Strengthening the herd: School of Business program connects students and mentors
By Anthony Langley
“I’ve always believed that when we meet new people we learn from their lives, and when we add that to our experiences, we move forward and become better,” says Rita Saleem, a senior studying in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business.
In her final year at VCU, she signed up to for the CONNECT mentoring program (formerly Ram to Ram), where she was paired with a mentor in her field of study, human resources. The only thing she regrets about joining CONNECT is that she didn’t do it sooner.
The business school’s mentoring program provides a way for students to cultivate professional relationships with alumni and friends of the university before they enter the workplace. Students and their mentors connect in a variety of ways, including attending professional events, talking by phone and exchanging emails. Mentors provide valuable resume and interview critiques along with information to help students attain their career goals.
The program, started in 2010, operates through a partnership between the VCU Business Alumni Society and the school’s Office of Student and Alumni Engagement. The mentoring program is one of two ways that students and professionals can engage with each other in a one-on-one setting. The second program, EXPLORE, pairs students with volunteers for informational interviews, where students can research, through conversation, different career paths. Both CONNECT and EXPLORE have grown significantly in the past few years, as more students, like Saleem, recognize the value of connecting with alumni. This year, CONNECT had 105 mentors and 111 students participate.
“No matter how old you are, I think it’s good to have a mentor,” says Hamilton Bryan (B.S.’13/B), a customer service administrator for Porvair Filtration Group Ltd. in Ashland, Virginia.
Bryan enrolled in the School of Business as an adult after being in the workforce for many years. Though he was initially worried about the transition from professional to student, he credits the faculty at the school for removing any doubts he had.
“There’s really a concerted effort from everyone there to make sure that you succeed,” he says. “When I found out about [CONNECT], I thought this would be another opportunity to help someone else.”
Bryan, who’s in his second year as a CONNECT mentor, says he emphasizes to students the importance of setting goals and working toward them. Teaching students to think first and understand the action they’re about to take, instead of charging head in, makes all the difference in both life and their professional careers, he says.
The program is about providing support as students prepare to make their transition from school to career, he adds. “It shows students that there are people that are here for you, that you can come to, that have something to offer.”
Local consultant Nancie Wingo also serves as a mentor for CONNECT and says networking and making professional connections before entering the workplace is the key to opening up new doors for students. While not a VCU graduate, Wingo is among a growing number of local business professionals eager to support the business school and its students.
“I’m a huge supporter and fan of VCU, and I credit [VCU] for a lot of the positive things going on in Richmond,” Wingo says. “I jumped at the chance to be a mentor. It’s a great program for everyone involved.”
Though it is her first year with the program, for her, mentoring a student is very similar to her work as a professional coach. In her business, Wingo Coaching, she works collaboratively with her clients to create a plan of action and achieve results.
“I believed I had something to contribute,” she says. CONNECT “gave me the opportunity to work with a student and help them create or improve their own plans to get them where they want to be professionally.”
Wingo was paired with Saleem, who serves as president of SHRM@VCU and was looking for a way to gain real-world experience in human resources instead of just reading about it in textbooks. During her time with Wingo, Saleem honed her interviewing skills, realized the importance of networking and outlined the steps she needs to take to reach her career goals.
“We shared the ways we go about achieving goals,” Saleem says. “Even though we work differently, I think we both found new ways to try and accomplish things.”
Wingo agrees and says she, too, benefited from the mentoring process.
“We’re from different generations, we have different experiences, and I can learn just as much from her as she can from me,” she says.
For both Bryan and Wingo, CONNECT gave them the chance to share their experiences and skills with students preparing to enter the workforce. Both are enthusiastic about coming back for another year and are excited for the program’s future.
“I want [to mentor] more students,” Bryan says with a smile. “There are so many students who want to be a part of this. I’m just glad I can keep making these connections.”
