Category: Current Students

Strengthening the herd: School of Business program connects students and mentors

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.”

To learn more about CONNECT and EXPLORE, or for more information on becoming a mentor, or visit

— Anthony Langley is a VCU senior majoring in mass communications.

Why I Give – Caley Cantrell


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:

Erica Billingslea
Trish and Jon Hill
Rose Gilliam

Annual VCU International Business Forum examines North America’s competitive agenda

The past 25 years have been an era of globalization, with countries becoming more connected as geographic, economic and social barriers of a bygone era are removed. With these power shifts taking place, the 21st annual Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business International Business Forum asks, What about North America? What should be on its competitive agenda?

“North America’s Competitive Agenda: Why and How the U.S., Canada and Mexico Should Enhance Their Alliance to Meet the Asian and European Challenges of the 21st Century,” sponsored by Universal Corp. and hosted by the VCU School of Business’ Center for International Business Advancement, takes place Tuesday, Oct. 13, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the University Student Commons Ballrooms, 901 Floyd Ave. A reception will follow in the School of Business Atrium, 301 W. Main St.

Van Wood, Ph.D., professor of marketing and Philip Morris Chair of International Business in the VCU School of Business, will moderate the panel, which will feature representatives from each country in North America.

“While these three countries have made significant progress in their quest to be a free trade area, there is significant opportunity to do more to strengthen the North American alliance, and to present a more coherent, meaningful and influential force in the shifting global landscape,” Wood said. “Our panel members bring a great wealth of experience and, I believe, insight into the many issues that will shape our economic, political and cultural landscape throughout the remainder of the 21st century.”

The panelists are Gilles Gauthier, minister for economic affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.; Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, an international strategic consultant and former Mexican ambassador to the U.S.; and Brandon Price, Ph.D., president and co-founder of Biogenen and the Ben J. Rogers Chair — Entrepreneur in Residence, at Lamar University in Texas.

The VCU School of Business established the International Business Forum in 1994 to raise awareness among students, faculty and the business community of the global nature of commerce and how it links to events both at home and abroad.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region, VCU Health is comprised of five health sciences schools (Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy), VCU Medical Center, Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, VCU Massey Cancer Center and Virginia Premier. For more, please and

25th Real Estate Trends Conference

Erik Qualman, who spawned the “Socialnomics” movement with his book of the same name, will speak at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business’ 25th annual Real Estate Trends Conference.

The conference, organized by the Kornblau Real Estate Program in the School of Business, will be held Thursday, Oct. 22, at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Doors open at 12:45 p.m. with registration and networking. Conference sessions run from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., followed by closing remarks and a reception.

Called a “Digital Dale Carnegie” and “the Tony Robbins of Tech,” Qualman is the author of “Socialnomics” and “Digital Leader,” the latter earning him the distinction of second “Most Likable Author in the World” behind Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. His latest book, “What Happens on Campus Stays on You Tube,” explains the art and science behind the development and impact of digital reputations.

Joining Qualman are real estate and economics experts Mary Ludgin, Ph.D., Maurice Jones, J.D., and Michael Rubinger.

Ludgin is a managing director at Heitman, where she serves as the firm’s director of global investment research. She is a partner of the firm and holds a seat on its investment, valuation and management committee.

As Virginia secretary of commerce and trade, Jones utilizes Virginia’s assets to solidify its position as one of the preeminent places to live, work and conduct business.

Rubinger, president and chief executive officer of Local Initiatives Support Corp. since 1999, has more than 40 years of experience in the housing and economic development fields. Prior to joining LISC, he was executive vice president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the largest private foundations in the country.

An annual event where speakers discuss trends affecting the real estate and business economies, the Real Estate Trends Conference is expected to attract more than 1,400 people from the academic and professional ranks, representing segments such as banking, engineering, investments, consulting, government, brokerage and appraisal.

