One day, long before the VCU School of Business enacted its EPIC strategic plan to promote creativity, Ken Kahn, senior associate dean, gave a light bulb — the symbol of ideas — to every faculty and staff member. It was a reminder that sometimes constraints kill ideas before they’re ever born and so faculty and staff should remain vigilant.
Suzanne C. Makarem, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing, and the 2016–2017 creativity czar, turned her light bulb into a necklace Feb. 10 to show her VCU School of Business pride. She did this on the final day of the school’s recent Creative Sprint, a 10-day challenge where faculty, staff and students were encouraged to create something different each day.
As czar, Makarem collaborated with a handful of colleagues to create each day’s challenge. Unlike a similar 30-day sprint held in the fall, this one was School of Business-centric.
“The 30-day one was done for the whole nation, everyone could participate,” she said. “This one was specific to the School of Business … we tried to link it a little bit to the way we think about things. And we tried to spread the word more and make it only 10 days.”
Day 1: Make something that fits into the palm of your hand using the materials in your immediate environment
Day 2: Make something with or inspired by coins, any coins you can get your hands on
Day 3: Make something using or inspired by Sticky Notes
Day 4 : Make something inspired by a graph or chart
Day 5: Start something and have someone else finish it
Day 6: Find a creative way to pay someone a compliment or say “thank you!”
Day 7: Make something inspired by a business hero or the person who inspired you to join the business school
Day 8: Make something and leave it for someone else to discover
Day 9: Have someone teach you something you don’t know and do it
Day 10: Make something that shows your VCU School of Business pride
The group added incentives, such as prizes each day, and created a Facebook page where participants could post their creations.
“We made it more collaborative,” Makarem said.
About 200 people joined the Facebook group. Some participated all 10 days, but others could pick which days they wanted to contribute based on the task. A table was set up in the Snead Hall atrium for one hour every day to remind passersby of the sprint and give them a place to create.
“People would come to the table and say, ‘Oh this is so cool,’” Makarem said. “Even the ones who didn’t create were like, ‘Oh, it’s so cool that we’re doing this.’”
Prizewinners were selected randomly — an important distinction to Makarem.
“It wasn’t based on judging the work,” she said. “And that’s what creativity is all about, putting ideas out there and not being shut down. So there was no prize based on judging what you did. It was just random.
“In the midst of all that creativity is fun.”
“Seeing everybody’s creations was just fun and one of the comments I kept getting was ‘this is fun.’ It’s part of our culture. It is creating that culture and environment of creativity and also training our brain, but in the midst of all that creativity is fun. And when you do what you do while having fun, that’s when you’re the best at it.”
“What do you do when you see the color red? Stop. If there were a fire, would you want to stop?” asked Dubitsky, the VCU School of Business 2016 executive-in-residence. “It kills me. It drives me crazy. My level of agitation with these things is what’s driven me.”
Dubitsky, founder and CEO of Hello Products, a line of friendly, natural oral health care products, sees the design of everything, everywhere.
There is no such thing as a boring category, he said. People care about everything. In his case, it’s exit signs.
“Politics isn’t boring,” he said. “We care about everything. If you care about it how can it be boring? Everything is art. Life imitates art. Let’s create the art we want in our everyday lives. … You’ve got to make whatever you’re working on look awesome. If it isn’t cultural, emotional, economically relevant, it’s not innovative. If no one [cares], it doesn’t matter.”
“Everything is art. Life imitates art.”
People need to feel something, he stressed. If creatives don’t feel something first, how can they expect anyone else to feel passionate about their products? What’s more, the bar is set low everywhere.
“Most things kind of suck,” Dubitsky said.
The good news is innovation and opportunities are hiding in plain site.
Take the oral health care industry. Dubitsky found it not only unfriendly but downright offensive, with its aggressive marketing and packaging that promises to kill, eliminate and destroy odor, germs and bacteria.
“I was like, WTF?” Dubitsky said, noting that the global icon for good oral health is an extracted tooth. “Where’s the function, freshness, fashion, flavor?”
So Dubitsky created Hello toothpaste, which tastes awesome and does the same job as harsher products, but with healthier ingredients.
“No one was doing that. No one’s made toothpaste you can eat,” he said before squeezing about two tablespoons of Hello’s fluoride-free paste into his mouth and eating it.
Hello Products was named one of the top challenger brands — small brands that disrupt bigger brands — two years in a row, by the Challenger Project. But Dubitsky doesn’t want to be a challenger, he wants to be a questioner: “Why the hell wasn’t it always like this?” he asked.
“Innovation is word that gets abused a lot,” Dubitsky said. “Most people think innovation is technical. To me innovation is creating something that people fall in love with. We’re winning on an emotional level. Its an emotional innovation.”
The key, he said, is cultural currency — knowing what people want before they do.
Prior to launching New Jersey-based Hello Products, Dubitsky disrupted the home products industry as a founding board member of green-cleaning upstart Method Products and created a sensation again as co-founder of lip and skincare maker eos Products.
He met the Method founders when they were just two guys making soap in their bathroom.
Congrats and best wishes to Diya Abraham, Subhash Jaini, Garima Oza, Praveen Sreepuram and Khai Wisler, Decision Analytics Program, Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics, School of Business. The Decision Analytics students formed a team that is one of five finalists for the Governor’s Workforce Innovation Datathon Challenge.
In August, the team faced off against 16 teams from across the state in the two-day live analytics challenge. The teams had two days to take a new, highly enriched and curated Jobs Demand dataset and turn it into actionable information to support the governor’s goal of filling the more than 250,000 open jobs in Virginia’s postindustrial service economy.
