Author: suarezcm

Information Systems Professor and Students Build and Install Computers at Haiti Schools

Computer and Internet access has become the cornerstone of education in the developed world in the last twenty years. But as schools and universities in privileged first and second-world countries are putting together sleek and efficient computer labs, third world countries are being left behind.

Despite insufficient funding and infrastructure in those developing countries, Information Systems assistant professor Manoj Thomas, Ph.D, wants to give Haitian schools that same power to educate the youth who can change the destiny of their country.

Less than two months ago, Thomas and Information Systems students, Siobhan Gray and Courtney Bell travelled to Haiti to install approximately 50 sustainable and easy to maintain computers in Haitian schools. During their week long trip, the trio also taught students and educators how to use their new computers donated from the Northern Virginia school system.

Bell and Grey are on schedule to graduate May 2015
Bell and Gray are on schedule to graduate May 2015

“Eighty percent of the people in Haiti live in poverty, 50 percent in abject poverty,” Thomas said, citing statistics from the United Nations index on world poverty.

According to the UN, Haiti is among the world’s most impoverished countries multidimensionally, ranking 161 out of 187 in the 2012 United Nations Human Development Index. Only 20 percent of Haiti’s population has access to electricity. The few residences and businesses fortunate enough to have it often experience regular rolling blackouts.

“Our objective was to provide the younger Haitian generations the ability to move forward and to participate in the new global economy which they have been missing out on,” Thomas said. “To do that, it takes access to technology, computers and computer literacy.”

Organized in conjunction with the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and the Haiti Education Fund, Thomas said he was encouraged by retired Information Systems faculty member and diocese director Paul Fuhs to organize Thomas’ established breadth of information systems experience into a research and development trip to Haiti.

Thomas said he’s done similar developmental projects abroad throughout his career, calling those experiences rewarding and meaningful. When asked by Fuhs to formulate a trip to Haiti, Thomas said he was eager to take on the challenge. 

Volunteering to support Thomas, Gray and Bell joined the project citing altruistic motivations and an opportunity to independently design a developmental computer literacy project.

Starting last spring, the group began to outline their goals and lobbied for support from the university and outside sources.

“I was interested because it was about something I enjoy in my field,” Bell said. “It was about making our own solution for the Haitians and not about doing something already outlined for us.”

“It was very collaborative,” Gray added. “It wasn’t just about a class, it was actual tangible work we got to do.”

Gray programs one of the hundreds of computers donated to schools in Haiti
Gray programs one of the hundreds of computers donated to schools in Haiti

Using the donated computers, the team rebuilt them from the ground up. The computers are configured to prevent intentional or unintentional damage to the operating system and software. Educational software are bundled for specific age groups and grade
levels; including programs to help develop keyboard and mouse dexterity, basic computing skills, or even advanced skills such as website development.

Once the computers were installed in their new schools, Haitian students were taught how to use the computers, could practice typing and engage in interactive tutorials for the Office suite to make documents and slideshows.

Over one hundred students were also given special, “Computer on a Stick” thumb drives they could save personal settings and data on and use at any computer they come across.

Thomas said among their mission’s three-tiered agenda was giving greater access to information. While this solution normally means providing internet access, much of Haiti still lacks the proper infrastructure for reliable internet. Determined to still provide access, the team built eight “Internet in a Box” devices, an open source project which includes Wikipedia in 35 different languages, over 5000 hours of instructional Khan Academy videos, interactive maps and over 35,000 books from the Project Gutenberg archives.

“We’d show them one thing then they wanted more,” Gray said. “They didn’t want to stop learning,” adding that many of the educators were excited to learn how to use new applications to implement in their lessons.

Over the course of the five-day trip, the trio visited two to three different sites per day. Traveling with a native Creole interpreter, the team was met with generous hospitality from their host schools each day. Two schools greeted the team with a special theater performance and a cultural dance recital.

Thomas said that each site visit was fairly different, with some schools having a higher degree of access to computers and Internet. Others however, had administrators with limited knowledge and proficiency using their existing computers and technology.

“Some schools didn’t have anyone to teach them,” Thomas said. “They had a few computers that would never be turned on because no one knew how to use them.”

Despite the degree of poverty and lack of certain amenities briefly experienced by the group, Bell said she noticed a culture that did not dwell on their lack of.

“It was really different, but it was an eye opening experience seeing how we have a lot more and we take it for granted,” Bell said. “They’re still a really happy people even without much.”

As the semester winds down, Thomas said he is waiting to hear back for detailed
responses from the schools and trip directors for his research. After preliminary reports are returned, Thomas said he would like to return to Haiti during the spring semester to collect more research data to assess how educational outcomes in Haiti are influenced by improving the availability of information and communication technologies.

Thomas said he has already received more computers to put together for a possible return trip with another potential group that could build and install more computers in Haitian schools.

“It’s an idea,” Thomas said with a smile. “We’ll see what comes of it.”


-Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

Ford C3 Grant and Springboard VCU connect East and West Ends through Green Ride RVA Trolley

The Green Ride Trolley picked up residents from 31st Street Baptist Church, New Light Baptist Church, and Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
The Green Ride Trolley picked up residents from 31st Street Baptist Church, New Light Baptist Church, and Mount Carmel Baptist Church.

After more than a year of preparation, students, faculty and local business partners have finally had their vision of providing the Churchill district a new way to access grocery stores and shopping districts which are lacking in Richmond’s East End.