For more information, including registration details, visit the conference’s website at

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region, VCU Health is comprised of five health sciences schools (Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy), VCU Medical Center, Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, VCU Massey Cancer Center and Virginia Premier. For more, please and

Ice cream bike stirs up excitement for new School of Business vision

Isaiah Harvin, a sophomore marketing major, pedals the VCU School of Business ice cream bike during the Business Organizations and Student Services Fair. The stationary bike powers an old-fashioned ice cream machine.

Just like the professional cyclists scoping out the roads through the Monroe Park Campus ahead of the UCI Road World Championships, Isaiah Harvin was pushing pedals on Wednesday.

But he wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry — or at all. Harvin was among the students, faculty and leadership helping to stir up excitement for the new School of Business strategic vision by testing out a new ice cream bike.

This stationary bike harnesses pedal power to crank an old-fashioned ice cream machine, mounted on a rack in front of the handlebars. Starting with cream, sugar, salt and ice cubes, after about 45 minutes of hard work there was plenty of ice cream to share.

You won’t find that feature on the high-tech, carbon fiber cycles favored by the elite cyclists in the UCI road races.

We’re going to be leveraging what Richmond is about, what VCU is about and what we’re about.

“We’ve got the UCI bike race next week, and people like ice cream,” said Ken Kahn, Ph.D., senior associate dean in the School of Business. Snead Hall was packed with students on Wednesday for the Business Organizations and Student Services Fair, where the bike drew plenty of taste-testers and more than a few riders.

“As part of that [event] we are introducing students to our new strategic vision: to ‘drive the future of business through the power of creativity,’” Kahn said while taking a turn on the wheel.

“We’re going to be leveraging what Richmond is about, what VCU is about and what we’re about to really show that the School of Business is about doing things purposefully as well as creatively,” he said. “Creativity is an important theme in Richmond, and we believe we have the faculty and the curricula to differentiate ourselves about business and creativity.”

Carolina Romero, a senior marketing major, teamed with other students earlier in the week to churn a batch.

“We all took a turn on this bike to churn the ice cream. I think it took about 35 minutes, and riders switched out every five minutes or so to keep it going,” Romero said.

“It gets more and more difficult to churn as time goes by, but it was really, really fun. To see the product come out really made it all worth it. I hope I see the bike around campus more often.”

Claire Calise, assistant director of student and corporate engagement, also did her part spinning some ice cream.

“I love anything that’s interactive. This is something that students have never seen,” she said. The bike “includes them in how our strategic plan is unfolding,” Calise added. Further engagement of students, alumni and the business community will happen via an online survey, and the full strategic plan will be rolled out later in the school year.

Harvin, a sophomore marketing major, enjoyed his spin.

“Having the new motto and throwing in the bike and the ice cream was a really great way to show creativity,” he said.

The idea to have something special to mark the UCI championships came about in a faculty learning community.

“They wanted to have a stationary bike in the atrium for the bike race. The ice cream bike was found talking with some people in Richmond. We decided to go with the more interesting bike,” Kahn said. “It brings a new meaning to miles per gallon.”


Trio of VCU Business alumni take their tenant-matching startup to Silicon Valley

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From left to right, Brandon Anderson, James Barrett and Chris Stewart.

Two years ago, James BarrettBrandon Anderson and Chris Stewart each took the day off from their respective jobs to meet in Barrett’s Richmond-area garage and discuss their future. That day, Tenant Turner — a website that matches rental property managers with quality tenants — was born.

Almost exactly two years later, the trio of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business graduates found themselves in Mountain View, California, having been accepted into Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, one of the world’s best business accelerators, which has helped launch a number of successful companies such as Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit.

“It’s an honor for Tenant Turner to be selected into the program,” Barrett said. “In addition to the investment, they also provide specialized mentorship and access to the entire YC network, which includes vendors, YC [alumni] and investors. With access to new investors, we hope to be able to raise more money faster the next time we open a fundraising round.”

Since 2005, Y Combinator has funded more than 800 startups valued at more than $30 billion.