Caley Cantrell is a faculty member at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter and head of the strategy track. Prior to transitioning from adjunct faculty to full-time faculty, Caley built an impressive résumé working for such prestigious agencies as JWT and The Martin Agency. Her position at the Brandcenter blends her experience in the ad world with academic rigors challenging current graduate students in the program. She has worked with student teams on projects for Goodwill Industries, Audi of America, C-K, The Ritz-Carlton, Tribeca Film Festival, Oreo and The Department of Defense.
Caley has been a consistent donor to the Brandcenter for more than five years, including making gifts to fund annual scholarships and designating the Brandcenter in her estate plans. In 2014, she took her commitment to her students one step further and endowed a scholarship for students in the strategy track.
Why do you give?
Working closely with students as I do, you see that they’re investing a lot of time and money in being here. Most quit their jobs to come to the Brandcenter because it’s such a demanding and immersive program. I’m proud that I’m able to give students a “leg-up” on their education.
I think I was like a lot of people who thought that making an ongoing donation was beyond their checkbook. I didn’t think I could make what I thought was a significant enough donation, but as I found, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought. When you think about students who are making sacrifices to pay their tuition, even a little bit can help make a difference for them.
Before I endowed the Cantrell Scholarship, I had been giving to Brandcenter annual scholarships. After my mom passed away in 2013, I decided I wanted to create something with permanence that would also honor my mother, whom had been an educator. An endowed scholarship did both, and as a faculty member I believe in our program, so I decided to put my money where my mouth was.
Did you have any experiences as a faculty member that helped to inspire your philanthropy?
We’re a small program, so I’ve been able to build strong relationships my students over the years. Overall, a lot of students come into this program with a sense of what they’ll be doing, but it’s still pretty uncertain. Over the course of the two years they’re with us, you see them struggle, and then they turn a corner where you see them click and develop this confidence; I look forward to seeing that change.
Every student is different. Some may be very confident in their work, but scared to present, or they may have ideas and just need organization; I find that growth to be fascinating to watch.
Do you have any advice for current students or recent graduates?
We have a very supportive alumni base who are eager to participate in our program and interact with our students. I want to encourage our alumni to please keep it up, as you cannot underestimate, what might seem like an easy piece of encouragement, can do to motivate a current student.
Read about previously featured friends and alumni:
This past Friday, April 25, the VCU Business Alumni Society hosted the fifth annual Golf Open at the Independence Golf Club located in Midlothian.
The Alumni Society invited students, alumni and local businesses to play 18 holes at “The Captain’s Choice” golf outing. School of Business students were able to interact with players at several holes and pass out prizes. This gave them a chance to interact with the players and network.
“The Alumni Board isn’t only just raising money but a lot of corporate and business members are communicating with and enjoying meeting our students. We’re getting the VCU message out there,” said Doug Knapp, the Director of VCU School of Business Student and Alumni Engagement.
Proceeds from the Open will benefit the Society’s Scholarship Fund and various student and alumni development programs. Many corporate businesses such as Dominion, BranCore Technologies and Altria Client Services sponsored the Golf Open and sent employees from their companies to play the course.
Dominion employee, Andy Iracane, said that “VCU is a good customer of ours. This is the perfect type of event to work with good customers. Getting behind events of good customers are events that Dominion likes to sponsor. Especially since a lot of employees are alumni or have some type of affiliation with VCU.”
Each player’s ticket included lunch, range balls, a welcome bag full of free items, 18 holes of golf on the course, drinks, a dinner reception and many more prizes.
Once registered, players were automatically entered into a raffle with multiple prizes. Some of them included restaurant gift certificates, car cleaning kits and a basketball signed by Shaka Smart and the VCU men’s basketball team. A few of the holes also had their own prize for skills such as longest drive and a hole-in-one. On hole nine a player could win a two-year lease of a Mercedes with a hole-in-one.
Accounting Honors Society Beta Alpha Psi held their spring luncheon at the Jefferson Hotel last week, honoring seniors within the organization who will graduate in the next month.
VCU Associate Vice President for University Alumni Relations, Gordon McDougall, was invited to speak at Friday’s lunch to talk about the newly organized Beta Alpha Psi Epsilon Zeta Chapter Alumni Committee and the merits of having a more emboldened alumni organization.