After receiving the coveted $25,000 Ford College Community Challenge grant two years in a row, members of the student organization Springboard VCU finally had their most recent project, Green Ride RVA realized.

The goal of the grant; creating sustainable communities and transportation by addressing critical concerns in recipients’ home cities. Observing the problem of ‘Food Deserts,’ districts more than two miles away from any grocery store, Springboard VCU choose to connect the underserved neighborhoods of East Richmond.

“We’ve had a lot of people be very receptive to the idea of this,” said Springboard coordinator Jamie Krzos. “A lot of people in certain areas of Churchill don’t have cars. I spoke with one gentlemen in the neighborhood and he said this is something they really need.”

Much of the Churchill neighborhood, East Richmond and South of the river is designated as Food deserts by different local charities and state agencies. The few corner stores and mini-marts in the area often fail to provide fresh produce and sell much of their products at rates much higher than typical grocery stores.

Referencing the man Krzos spoke to early during the development stages of the project, residents are often stuck paying exorbitant prices for basic necessities.

“He told me he once got cereal and diapers and it cost $20 dollars,” Krzos said.

Claudette Miles, a Churchill resident of over twenty years, rode the trolley on the last day of operation in December. She said she’s experienced similar difficulties finding affordable groceries and regularly faces complications acquiring groceries when she rides GRTC buses to city grocery stores.

“Sometimes the bus is packed, and people have their own bags and luggage,” Miles said. “It can be hard to find somewhere to even sit.”

Recognizing this issue, the group has started to address this issue directly.

Federal Reality Investment Trust, which owns Willow Law, partnered with Springboard to allow the trolley line access to the sprawling shopping center in West End.
Federal Reality Investment Trust, which owns Willow Law, partnered with Springboard to allow the trolley line access to the sprawling shopping center in West End.

For the Green Ride’s pilot program, the organization enlisted the support of RVA Trolley to run a trolley car line from multiple points in Churchill to the Willow Lawn shopping center located in Richmond’s West End during the Black Friday weekend and first weekend of December.

Project adviser and Marketing professor Van Wood said Ford Motor Co. executives have been interested in philanthropy and community engagement the last decade. Founded in 2008, the Ford C3 grant has awarded over $1.6 million since its inception. Each year, eight universities in the country receive the grant to support their respective communities.

Former Ford president and CEO William Clay Ford has claimed over the years that, transportation is, “a basic human right,” according to Wood.

“In our modern globalized world, if you don’t have access to transportation, you don’t have access to opportunity,” Wood said. “If you can’t drive to work or drive to get groceries or have social interaction, you’re kind of left out of society.”

Wood said the grant affords communities across the world to learn from each universities’ projects, having the financial backing and expansive professional network of Ford. While the purveyors of the grant consider it beneficial on a global scale, it undoubtedly strengthens local communities by uniting more than just a university and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Helping to secure the grant was the Steward School, a private K-12 college preparatory school located in Henrico county. Involving the students in the middle and upper school, younger students have also had an opportunity to learn about creating sustainable transportation in Richmond.

In the weeks leading up to the pilot runs of Green Ride, project adviser and resident executive in the VCU School of Business Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics , David Berdish, lectured students from both Steward School and Project Springboard. Throughout both weekends of the trolley run, students from Steward volunteered their time to help manage pickup points as well.

Students from the Steward School greeted and directed trolley users throughout both weekends of its run.
Students from the Steward School greeted and directed trolley users throughout both weekends of its run.

“A huge part of what we do is stewardship and helping the community,” said Steward School instructor Cary Jamieson. “It’s an exciting time now that the project has become real. Our students are excited for what they can do as we move forward.”

Jamieson is currently the director of the Bryan Innovation Lab at the Steward School and previously worked as the program coordinator of the Environmental Stewardship and Sustainable Design program at the University of Richmond. Serving as director for the lab and with her previous experience, Jamieson has worked directly in planning Green Ride and other programs related to the Ford grant.

Last year, members of Springboard developed the Tricycle Gardens’ Healthy Corner Store initiative to address the need for reasonably priced healthy produce in East End market stores.

Working with Dr. Manoj Thomas and the Information Systems department, the team is also developing an Intelligent Systems Framework which will be located in kiosks dotting various locations in the East End. The kiosks will provide residents information for the future trolley lines which organizers hope will connect them to grocery stores near VCU campus and the Tricycle Gardens urban farm.

“I’m absolutely optimistic,” Wood said. “This is a great student project. They put the route together, the nature of the expenses – it’s all planned. Now they have to execute.”

– Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

Tom Snead speaks, inspires at StartUp VCU event

The journey any VCU student embarks on after his or her very first day of class has limitless possibilities. When former VCU Board of Visitors Rector and VCU School of Business building namesake Thomas G. Snead first arrived in Richmond to attend VCU, he said he had very few aspirations other than being a Richmonder.

Sponsored by StartUp VCU, Snead spoke to entrepreneurial-minded students involved with the growing student organization at a special event held at the new School of the Arts building The Depot.

Snead addressed a crowd of nearly 30 students Monday night, describing his time at VCU and how he became who he is today
Snead addressed a crowd of nearly 30 students Monday night, describing his time at VCU and how he became who he is today

Snead, who graduated from VCU in ’76 with a degree in Accounting, described how he came to attend VCU after growing up as, “a farm boy” in rural Virginia.