Twice a year, YC operates a three-month session in which it invites selected startups to Silicon Valley to get their companies into the best shape possible and refine their investor pitches. At the end of each session, the entrepreneurs present their plans to an audience of specially selected prestigious investors.

Tenant Turner met with about two dozen investors, some of whom have already committed to invest. Perhaps more valuable than the monetary investments is access to an elite network of mentors and YC alumni.

“There’s really no better place to be for a new company trying to get jump-started,” Stewart said. “It’s somewhat surreal to be going through that process. The advice is direct, useful and comes from people who have been there before. … YC is also amazing from the perspective of the network effect. Hundreds of companies have gone through YC and even as a current batch company, you feel the sense of camaraderie and know that even in the future there’s an amazing network you can tap into.”

While most startups spend several weeks preparing their application for YC, the process for Tenant Turner was more of a whirlwind. After making a quick pitch to the Rise of the Rest investment group when it came through Richmond this spring, the trio was encouraged to apply to the YC.

“Joining for us was a really quick process,” Stewart said. “Thousands of companies apply for every batch — nearly 7,000 for this summer — and only 106 were accepted. We were a late application, as it really wasn’t on our radar, but it was suggested we apply. So we did, and were flown out to have a second interview in person a few weeks later. We found out maybe an hour or two later that we were accepted and that effectively the program began the next day.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 12.10.30 PM“We very quickly needed to … simply restart our lives 3,000 miles away from home. It’s been a challenging experience, mostly being away from our families and our home, but one we’re determined to make worthwhile,” Stewart said.

Making the experience easier is the comfort the partners have with one another. More than a decade ago, high school friends Anderson and Barrett both studied information systems at VCU, where Stewart tutored them in Java. They became friends outside of school, years later serving as groomsmen in each other’s weddings.

“A lot of our bond was created during our time together at VCU,” Barrett said. “Our long friendship and the respect that we have for each other has made this journey incredibly enjoyable.”

Similarities abound between the three. Each knew at relatively early ages that they wanted to go into business for themselves. Anderson, in particular, seemed destined for an entrepreneurship career.

“At a young age I had a talent for drawing, which I used to draw logos of fictitious companies I pretended I had,” he said. “I created ‘business cards’ and wrote company newsletters. I made and sold friendship bracelets at day care. And I regret to admit there was a period of time in fifth grade where I carried not a backpack but a briefcase.”

Their shared interests endured well past their school days. After graduating from VCU, each alumnus owned rental properties, an experience that often proved frustrating.

“There are plenty of sites to list a rental like Craigslist and Zillow but no tools that truly solved our No. 1 problem: finding quality tenants quickly,” Barrett said. They all experienced the pain involved in going from a tenant moving out to another moving in, Stewart said, adding that everything that needs to happen in between can be very time consuming. With careers, families and children, taking time away to focus on turning over a property was inconvenient. With their software backgrounds and experience in the tech industry, they knew they could create a better process. That conviction led to the creation of Tenant Turner.

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“We shared a passion for the problem and had the complementary skills to build the leasing software of our dreams,” Barrett said.

Tenant Turner adds rentals to its site and then resubmits them to dozens of rental websites, pre-qualifying all tenant leads online or by phone before scheduling showings for the best prospects. Before Tenant Turner, Barrett said, property owners and managers would have to input listings into multiple sites, field all of the phone calls and emails, and track showings in a spreadsheet. With Tenant Turner, they now have one central hub for all of their leasing activity.

“We’re in growth mode right now and expect to raise more money, hire more employees and acquire more customers,” he said. “Our mission is to make happier, more confident renters, owners and property managers by improving the leasing experience. We’re off to a good start but have so much we can do to live that mission.”

With 43 million rental properties in the United States alone, Anderson said, there is plenty of opportunity for growth.


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Governor McAuliffe Announces 2015-16 Data Internships

*This release was originally published on July 23, 2015 by the Office of the Governor. Click here to view on


RICHMOND – Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced that Virginia state government and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business will again work together on data re-engineering internships to explore the use of data to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of state government.