“You are linked with this university for the rest of your life,” McDougall said. “Its reputation will rub off on you and you are the ambassadors for the reputation of this university. Everyday, when you go to work, you brand Virginia Commonwealth University … You should feel a responsibility to be the best you can be with your education, being an informed citizen in the community where you’ll live in.”
The formation of an alumni committee for members of VCU’s Beta Alpha Psi Epsilon Zeta chapter was developed in order to bolster alumni-student relations and generate more support for the honors society and it’s student-members.
During the luncheon, soon-to-be-graduates of Beta Alpha Psi were surprised with the announcement from Amy Gray, Director, Student and Young Alumni Engagement, that Beta Alpha Psi is paying the membership fee for their first year in the VCU Alumni Association.
Students who enroll into the VCU Alumni Association are welcome to join secondary alumni associations as well, reflecting membership in other shared interest or academic university organizations like Beta Alpha Psi, or geographic regions, such as VCU Qatar.
McDougall says the Alumni Association also welcomes current students and alumni participation in defining and establishing other affiliations that can be considered under the VCU Alumni Association.
“This idea is to create a system where the alumni relate by their affinity under the umbrella of the VCU Alumni Association,” said McDougall.
McDougall and other members of the VCU Alumni Association encouraged event attendees — many of whom were VCU alumni invited by way of their association to corporate partners of the School of Business — to become members and stay further connected with their alma mater.
Liz Watson, a VCU graduate who now works for Altria as a financial analyst, said she’s not currently a member of the alumni society, but says she’s interested in joining because she believes strongly connected alumni networks help new graduates network to find career and project opportunities.
“I think it’s good to have a mixture and diversity of experience and disciplines,” Watson said. “Especially with the globalization of business now. Just because you’re in finance now, doesn’t mean you’ll never need to know someone with a medical or engineering background.”
Beta Alpha Psi member Chris Maka said other alumni-related organizations such as Ram to Ram mentoring helped him land his summer auditing internship and could lead to a potential career in the coming months post-graduation.
Maka says he’s excited to become a member of the Alumni Association and is planning to continue his membership beyond the year which has already been paid for him.
“A few of my friends have already graduated and a few of them are already members,” Maka said. “I’ll stick around, because I like the idea of connecting with other Rams, and it’s investing back into my college which has already given so much to me.”
For more information on the Beta Alpha Psi Epsilon Zeta Chapter, click here.
For more information on joining VCU Alumni, click here.
On Friday, April 11th, the School of Business held its Awards Ceremony in the Snead Hall Atrium recognizing outstanding students, faculty and staff.
We want to congratulate all of the award recipients for their hard work and dedication in furthering themselves as well as the School. We are proud to have such incredible individuals a part of the School of Business community.
Below is a list of all of the award recipients along with an image gallery.
As the last month of the Spring 2014 semester comes to an end, students are hurrying to finish their final classes and making arrangements for graduation. Amidst all the excitement of graduating, the question lingering on most seniors’ minds is, “What’s it going to be like after this?”
To answer that question, the Office of Student and Alumni Engagement hosted “The First 100 Days – A Glimpse Into The First 3 Months of The Working World.”
The event featured a panel of recent VCU School of Business alumni reflecting on entering the professional world post undergraduate-life. The event let eager and expecting graduates learn from panelists’ successes and failures in their first few months of entering the professional workforce.
“The program gives current students getting ready to graduate insight about what it will be like based on the panelist here who were in their position last year,” said BranCore Technologies President and panel moderator, Glenn Davis. “It was a fantastic exchange of information.”
This year’s panel introduced students from the classes of 2012 and 2013, who are now working for businesses such as PepsiCo, Club Car and Freddie Mac.
“Just seeing where I might be next year, just a year removed from them, I felt a great connection just seeing how they got their way in life,” said Kenzel Hill, VCU senior and School of Business Student Ambassador.
The panel discussed a variety of topics during the presentation. The theme underlying many of the questions students had were about choosing job offers and how to succeed once a position has been found.