“I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Snead said. “I had never seen so many lights in my entire life at the time.”

StartUpVCU President Jack Alden and Vice-President Carmine Di Maro said they chose to have Snead speak at their event last week after personally getting to know him this last year. Alden said both he and Di Maro felt Snead’s story was inspiring and wanted him to share it directly with organization members and the student population.

“We wanted to have somebody who has really given back to their community share their story,” Alden said. “It really rings true his message of hard work and following the journey wherever your path might take you. You never know where you might end up.”

During his presentation, Snead described how he came to become one of the most recognizable and influential members of the Richmond business community. After meeting his future wife, Vickie Snead, on a blind date during his second semester of college, Snead said he was encouraged by her to aspire for a good career out of college.

Snead said he had been seeking a degree in General Studies, but decided on Accounting before returning to school in the fall as a sophomore. After earning good grades his second year, Snead said one of his professors encouraged him to apply for an internship with KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm which wielded great influence in Richmond area business at the time.

“It changed my life. They gave me a job,” Snead said, offering that same encouragement to students Monday night. “Take those internships. They’ll open your mind. Do whatever it is you have to do. It opens doors and you will learn a lot.”

From internship to job offers to nearly annual promotions, Snead would eventually become President and CEO of Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield and serve as an executive for several other companies and businesses until choosing to retire in 2006.

VCU alum ’11, Kwaku Osei gave a short presentation before Snead addressed the audience. Currently working for Venture for America, Osei said students who consider themselves non-traditional in their professional approach can still learn tons from taking internships and exploring opportunities outside of their comfort zone.

Osei, Di Maro, Alden and Snead
Osei, Di Maro, Alden and Snead

Osei, who worked for Deloitte Consulting as an analyst immediately after college, said he left the highly reputable and prestigious firm and took an over 50 percent pay cut in order to work for the non-profit, Venture for America. Osei now works in Detroit and proudly works to make a difference in the revitalization of the city.

“There’s going to be a lure of accepting the job offer with the most money or prestige,” Osei said. “But what I want to tell you is to go for the job which will have the most meaningful experience.”

Citing the unique experience VCU and Richmond have to offer students, Osei said students who make the most of their experience at VCU have much to offer the business world.

“You guys here tonight can go head-to-head with anyone,” Osei told his audience. “I’ve been around people from Harvard and Yale and I’ll tell you, they have nothing on me or you.”

VCU Engineering and StartUp member Andrew Batz said he was extremely excited to hear Snead and Osei speak. Batz, who joined StartUp VCU when it was founded in Fall 2012, said the organization has offered him a platform to try and network with business students and mentors who can help him realize his inventions and products to their full potential.

Working in conjunction with StartUp VCU, Batz said a team of him and members from the organization entered the StartUp Weekend competition in Charlottesville last year and won a second place prize for their business plan.

Entering its second year as an organization, Di Maro, who founded the club, said they’re still looking to recruit new students and raise their profile. He said the organization is looking to partner with the newly established, university-wide VCU Squared venture creation initiative as one way to complete that goal.

Marketing junior Wave Wheat attended Monday night’s event hoping to become more involved with StartUp VCU and to hear Snead and Osei speak. Wheat said he has aspirations of being a creative brand manager and possibly opening a niche retail clothing store one day.

“I feel as if everyone in their own right should, if not now, start being entrepreneurial minded at some point in their lives,” Wheat said.

After the event, Di Maro said he hopes events like these continue to inspire students to become more involved with the university and make something of themselves.

“I can count about 20 or 30 people who were not motivated or out in the community doing great things when I met them,” Di Maro said. “As a result of coming to our club and whatever else it may be in their lives, I’ve seen so many people who were just skating by now excelling past imaginable belief. Seeing that transformation makes all the many hours of work worth it.”

-Story by Chris Suarez, student journalist

Business Students Expand Cultural Experience With New International Business Club

VCU students, faculty and staff recognize a diverse and multicultural professional work environment brings innovation, perspective and an often unique, exciting dynamic to the office and classroom.

For Business students Matt Soignoli and Tahira Riaz, those lessons and values are being adopted for a larger scope as the duo hope to establish and popularize the International Business Club.

Soignoli, who grew up in the Richmond area, and Riaz, a Pakistani emigrant and U.S. resident of 14 years, both approached the Office of Student and Alumni Engagement  earlier this year expressing interest in starting a student organization focused on international business.

“The idea stemmed from two people at once,” said Student and Alumni Engagement assistant director Claire Calise, who met and spoke with Riaz and Soignoli separately within a day of each other earlier this semester. “They came together and magic started to happen.”

Within a week of approaching Calise, the new International Business Club was represented at the biannual B.O.S.S. Fair to recruit other students interested in engaging business abroad. At the event, the new IBC co-presidents, Riaz and Soignoli found 20 dedicated and passionate students hungry to learn more about international business.

“I think for our business students in particular, something we’ve stressed often is that we are operating in a global economy,” Calise said. “Just because you’re working for a business in New York doesn’t mean you won’t have an international experience – whether it’s traveling abroad or working with an international client, it’s something that’s starting to hit students. They don’t work in a bubble anymore.”

Riaz is a Junior and new to VCU, transferring from Reynolds Community College this semester to earn a degree in Business Administration & Management. Riaz currently operates a private business with her husband, buying wholesale water-pipe tobacco – known as shisha or mu’assel – to sell to various hookah lounges and tobacco shops in the Richmond area.

