIA women’s volleyball players.

Maras also was named to the Google Cloud Academic All-American NAIA Volleyball second team, drawing attention from the local news media.

While some students struggle to keep all the balls in the air, Maras readily shares her secret.

“It’s all about organization,” she said. “If you’re organized, you can do anything you want.”

Maras seems to manage a full schedule of classes and practice and still found time to serve as president of the International Culture Organization, which promotes diversity on campus.

“As an international student, it gives you a chance to be yourself and also an opportunity to learn about others,” she said.

During the club’s annual fashion show one year, she said, “I was wearing traditional Serbian dress with another Serbian girl, walking down the red carpet to traditional music. We started dancing to it, and pretty soon everyone was dancing, including President (Elaine) Maimon,” she said.

After graduation, Maras plans to work for a year, then head to graduate school before becoming a CPA, and heading back to Serbia.

“I want to work as a graduate assistant, hopefully at GSU,” she said. “I always tell people that this is a university that’s big enough to matter, but small enough to care about you,” she said.

Seems like a great balance for this future CPA.