Jeff Burks, a Foodservice Sales Senior Associate with PepsiCo said it’s not bad for new graduates to be somewhat selfish when considering job offers. The sentiment was shared among most panelists, who agreed that new college graduates should choose their career paths based on personal ambitions.
“A lot of times when you’re a student, you’ll want to typically take the first opportunity that comes to you,” said Davis. “But what I heard today, that was so important, ‘no, don’t take that first opportunity,’ just analyze and make sure it’s something you want, you’ve got to be happy with what you want to do.”
Many panelists said the education and corporate skills School of Business workshops and programs provided prepared them for the workforce.
John Marin, a member of the Marketing department with Ingersoll Rand, currently is assigned to Club Car and is using his experience in marketing for a number of different tasks in his position.
Marin says his experience networking while at VCU prepared him to try moving up within Ingersoll Rand for more executive opportunities.
“I’m located in Augusta, Georgia, but I’m talking to people in Seattle about work there,” said Marin. “The position is for my current job, but there’s a lot of inside and outside opportunities to follow.”
Panelists encouraged students to become friendly with new co-workers and find new interests and hobbies. With more free time not having to study for exams and papers, the graduates said finding new productive and rewarding outlets, especially social ones, helps from becoming tired of working professionally.
Student and Alumni Engagement Director Doug Knapp told students and panelists any connection made can prove to be valuable.
“You need as much help as possible when you go in for an interview,” said Knapp. “Before you’re in that interview room, you should be contacting everyone on your personal network about your interview – that networking on your part is absolutely critical, the more help you have can really help you.”
Marin and Davis both shared stories about their experiences of starting their own business, saying new graduates should consider what their other interests are and making the most of them.
While Marin is still in the early stages of developing his own brand and company, Davis shared his experiences of working in a corporate position, making the right connections, and unveiling his business, BranCore Technologies, after years of networking and gaining experience.
“When people say, ‘Wow, BranCore progressed really quickly,’ I say it didn’t progress quickly from 2000 when I started,” said Davis. “It progressed from 1988 to 1996 while I was president of Association of Information Technology Professionals.”
Marin and Burks told students still in the interview process that the most important thing is to ask questions. Davis and Knapp, both agreed that asking questions shows motivation and interest in the position an interviewee is applying for.
“I do my research first, I go on Google and find out what is public information about them and their competitors,” said Marin. “Start trying to do the job in the interview.”
Burks added, “If you can get the interviewer or panel talking about themselves in the interview, you’ve already won.”
The last bit of advice given by Friday’s panelists was to stay motivated and to show initiative in whatever you do as a new graduate.
“Just continue to look for opportunities. They will come,” said Davis. “When they do come, just be ready. Everything else comes once you work hard.”
For more information about offerings from the Office of Student and Alumni Engagement, click here.
The VCU School of Business offers numerous opportunities for students to study abroad to build on students’ personal development and help gain real-world experience. Students have the chance to increase their independence, establish lifelong friendships and gain better appreciation and respect of other cultures. Additionally, students will increase their global network, learn to work in an international business arena and enhance cross-cultural communication skills.
For all of the reasons, the School of Business started the International Consulting Program (ICP). The ICP provides students with the opportunity to leverage their existing business skills and develop new skills in an international environment, all while broadening their personal experience through interaction with culturally diverse students.
“After the trip with ICP, and the information that I took away from the program, I hope to be able to implement my new knowledge and experiences with the rest of my courses at VCU as well as be able to use the entire program on my resume,” says student Anneliese Merz who travelled through the ICP to Athens, Greece.
ICP gives students the opportunity to travel to one of four partnering Universities in four different countries: Nicosia, Cyprus; Prague, Czech Republic; Athens, Greece and Cordoba, Spain.
“I hope to be able to improve upon my skills in my academic and personal life with this experience,” said Jazlyn Green, another student who travelled through ICP to Greece.