Riaz said she moved from Pakistan to Northern Virginia 14 years ago, only relocating to RVA in recent years.
Riaz said she moved from Pakistan to Northern Virginia 14 years ago, only relocating to Richmond three years ago.

Though only six months into Riaz and her husband’s most recent business venture, she said they’ve found one interested client in the area. Because of her experience in purchasing and selling imported goods, Riaz believes she could help other students interested in broadening their business experience to the international level.

“I’m motivated, very passionate, and when I want something, I go do it,” Riaz said. “More and more people I’ve met at VCU, they share that passion. I think VCU can take that passion and use it.”

Sharing that passion is co-founder Soignoli. Currently in his senior year, he plans to finish earning his degree while doing a study abroad program in the spring at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Initially declaring a degree in Psychology after transferring to VCU from Radford University, Soignoli decided to pursue a degree in Business Administration with a focus on International Management to accompany his Psychology degree.

Soignoli said he plans to visit Miami and New York over winter break to network with professionals before his trip to China next year.
Soignoli said he plans to visit Miami and New York City to network with professionals before his trip to China next year.

“I have a passion for culture and learning about the world,” Soignoli said. “I’ve lived in Richmond most of my life. I just know there’s so much more out there. I want to go out and see it myself.”

Soignoli said once he completes the nearly 150 credits for his two degrees, he plans to re-enroll at VCU to earn an MBA. After that, Soignoli, who is 22, said he would like to study internationally for his doctorate degree before he is 30. His plan, he said, is to become a professor or work for an international non-profit.

“I’m really interested in physical and mental health. I’d love to work for a non-profit that directly helps others” Soignoli said. “But ideally, I’d like to do it myself and teach others.”

Office of Student and Alumni Engagement director Doug Knapp said recent success of new programs such as the International Consulting Program are reflective of student interest in international business. Since the ICP began in 2013, more than 80 students have traveled to Cyrpus, Greece, Spain and the Czech Republic. While abroad, students in the program consult with businesses small and large, such as a family-run restaurant, a winery, PepsiCo and EuroJet.

Riaz and Soignoli said they have numerous ideas for what the club could do and what it should be. Much like Knapp suggests, the co-presidents want to recruit a diverse group of students to share their cultural heritage and teach one another about common professional habits and practices in their native countries and regions. In addition to internal cultural exchange, both leaders said they’d like to invite speakers from local businesses who are engaged in international business to impart wisdom and advice.

“At our first meeting, we asked members what they want this club to look like,” Riaz said. “They told us they wanted to go to the companies that are working in the United States and in other countries which have branches everywhere. They said they want speakers to come and talk about other cultures and languages.”

The IBC will hold elections for an executive board next month. Having only met as an organization twice since recruiting its current core members, Riaz and Soignoli, they have laid out the framework for an organization which could elevate multicultural understanding and appreciation in the School of Business and the international business community.

“I’d like to see the club gain prestige and earn a reputation of being something fun that everyone knows about at VCU and at other universities,” Sognoli said. “I want it to be known as something that creates opportunities for others.”

-Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

Thinking and Networking like ‘Freaks’ at 2014 Real Estate Trends Conference

Dubner offered conference guests advice on how to better digest business media
Stephen Dubner offered conference guests advice on how to better digest business media

It’s business alumnus Matt Ball’s second time at the VCU Real Estate Trends Conference. After last year’s iteration of the perennial conference which attracts real estate agents, brokers, analysts and experts, Ball said he found himself experiencing the conference in a different way this year.

“Getting to come here and network with people, that’s how a lot of people in the real estate program get jobs,” Ball said.

He found a job last year as a commercial real estate appraiser for Valbridge Property Advisors . The conference now holds a new value to Ball. This year, he said, he would enjoy the event as a patron wanting to learn more about the market he now works in professionally.

“I’m not coming here networking looking for a job, I’m handing out cards and making business connections. It’s sort of the same thing, but it’s totally different,” Ball said. “It feels great.”

Visiting this year’s 2014 Real Estate Trends Conference was Real Estate Research Corporation president and CEO Kenneth Riggs, Realogy Holding Corp. CEO Richard Smith and Freakonomics author and media personality Stephen Dubner.

Realogy Holdings Corp and CEO Smith own up to 28 percent of the American housing market
Realogy Holdings Corp. and CEO Smith own up to 28 percent of the current American housing market

Attempting to keep the event fresh, conference organizers opted to hold the first two sessions as discussions instead of the panel forum that’s been most common in previous years.

Offering an economic overview and discussion on housing trends during the two sessions, Economics department chair Dr. Carol Scotese and School of Business dean Ed Grier facilitated conversations between invited speakers, themselves and event guest.

You can read more about those discussions and Dubner’s keynote speech here.

Rho Epsilon president and Kornblau Real Estate program ambassador Steven Lindsay said this year’s event came together in a much faster fashion than usual. Despite last minute pressure building for organizers leading up to the event, Lindsay said the conference seemed to be better than previous years.

“The speakers seemed to resonate with the crowd and we got a lot of questions out of them,” Lindsay said about conference speakers.

For younger Rho Epsilon students, Lindsay said he was proud of his colleagues for effectively networking at the event. This year, the student honor society invited mentors to help students meet and speak with members of the business community in attendance.