In the 2014-2015 school year, the data internship program’s first, 45 graduate students and more than 20 state agencies participated. Those internships have resulted in tangible dollar savings and improved agency processes. Student/agency teams have worked on successful projects, such as improving how the state prices and sells its goods and services, and more efficiently matching citizens to benefits when they enroll.

“The first year of our data internship partnership has been a success,” said Governor McAuliffe. “The program has helped the state save time and money by making some of our internal processes more efficient and modern. And it has given students valuable real-world experience. I look forward to seeing what the second year of the program can accomplish.”

“Data is an important resource that becomes even more critical as technology progresses,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “VCU is uniquely positioned, both in its location and through the wealth of talent at the School of Business, to help state agencies run their data-centric systems more efficiently, while giving our students hands-on practice in the development of data systems.”

During their internships, pairs of VCU students work closely with state agency CIOs to identify specific business cases in which data can be used. Participants gain practical experience in using data to drive re-engineering, while participating CIOs have concrete examples of how to make better use of data to provide innovative and less costly services to citizens.

“Working with the talented VCU students gave us a different perspective on what the data was telling us,” said Dave Burhop,Deputy Commissioner/CIO of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

“The VCU interns provided an invaluable resource to the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness,” said Pamela Kestner,Special Advisor on Families, Children and Poverty. “They very effectively reviewed the data assets available in the participating state agencies and identified analytic content that can be used to better serve the homeless population.”

“It’s always useful to have ‘fresh eyes’ on data that we are used to seeing,” said Jim Rothrock, Commissioner of the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. “Our interns challenged us and the way we interpret data.  It was a refreshing and useful, and we cannot wait for new experiences with new students.”

The data internships support Governor McAuliffe’s ongoing initiative to provide easier access to open data in Virginia. The internships also support treating data as an enterprise asset, one of four strategic goals of the enterprise information architecture strategy adopted by the Commonwealth in August 2013. Better use of data allows the Commonwealth to identify opportunities to avoid duplicative costs in collecting, maintaining and using information; and to integrate services across agencies and localities to improve responses to constituent needs and optimize government resources.

Virginia Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson and CIO of the Commonwealth Nelson Moe are leading the effort on behalf of the state. Students who want to apply for internships should contact Peter Aiken ( for additional information.

Brotherly love

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Ever since he was a kid, Matt Reamer has been awed by the special connection between his mom and his older brother Dustin. They have a way of communicating that is distinctly their own.

“She understands him in ways that even my dad and I don’t comprehend,” said Matt, who at 27 is three years younger than Dustin. “This unique language that they have developed is 30 years in the making, and still evolving.”

With everyone else though, Dustin, who has autism and is nonverbal, has struggled to communicate. So when Matt graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter in 2014 and was preparing to move across the country, he wanted to leave his family with something to make their lives easier.

A childhood photo of brothers Dustin and Matt Reamer.

A childhood photo of brothers Dustin and Matt Reamer.

He leveraged what he had learned at the Brandcenter — especially in his third-semester Physical Computing class — to come up with a device that would allow Dustin to communicate via long distance. Most augmentative and alternative communication devices on the market only allow communication between the caregiver and individual when they are within a few feet of each other.

“Essentially they are soundboards,” Matt said. “I took a look at a super-powerful, efficient

and inexpensive technology that we all take for granted — text messaging. Texts allow for longer distance communication and, for our family, for basic everyday needs that Dustin struggled to communicate in the past. This device provides more freedom for both my mom and for Dustin, reducing the physical strain of walking from room to room whenever he needs something. Now, my mom and the rest of the family can easily make sense of what Dustin needs.”

The Dustin’s Words device is about the size of a box of sandwich bags and displays six buttons on its top, each one communicating a different want or need. When the user pushes a button, the device sends a text message to the caregiver’s phone, allowing the caregiver to be in another part of the house or even across town.