“What I liked about the program was that you have the opportunity to study abroad and not just take courses but you are able to work on a project for an existing company. That was the most appealing part of the program to me,” said Green.
Gaining real international business experience also introduces students to dilemmas they will run into once they start working for a company after school.
“When we were in Greece the company I worked for decided to change what they wanted from us the night before our presentation so we were up until five in the morning. We were able to complete the presentation and ended up pleasing the company with our recommendations,” says Merz.
The program is open to Undergraduate and Graduate Business students, with a minimum 2.0 GPA, who have already taken FIRE 311, Financial Management, MGMT 301, Business Statistics and MKTG 301, Introduction to Marketing.
“I made tons of connections overseas. I was able to learn about the business world in another country and because I was able to work with an actual company, TNT Express, I made connections with that company. Another great thing about this trip is how many connections I made within the VCU community. The people who also end up going on this trip basically become a family,” says Merz.
Students interested in applying to the ICP can check out their website for more information and the application requirements.
The School of Business hosted its 2014 Spring Career Fair last week, featuring the largest number of visiting recruiters to date.
Despite being held on a make-up day due to the season’s ever-changing weather, the event drew nearly 90 businesses looking to hire VCU students and alumni.
This semester’s career fair was held in Snead Hall and the Qimonda Atriums. The wing of the Engineering School was used by the fair for the first time in order to accommodate all recruiting business’s exhibits.
With a 23 percent increase in companies attending from previous fairs, students had an opportunity to solicit information about jobs, internships and other opportunities with businesses looking for budding young professionals.
According to the School of Business Career Services, nearly 700 students attended the career fair.
“There was great participation by employers and students,” said VCU School of Business Career Services Director Mike Eisenman. “The employers were extremely complimentary of not just the volume of participation, but also the quality.”
Eisenman says at least one student was hired immediately after speaking and turning in a resume with one business. Twelve companies had already scheduled interviews with VCU students prior to the career fair as well, according to Eisenman.
“There are a lot of qualified individuals,” said Elizabeth Cane, a Regional Property Manager with Dodson Property Management. “We’ve gotten a lot of excellent questions. Everyone seems serious about this job fair and students are taking advantage of a great thing here.”
Joe Dodd, VCU Class of ’12, attended the fair as a recruiter with Geico. Dodd currently works for Geico as a Management Development Associate in Auto Sales and said he was happy to help recruit from his alma mater.
“I attended all of the career fairs while I was at VCU and I made a lot of good connections,” Dodd said. “If you see a name you recognize or something you’re interested in, my advice is to go up and just introduce yourself.”
Abhishek Sabbe, a sophomore double majoring in Information Systems and Computer Science, said he attended the fair in order to find an internship for this upcoming summer.
“The Career Fair has been amazing because it has given me an opportunity to learn more about different companies I had never heard of,” Sabbe said. “It’s let me put my name out there and provides real job opportunities.”
New to this semester’s career fair were more businesses in developing fields such as Supply Chain and Analytics. Eisenman says professors like Wayne Slough were instrumental in attracting companies to recruit at the fair.
Eisenman says the Career Fair is mutually beneficial for both students and businesses, creating opportunities for both parties to be successful.
“Employment is good right now.It’s a good time to be looking for a job if a student is taking advantage of the resources available,” Eisenman said. “They need talent. That’s the reason they come and we have that talent here.”
For information on upcoming Career Fairs and career building workshops offered by the School of Business Career Services, click here.
The School of Business Career Services hosted a workshop last week on Behavioral Interviewing.
While this style of interviewing may sound foreign to some students or faculty, most businesses have adopted this interviewing practice as the de facto way of interviewing candidates for positions anywhere, be it a coffee shop or an investment banking firm.
Behavioral interviewing lets interviewers ask job applicants question regarding previous experiences or situations related to working in a professional environment.
“Being able to describe something you’ve done in the past will help the interviewer understand how you might deal with a situation in the future,” said the workshop’s speaker, Sharan Gore of Travelers Insurance company. “It’s based on research that says it’s the best predictor of future success.”