McGuireWoods partner Gloria Freye has been involved as an event sponsor for nearly eight years. Working in the legal commercial and residential real estate field, Freye has been a partner at McGuireWoods for over 20 years. The Trends Conference, she said, provides one of the region’s best opportunities to interact with VCU, The Kornblau Institute and eager students.

Patrons were invited to e-mail questions in during the two sessions which would then be asked by Dean Grier
Patrons were invited to e-mail questions in during the two sessions which would then be asked by Dean Grier

“The funds that we raise support scholarships and programs for the students,” Freye said. “It also helps establish a huge network for those students to get to know the real estate professionals in the area and what their businesses are and see all the ways you can use an education in real estate and develop as a professional. It’s pretty diverse.”

At the conclusion of the 2014 trends conference, guests were given note-cards and t-shirts asking patrons to mark their calendars for next year. The 2015 Real Estate Trends Conference will be held on Oct. 22, 2015 at The Greater Richmond Convention Center.

– Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

Business Alum Brings Late-Night Cookie Delivery to RVA


First-year and transferring students who just recently settled into their new homes in Richmond, Virginia don’t know how good they have it. Before last Spring, there was no way to have a dozen cookies and a glass of milk delivered to your door late at night.

Thanks to Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business graduate Brayden Pleasants, the city’s hankering for the quintessential late night sweet treat was finally satisfied by his start-up company, Red Eye Cookie Co.

Opening last March, Brayden and the team at Red Eye Cookies were overwhelmed with the immediate demand that followed. Starting operations at 6 p.m. on opening night, by 11 p.m. the bakery had to halt deliveries and close the shop. They had completely run out of cookies.

“RVA has cleared us out of almost all of our dough and we have stopped the ordering system for the night,” Red Eye Cookie Co. posted on their Facebook that evening. “For all that ordered or came out, we’re blown away and we couldn’t be more appreciative.”

Just like that, a simple idea had manifested into a business that would see six-digit sales in its first few months, according to Brayden.

Noticing that Richmond lacked a late night cookie delivery service, Brayden sought to provide the city a service which has become extremely popular in large cities like Philadelphia, Washington and New York.

“We saw a need not being addressed in Richmond,” Brayden said. “We thought it’d be fun to make cookies. It’s nice to work in a place where you’re always making people happy.”

8097617_origFounded with friend Colin Wright, a James Madison University graduate, the duo have been baking cookies with their mothers in the tradition of what Brayden calls, “southern-style kitchen cooking,” since their childhood. According to Brayden, all of Red Eye’s cookie recipes are original.

Brayden said he has always been interested in entrepreneurship, valuing the level of autonomy and ability to guide it holistically.

“It’s an opportunity to hold yourself to something,” Brayden said. “The work you put in, it’s laying down bricks, you build something that’s wholly yours.”

A former Marine, Brayden enrolled at VCU and graduated in December 2013. Earning a degree in marketing, Brayden embraced the discipline with an entrepreneurial mind. While still a student at VCU, he started a small t-shirt company and showed promise as an entrepreneur, according to Marketing professor Brian Brown.

“Brayden was an excellent student. He asked great questions and just appeared to have the commitment and persistence to ‘do his own thing.’” Brown said. “Many [students] say they want to be entrepreneurs, but aren’t actually committed to the process. Brayden is the first, that I know of, that’s getting it done.”

With the marketing experience Brayden gathered studying at VCU, he believes his business has been successful partially in thanks to how they’ve branded themselves as a late night business in a city that doesn’t seem to have many options for delectable sweets past midnight. Additionally, Brayden said priding themselves as a local business and partnering with the community and other businesses have led to the brand’s popularity.

Utilizing techniques from his marketing courses, Brayden and Red Eye employees often visit, table or cater at other local businesses for an afternoon or evening, sharing cookies and camaraderie with Richmond’s eclectic population at spots like Boka Tacos, Strangeways Brewery and The Caboose Wine & Cheese.

“You have to come with your own vision and do it your own way,” Brayden said. “I wanted to become intertwined with the community where we can’t be separated from it.”

Late in August, a rival cookie company arrived in the city. Campus Cookies, which originated in Harrisonburg in 2007, opened its fourth location in Richmond last month, adding another location alongside stores in Blacksburg, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville. Brown says the new competitor and those that could follow will make, “things tougher” but both Brayden and Brown believe Red Eye Cookies have the potential to remain successful.

Partnering with local and regional businesses like Lamplighter to provide coffee, Homestead Creamery for milk and an Ashland mill for flour, Brayden hopes to inspire patrons to support a locally homegrown business.

Alex Burlingame, kitchen manager for Red Eye Cookies and VCU Business student has worked at Red Eye since opening day. Currently a junior double majoring in business and philosophy, Alex said he’s also interested in entrepreneurship.

“Brayden has been so involved with everything that was going on since it started,” Alex said. “I really got to interact with him and learn a lot from what he was doing. It was so valuable for me to work there because I saw the problems you’d have to overcome and now I know what they’d look like.”

Assuming the position of manager early on, Alex said the experience bolstered what he has learned in his classes. However, translating that education to managing a staff and providing excellent customer-service, Alex said, was something he had to learn while working.

Alex said Brayden was incredibly receptive and supportive of all his employees, always making sure to include them in the creative process.

“He’s always asking people questions,” Alex said. “He doesn’t micromanage people, he’s open to additional perspectives. He’s not the kind of person to get stressed out easily. He’s very relaxed, but he’s also a leader who makes decisions when he has to.”