While developing it, Matt tested the device with Dustin and their mother. He asked his mom questions about Dustin’s everyday life and customized the device to fit his routine. Every decision Matt made was centered around Dustin’s needs, likes and wants. For example, Dustin can now press a button to tell his mother he has a headache, to let her know he’s hungry or even to simply send a message that says, “I love you.”

A 3D rendering of the latest version of the Dustin’s Words device, which Matt Reamer and his team hope to produce and give away for free upon successful completion of their crowdfunding campaign.

A 3D rendering of the latest version of the Dustin’s Words device, which Matt Reamer and his team hope to produce and give away for free upon successful completion of their crowdfunding campaign.

After moving to Los Angeles, where he is an experience designer with ad agency Team One, Matt thought he was done with the project. His co-workers, however, saw potential in the device and enthusiastically encouraged him to continue with it. They thought it was possible that something designed out of love for a sibling could help many others in similar situations.

Matt has since started a nonprofit (his brother is listed as co-founder) to create and give free devices to those in need, further his research and continue testing new functionality and interaction patterns. Matt and his team of designers and technologists recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to build 100 devices.

Their goal is to create an affordable, customizable product that will give a voice to people who don’t speak for any number of reasons, whether it’s because they are autistic (a large percentage of people with autism are nonverbal) or have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury. If the crowdfunding campaign is successful, they plan to give the first 100 devices away for free to families in need. (To make a contribution, visit–4.)

Each device will be customized, right down to the name displayed on the side — instead of Dustin’s Words, for example, it can be called Emily’s Words. Each button and text message can be tailored to the individual depending on his or her needs, and at any time caregivers will be able access a central website where they can download printable icons to swap out with those currently on the buttons and change their corresponding text messages from the same website.

“With devices like this being so complex and expensive, we want to create a more modern and simplified version to meet the needs of a vast array of the Autism spectrum,” Matt said. “If you have donated or plan to donate to the cause through Indiegogo, you’re amazing. We will not let you down and hope to send you as many updates as possible of children using the device you helped give to them. And lastly, if anyone has any suggestions, knows someone who could benefit from the device or would like to help in anyway, please feel free to reach out.”


In this video, Matt Reamer explains how the Dustin’s Words device works and how the idea for it came about.


VCU Business student awarded the Boren Scholarship

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Thursday, May 7, 2015A Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate student has been awarded the David L. Boren Scholarship to study in the United Arab Emirates during the next academic year.

Asya Wilson, a native of Atlanta, is a sophomore majoring in business administration with a concentration in international business management in the School of Business. She will use the award to become proficient in Arabic while also taking international business courses at the American University of Sharjah, in the UAE.

“The economy in the UAE is quickly growing,” said Wilson. “It is a very business-oriented country and often referred to as a center for trade and commerce. As an international business major, it appeared to be the perfect place for me to pursue my interests in both business and Arabic.”

Wilson is currently enrolled in VCU Globe, the university’s global education living-learning program, and attributes her readiness to apply for the Boren scholarship to her participation in the program. “Being a part of Globe gave me a unique advantage that many universities don’t offer their students,” she said. “My experiences in this program, along with my language interest, really gave me the confidence that I needed to feel like receiving the Boren was even a possibility.”

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Wilson was also encouraged by the faculty of VCU Globe who shared with her their experiences abroad. “Their excitement and willingness to help me and others take advantage of opportunities to study abroad was encouraging,” she said.

“Asya is an enthusiastic participant in our program, and we are delighted that she has been awarded the Boren scholarship” said Jill Blondin, Ph.D., director of VCU Globe, who supported Wilson’s application. “Winning this award is a real testament to her academic excellence and her passion for addressing international issues.”

Fellowship recipients are expected to fulfill federal service requirements. Wilson hopes to work in the U.S. Department of Commerce as a Foreign Commercial Service Officer.

Boren Scholarships provide up to $20,000 to U.S. undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad, including Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East. The scholarships promote long-term linguistic and cultural immersion and are part of the National Security Education Program, a federal government initiative to enhance national security by increasing understanding and interaction with foreign cultures and languages.