While Gore did not graduate from VCU, she has two daughters who graduated from the University. Gore also volunteers her time helping students through various School of Business workshops, such as the mock interviews routinely offered by Career Services. Her position at Travelers Insurance as a Human Resources Manager gives her detailed insight on the interviewing and hiring process.
Much like any other type of job interview, Gore suggests spending time preparing.
A spectacular job candidate will research the company and the position he is applying for in order to be knowledgeable about the business and their expectations of employees.
“Some of the things you might discover about an organization is if they’re publicly traded or on the Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange. You might see an article or report from an analyst. You might see the company is doing a lot of community service,” Gore said. “It’s all to inform you about where you’re going to be potentially working.”
This not only serves in becoming a good interviewee, but also to understand if the business a candidate has applied at is consistent with their own ethics, morals or standards.
Gore suggests practicing for the interview itself in order to anticipate questions and eliminate tension. Candidates should study their job listing and consider having prepared answers, but still be fluid to respond to questions naturally.
“If you prepare your answers, it will keep you from rambling,” Gore said. “But silence can be your friend for a short period of time, it gives you time to collect yourself and think of a response.”
Because behavioral interviewing is based on asking questions about previous experiences, a job candidate should consider any kind of experience that highlights personal skills when they assessed a situation and took action.
Gore mentioned that a candidate’s experiences which may not have had a desired outcome can still reflect values the interviewer is looking for in a candidate.
“We learn the most from hardship,” Gore said. “Maybe If you had a project that didn’t go as well as you would have liked it to, don’t hesitate to use that, but you must add what you learned and discovered.”
The workshop ended with Gore taking questions and adding a few tips to take away from the interviewing process.
A quality candidate should make sure to show graciousness by thanking the interviewer in person and again the next day. Candidates should feel free to ask what the timeline of the hiring process is and ask for a business card or contact information.
While some job hopefuls may have a poor experience in their next interview, Gore says they should not be too critical, but still learn from their mistakes and celebrate having earned an interview.
“There’s something to be learned from each interview. Give yourself credit for going out there and putting yourself on the line,” Gore said. “Even though it may be painful, you may not get every job offer, but realize an offer can come through at the right time for you and a company.”
For more on workshops that the School of Business Career Services offers, click here.
This past Wednesday, February 5, the School of Business held their recurring BOSS (Business Organizations and Student Services) Fair in the Business Atrium. The purpose of the fair is for students to find out what organizations are available, speak with organization members and become more involved at VCU.
Students of all majors were invited to talk to representatives, ask any question they had and learn more about other resources available such as VCU Police, Counseling Services and Study Abroad.
Student organizations had the opportunity to set up tables, talk about their organization and pass out free items, all for the purpose of recruiting members and creating awareness about their group.
“We get to see a lot of new faces, meet a lot of new people, get their names added to our contact list and tell them about our upcoming meetings. That’s how we get a lot of new members” said Alberto Francese, president of Gamma Iota Sigma.
The fair went from 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. with multiple tables representing a variety of student organizations, from honors societies, to fraternities, to clubs.
“This is one place where they can put their names out there and get people to visit them because not all of them can get their names up on television screens or do as much marketing as they would like to for their organization,” said Chandra Iyengar, one of the event’s attendees.
Representatives from the organizations stood by their tables handing out fliers and free items, informing students of their purpose. Most organizations have had a table at the fair since it began, but others, such as Omicron Delta Epsilon and Net Impact, were there for the first time.
“I think it helps spread the word about all the organizations and I think it helps students get involved in things that they’re passionate about,” said Jessi Bowers, Vice President of Net Impact.
Some students like to choose only a few organizations to become an active member in, while others like to take the opportunity to learn more about each organization, giving themselves time to choose and reflect on what they are interested in and then decide.
“I always come and sign up for a new club to find out more about it, because my freshman year was more about researching different clubs but not actually participating. After my research I’m trying to become more involved,”said Joannesse Veillard, a Management and Marketing major at VCU. “I like that they have it every semester so people can figure it out and then get more involved.”