In six months, Brayden took an idea and ran with it, creating a business that’s become a Richmond favorite. Countless groups of students, families and workers have come to embrace the late-night cookie trend. They’re singing the praises of their bakers and delivery-people after receiving a box of cookies while cramming for exams, brainstorming on projects or simply hanging out late at night.

“THANK YOU so much for making the delivery to my bed/couch-ridden friend,” said one fan on Facebook. “She is over the moon and is RAVING about the cookies!! She says they are MIRACLE cookies as she is now up and moving!”

“I ordered a dozen cookies and milk for my baby girl the night before her first day of college,” said another fan ordering for her daughter. “They were they best ever she said!”

-Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

Two Years in the Making: Decision Analytics Professional Track

DSC_5303After two years of planning and preparation, excitement filled the air as faculty, students, advisory board members, staff and administration gathered in the Snead Hall atrium to celebrate the start of the Decision Analytics professional track.

Over the next 15 months, the inaugural cohort of 35 students will meet for class every other Friday and Saturday while continuing their careers. They will earn a Master of Science in Business with a concentration in Decision Analytics by December 2015.

“[Decision Analytics] is important to the world of business, finance and our everyday lives,” said VCU School of Business Dean Ed Grier. “We’re taking an executive approach; the people in the program have experience in the workplace, and they and our faculty are bringing that experience into the classroom.”

DSC_5351Invited to speak at the Welcome Dinner was Mark Ryland, chief solutions architect for Amazon Web Services. Discussing the potential impact of Big Data, The Cloud and the parallels between analytics and new technology, Ryland asserted that we are in a time of unique opportunity.

“It’s sort of equivalent to the industrial revolution,” he said. “It’s similar to the economic and social revolutions of the past.”

Ryland predicts that professionals with knowledge of data analytics will be highly sought after in the job market and will play leadership roles in global companies.

That prediction came as a welcome affirmation to students like Eric Thompson, who works in information technology at The Federal Reserve in Richmond. He said one of the reasons he enrolled to pursue his master’s was to complete a goal he set for himself when he started a family.

“Five years ago I told myself if I wasn’t back in school yet, then I would be now,” Thompson said. “I expect to take this degree and move up to a more senior position somewhere.”

“It’s a program really driven by industry,” said Professor Jason Merrick, who is teaching courses in Problem Formulation, Risk Analysis & Simulation and Forecasting.

 “The advisory board and the faculty got together, and Steve [Custer] asked the advisory board, ‘who do you want to employ, what do they need to know?’ Once the program was designed, they looked to the faculty and asked how to teach it.”

Members of the advisory board were given 30 stickers to represent the 30 credit hours of the class. Given a table of different topics related to Data Analysis, board members assigned stickers to rows considering the level of importance in the industry, suggesting how many hours should be spent on any given topic.

Stephen Custer, assistant professor and faculty advisor for the program said Friday night that he’s happy with how the program has been in its first week.

“We’re doing great. We have a bigger class than we thought and there’s a lot of really smart people,” Custer said. “We’ve got a lot of diversity in the class. I think it’s good. I’m really pleased.”

Virginia’s “Horse Country” and VCU Host Equus Leadership Coaching Event

Beth Herman and Jean Gasen pose with one of the farm hands who helped handle the horses for the event.
Beth Herman and Jean Gasen pose with workshop assistant Kennedy Tabor

Last weekend, EBH Consulting CEO Elizabeth B. Herman conducted an Introduction to Equus Leadership Coaching seminar for corporate leaders, coaches and business partners of VCU at Stillmeadows Farm in Mechanicsville.

Through Equus training, Herman demonstrates the importance of body language by letting clients enter a circle pen with a horse and giving them a chance to attract the horse and utilize their own personal leadership skills in making a connection.

Because of horses’ nature as prey animals, horses typically follow a leader the herd perceives as calm, collected and confident, according to Herman.

Herman says she's been involved with equestrian since she was 7 years old.
Herman says she’s been involved with equestrian since she was 7 years old.

“Human communication is 70 percent body language, 20 percent voice and 10 percent words,” Herman said. “Practice making that 70 percent count.”

During Saturday’s seminar, the two clients who volunteered to enter the circle pen were asked by Herman about a current challenge they were facing in their personal or professional lives.

Responding to these respective challenges, Herman let them work with the horses, offering them a chance to demonstrate their leadership abilities and creating confidence by highlighting skills and revealing areas to improve on while communicating what they wanted the horse to do.

In the process of attracting the horses’ attention and dictating the pace in which they ran around the pen, both volunteer clients were able to impose their personal difficult situations and prove to themselves they could take on any challenge, such as gaining the trust of a 1200-pound animal and assuming some degree of control over it.

The exercises would, both times, end with the horses circling the volunteers. Once trust and confidence had been built, the horses would gradually enclose the circle around the volunteer. Both horses would then rest their heads over the leader’s shoulders. This is the moment of connection, where a horse shows a relaxed state, having chosen a leader they find comforting.

Volunteers who entered the pen were asked by Herman what they'd like to see the horse do, with little instruction on how to handle the horse.
One of the volunteers, Denise Kasper, entered the pen and was asked by Herman what she would like to see the horse do, with little instruction on how to handle the horse.

Prior to Saturday’s event, both clients who volunteered said they have had little to no experience with horses.

Herman says the exercise with the horses lets clients try to exhibit leadership in ways that are different than what is fairly standard for those in positions of power.