Wilson applied for the Boren Scholarship through the VCU National Scholarship Office. VCU students interested in applying for a Boren Scholarship or other nationally competitive scholarships should contact the office at or (804) 828-6868.


About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see

Brandcenter Recruiting Sessions


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Friday, May 1, 2015

This week, Tom Wilson lined up with hundreds of recruiters from national agencies and corporations for a chance to talk with graduating Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter students.

If you think this is a typical story about career fairs, read that sentence again. The recruiters waited in line for a chance to speak with the students.

At the Brandcenter’s annual two-day recruiting session, dubbed the “reverse career fair,” students set up tables displaying their work. Prospective employers view the portfolios ahead of time so they have specific questions prepared for the students when they approach them.

For Wilson, creative director at JWT Atlanta, it was an impressive sight. Like most of the representatives there, he remembers what it was like to be an advertising grad student meeting with recruiters.

Only for him, “It was just 20 students going down to a room,” he said. “There were about 15 recruiters and we were the ones going table to table. Now the recruiters come to them.”

Wilson wasn’t lamenting how kids these days don’t know how good they have it. Rather, he was commenting on the sterling reputation the Brandcenter has built over the years — a reputation that started with the inaugural graduating class of 1998, of which a proud Wilson was a part.

“It sounds cliche, but the first class kind of set the bar pretty high and each class has measured up to that point or exceeded it, so our reputation now throughout the industry is great,” he said. “When people look at the resume — even though I’m a number of years in — I may be talking to an HR person or a creative director who also went to the VCU Brandcenter.”

Even for industry insiders who aren’t alumni, the Brandcenter’s reputation speaks for itself.

2015 VCU Brandcenter Recruiter Session.

Wongdoody, an ad agency in Seattle and Los Angeles, and New York-based 360i each sent recruiters for the first time this year.

“I’m very impressed,” said Wongdoody’s Lori Hicks. “The old agency I worked for hired someone about two years ago from the Brandcenter and she was incredible. I mean she just hit the ground running. They know so much and have such a good skill set. It’s the place to get planners — and I went to Miami Ad School, so for me to even say that … is probably a little traitorous.”

Like Hicks, Erika Colon, a creative recruiter at 360i, has also worked with Brandcenter alumni.

“You guys have an excellent reputation. I actually have some internal employees that I’m close with that are alumni from here,” she said, adding that she hired two more alumni a few weeks ago. “I’ve actually been focusing mainly on the copywriters and art directors, but there’s two strategists I’m going to be meeting with soon, so I’m excited to see what they’re going to offer.”

Many of the students already have job offers, but didn’t want to miss out on the networking opportunity. They make contacts at this event that they keep through the years.

“This industry is really small, so your relationships in your network are really important,” said Nicole Weaver, creative brand manager. “I actually have an offer on the table, which is really exciting, but this event is really, really great because it’s an opportunity to meet people who work at all the agencies that we see great creative work coming from.”

Moreover, Weaver added, in addition to meeting agency peers, the event presented the opportunity to reach out to corporations outside the industry.

“I feel like a lot of other huge corporations don’t really know about us yet,” she said. “[With] people that are hiring brand managers, we’re slowly getting our name out there to the big industry outside of the advertising agencies. It’s really exciting to see what we can do and where everyone’s going.”

Some large corporations are taking note.

Andy Thieman, a creative lead with General Mills’ marketing department, said that while the consumer packaged goods company doesn’t have a creative department that it needs to bolster with writers and art directors, it does need strategic thinkers.

“This is the place to get all the young, hot talent,” he said. “We’re especially interested in the brand management track, so the strategists. … Their work is very smart. They think differently. It’s a nontraditional track.”

This year’s event broke records with more than 160 companies sending more than 250 representatives.

“It’s a great turnout,” Wilson said. “I think the work has been spectacular. It’s good to see where we were 17 years ago, to what it is now, which is absolutely amazing.”

To view a list of the 2015 graduates and their portfolios, visit

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