“Humans toggle back and forth between two leadership models: domination and schmoozing,” Herman said. “Horses don’t respond well to either one.”

Mimi Weaver, who works as midlife transition coach, and Jane Alford, a rehabilitation consultant, said participating at the event gave them a new outlook on leadership habits and traits. Aware of the typical subconscious tendency to lead either by demanding results or sweet talk, both Alford and Weaver say they have new things to consider when having to demonstrate their roles as leaders.

“I’m in very adversarial work in the legal and medical field,” Alford said. “I have to push so hard, but I need to attach less to that and be present to my environment and be a better listener.”

“Often I notice the energy clients bring to me when they come,” Weaver said. “I notice the impact of me staying calm and how it opens up space in my clients to connect with themselves and feel safe to share.”

Saturday's event drew nearly 20 people. Two clients were invited into the horse pen during Saturday's demonstration.
Saturday’s event drew nearly 20 people. Two clients were invited into the horse pen during Saturday’s demonstration.

Herman, a Towson, Maryland native, says she first made the connection with Stillmeadows Farm years ago by association in equestrian jumping, an activity which Herman says she’s been long involved in.

Because of Stillmeadows reputation as a training facility with award-winning equestrian riders and mutual associates between Herman and the Center for Corporate Education Executive Director Jean Gasen, Herman was able to find a partner in the Richmond metropolitan area to host her leadership seminars.

Certified as an Equus Coach in April 2013, Herman has owned, ridden, and handled horses her whole life. In addition to her certification in Equus coaching, Herman also earned certification in a program called The Leadership Circle. Trained to coach and facilitate the Leadership Circle 360 assessment, Herman and EBH Consulting help businesses and organizations take a snapshot of employee/client/superiors confidence and morale.

“In a 360, if you’re the executive, you’re going to pick people above, below and beside you in the organizational chart and invite them to go online and give feedback about you,” Herman said. “It’s a little risky, and you’re going to learn with a dataset against other executives, you’re going to learn how your associates view you on various measures.”

Gasen says her daughter has been involved with horseback riding at Stillmeadows Farm for several years.
Gasen says her daughter has been involved with horseback riding at Stillmeadows Farm for several years.

Because of networking between Gasen and Herman within the Leadership Circle, Herman was able to bring her talents as an Equus coach to Virginia for the first time this month. Having founded EBH consulting in 2010 and expanding her consulting services to include the Leadership Circle and Equus Coaching in 2013, Herman’s Equus Coaching practice is based in Maryland with additional workshops in California, the Pacific Northwest, and now Virginia.

Gasen believes a continued partnership between VCU and EBH Consulting is possible, with future events on the horizon.

“I think at a minimum, one-day or two-day workshops are in the future,” Gasen said. “There’s nobody else in the Richmond area doing this.”

To learn more about Equus Coaching, EBH Consulting or Beth Herman, click here.

To learn more about the VCU School of Business Foundation’s Center for Corporate Education and Jean Gasen, click here.

-Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

School of Business Says Goodbye To Retiring Faculty

Special thanks to all of the retiring faculty and staff who will be leaving this year; R. Jon Ackley, Robert Trumble, Randall Sleeth, Suzanne Gallagher, John Everett, Randolph Barker, Robert Wood and Ruth Epps (not pictured).

As the the Spring 2014 semester comes to a close with VCU and its new graduates parting ways, the School of Business will also be saying goodbye to eight of its faculty who are retiring this month.

Last week, the business school held a luncheon in the Snead Hall Atrium, where colleagues, friends and associates of those retiring were able to join them for the afternoon and hear a few words from Dean Ed Grier and Department Chairs about their departing peers.

“It’s a lot of service years between all of them,” Grier said. “We’re going to miss the 243 years of experience leaving.”

The eight retirees represent the departments of Accounting, Economics, Management, Supply Chain Management & Analytics and the VA Council for Economic Education (VCEE).

Dr. Jon Ackley, who’s retiring as an Associate Professor, served as department Chair for Management twice during his career and is responsible for organizing the popular “Business of NASCAR” class that was introduced a few years ago.

“Jon did what many of us aspire to,” said Supply Chain Management & Analytics Department Chair Chip Minor. “That is; take a passion and run with it. He truly puts the university and the school first.”

Dr. Randy Barker, a Supply Chain Management & Analytics professor will also be retiring this year. “Randy is one of those exceptional faculty who excelled in both research and in the classroom,” said Rich Redmond, Interim Senior Associate Dean.

Barker, among many other things, is well known for the research he and his wife conducted on the benefits of having dogs in the workplace.

Also retiring is Dr. Randall Sleeth, a professor whose embrace of Service Learning increased university outreach into the city of Richmond and taught students the value of community involvement.

“Randy has been instrumental in getting students involved in community service,” said Department of Management Chair Doug Pugh. “He’s really leaving behind a legacy.”

Bob Wood, a Management professor will also be retiring this year. “Bob may be best known as the person who developed the Strategic Dilemmas projects for teaching in our Fast Track MBA program.  Strategic dilemmas are in-depth consulting projects our MBA students conduct for local organizations.  They’re a fantastic learning opportunity for students and also provide real value for participating organizations,” said Department of Management Chair Doug Pugh.

Dr. John Everett, a retiring accounting professor said that after 30 years of teaching, he’s excited for new experiences. Everett said the make up of the student body has changed tremendously since his arrival. He believes the university is creating many more opportunities than it ever has before, not just for local Richmonders, but for young people throughout the region.

“VCU has changed for the better over the years,” Everett said. “A rising tide lifts all boats and VCU has done just that.”

Everett said one of the things he will miss most is being in a classroom setting and teaching for “teaching’s sake.” In recognition of his accomplishments, President Rao has appointed Evertt as Professor Emeritus.

Also among those retiring is Dr. Ruth Epps. According to Rich Redmond, Interim Senior Associate Dean, “Ruth was a leader in the school, having served as Department Chair and as a full professor in the Department of Accounting. She will be greatly missed.”

Suzanne Gallagher, the Director of theVCU Center for Economic Education will also retire this year.  “As the Director of the VCU Center for Economic Education for the last 24 years, Suzanne’s unwavering commitment to economic education has made a positive impact on countless teachers, students, and colleagues.  Though she has earned national awards and recognition for her work, Suzanne’s enthusiasm and genuine personality will be remembered and cherished most by those with whom she has worked.  I am grateful for her many contributions to the success of the Virginia Council on Economic Education and the VCU Center,” said Daniel R Mortensen, Executive Director of the VCEE. 

Fellow retiree Dr. Robert R. Trumble, a management professor and former dean, spoke for many when he said that he’ll miss the camaraderie found in working and socializing with other professors and students he’s met during his tenure. Bob looks forward to world travel adventures with his wife and family upon his retirement.

Among this year’s retirees are a few faculty members who were here to witness the 1968 merger between the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute establishing Virginia Commonwealth University.

We thank all of those retiring this year for their dedication and service to the students, the School of Business and the University and wish them nothing but the best in their retirement.

-Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

*Click on images below for the full version.

Shaka Smart Talks Leadership at Investors Circle Event

Despite the recent resurgence of rumors saying Shaka Smart is leaving VCU for another high-caliber college basketball program, the beloved coach is here to stay.

Last week, The VCU School of Business Foundation hosted a dinner for the school’s Investors Circle at the Jefferson Hotel. Invited to Tuesday night’s dinner was Coach Shaka Smart, who participated in a Q-and-A session with moderator Dr. Jean B. Gasen, Executive Director of the School of Business Center for Corporate Education.

The theme for Tuesday night’s discussion, “Instilling Leadership On and Off The Court,” had Dr. Gasen ask Smart questions regarding the basketball team, Smart’s impression of the student athletes he’s mentored, his coaching philosophies and core values on and off the court.

DSC_5062Having graduated magna cum laude from Kenyon University and earned his master’s in Social Science from California University of Pennsylvania, Smart developed a love for quotes from historical figures. Playing off his well-known admiration of poetry, history and motivational speaking, many of Dr. Gasen’s questions were preluded with quotes from writers and historians such as Sun Tzu and Robert Frost.

Dinner guests had an opportunity to see and hear Smart in a much more intimate setting with the coach answering questions with personal vignettes, recalling stories about being an assistant-coach at Florida University and Clemson and learning to become a leader and mentor for his student-athletes.

Smart also talked about his own family and being a father to his two-year old daughter Zora as well as being heavily influenced by his mother who raised him and his five siblings as a single parent.

DSC_5083When asked by a dinner guest what the greatest feeling Smart has felt as Head Coach, Smart replied that it hasn’t been winning and earning accolades, but instead seeing the student-athletes he watched grow and develop make something of themselves.

“Last week when we were recruiting in California, me and the team were watching Troy Daniels with the Houston Rockets on TV in the playoffs,” Smart said. “I don’t think I had ever been more proud watching him play.”

During Game 3 of the Houston Rockets playoff series with the Portland Blazers, VCU alumnus and A-10 record holder for the most three point field goals in a game, Troy Daniels hit a game winning three-pointer with 11.0 seconds left on the clock.

“I know Troy is going to succeed – in basketball or whatever he does – because he’s a hard worker and knows how to follow directions,” Smart said. “I know it sounds simple, but it makes a world of difference.”

DSC_5077After the dinner and discussion period, guests and members of the Investors Circle were invited to meet and take pictures with Smart.

For members of the Investors Circle, events and dinners such as these provide social and recreational outings for the network comprised of local businesses, charities and VCU alumni.

“It was fantastic. I completely enjoyed it,” said Davenport & Co. Senior Vice President and Head of Business Development Clay Hilbert. “We were founded in 1863 here in Richmond. We’ve been here a long time and we’re happy to be a part of the growth here in Richmond. I think VCU has done a phenomenal job in helping improve the city. We’re big supporters of the School of Business.”

While some members of the Investors Circle are individual donors, many local companies and businesses, such as Davenport & Co. donate to the school and offer invitations to Investor Circle events throughout the year to their employees.

DSC_5070Brandon Hey, a VCU alumnus from 2011 and current underwriter for Markel Insurance, said he was invited to Tuesday night’s dinner through his employer.

“It was a great event and so well put together. I really enjoyed it,” Hey said. “He [Shaka] was a very good speaker. I liked how he applied his coaching staff, the outside work force and the students into his answers.”

Individual memberships costs for the Investors Circle begin at $1,000 and Corporate at
$2,500. For more information, please visit or contact Katy Beishem at 804.827.0075 or  

To read the event coverage from the Richmond Times Dispatch, click here.

-Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

Powered by VCU blogs