Five teams from various businesses and professional organizations, including the VCU students, were selected to move to the pitching and judging round, which will happen Sept. 7.
Stephen Custer, Ph.D., program founder and faculty advisor, says, “This is a tribute to the faculty, staff and Advisory Board that worked to make a concept a reality and continue to maintain and improve the program. It’s also recognition of the outstanding students who are the heart of the program.”
The Decision Analytics program started two years ago and has drawn students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds with an interest in the growing field of analytics. Almost 75% of the program’s first cohort, the Class of 2016, have already reported positive career changes, such as promotions and raises, since starting the program. They will graduate in May.
RichTech, Richmond’s Technology Council, is a member-driven association of businesses and organizations working together to ensure the continued growth of central Virginia’s dynamic technology-based economy. RichTech supports the growth of existing technology industries and identifies Greater Richmond as the location of choice for new and emerging technology companies.
The award winners, chosen from among the finalists, will be announced at the RichTech Gala on May 11. For a complete list of finalists and more information on the gala, visit http://richtech.com/meet-the-gala-finalists/
A trio of graduate students in VCU’s School of Business is helping a Greek vintner uncork the U.S. market.
Kristina Friar, Matt Guise and Jonathan Stoffer, three students in the school’s executive MBA program, spent the past year developing a go-to-market strategy for Chimera sparkling wine, marketed by Athens-based Oinovation.
Nikos Kavounis, founder of Oinovation – its name a combination of “innovation” and “oinos,” the Greek word for wine – met the students last year at a business incubator when they visited Greece through the school’s “Global Challenges” program. The trips expose students to facets of international business and tasked them with helping entrepreneurs and startups with various challenges.
The challenge for Kavounis was how to market Chimera, a sparkling wine infused with organic saffron, to U.S. importers and distributors. Through the strategy the students developed, Kavounis was connected with three importer-distributors, including Richmond-based Athinian Imports Inc.
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.”
Congrats to VCU School of Business alumnus Ankit Kothari (MBA ’08) on his new photo tool patent that will allow event attendees to upload and share their event photos to one place. This community photo sharing tool will provide event hosts with greater coverage and easier access to photos taken at an event. Read the Richmond Times Dispatch article here.
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:
At the Faculty and Staff meeting on Tuesday, August 18th, Professor Laura Razzolini announced the winners of the 2014-2015 Dean’s Teaching Excellence Awards.
The 2014-2015 Committee was composed by Peter Aiken, Brian Brown, Pam Burch, Donna Byrd, and Laura Razzolini.
During the month of January 2015 the committee ran a poll of the alumni and student body. They received 115 nominations: 67 from alumni and 48 from students. A total of 53 faculty were nominated as excellent teachers.
After carefully reading the alumni and student nominations, analyzing syllabus, data on teaching and teaching evaluations, and reading each faculty member’s writing summary in the FES (teaching section), the Committee identified the following three individuals for the excellence in teaching award:
Alumni most preferred teacher: Rasoul Tondkar, Ph.D., Controllers Executive RoundTable Professor of Accounting
Students and alumni refer to professor Tondkar as “motivating,” “inspirational” and “a truly gifted professor,” “… sort of an icon in the EMBA program.” He always encourages students to persevere. He goes above and beyond what is expected from a university professor to make sure his students will succeed at VCU and in their future life. He demands excellence in the classroom and forces his students to work hard. As a consequence, students are well prepared for “what it takes to be successful in the accounting field.” Several of his PhD students have been awarded outstanding dissertation prizes by the American Accounting Association for work done while at VCU under Dr. Tondkar’ s supervision. Well after graduating, students keep seeking Professor Tondkar’s advice at every step of their career, and he is always supportive and encouraging. Using the words of a 1990 alumnus, “Professor Tondkar transmitted to his students a discipline, a love for learning and a deep respect for the academic profession.”
Best undergraduate & graduate teacher: Robert Andrews, Ph.D., Associate Professor Emeritus of Supply Chain Management and Analytics
“Dr. Andrew is awesome!” “Unfortunately for us, Dr Andrews is planning to soon retire….and the resounding sentiment is that he will be sorely missed.” Dr. Andrews is commended for his teaching qualities: he makes the material understandable; he relates abstract concepts to real life situations; he communicates in a fun, fair and clear style; he shares with the students his personal class notes of exemplary quality; he makes the students understand the data. Dr. Andrews helps his students with academic issues as well as with personal life situations, his door is always open and he listens patiently. In conclusion, many undergraduate and graduate students agree that “He has been by far the best teacher we have ever had at VCU!”
Most inspiring teacher:Jon Hill, Term Faculty in Accounting
In the words of an alumnus, Professor Hill “is an amazing professor with an outstanding level of commitment to his students, to Beta Alpha Psi and to VCU Business Alumni.” Professor Hill is commended for the large number of classes he teaches and both alumni and students all agree that he “is an inspiration, a mentor and a great professor;” he “shows passion in everything he does and wants his students to really learn.” Professor Hill is famous for his smile and sunny disposition and his level of enthusiasm has led students to a broader and deeper involvement with the School of Business and its mission.
Monday, Aug. 3, 2015In some circles, statistics have a bad reputation. Mark Twain implied statistics are the worst kind of lie, while humorist Evan Esar defined statistics as “the science of producing unreliable facts from reliable figures.” Why the mistrust in statistics? Because understanding data can be difficult.
“Many misunderstand data’s role in decision-making – leading to confusion between cause and effect,” said Peter Aiken, Ph.D., associate professor of information systems in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business. “It’s light outside and it’s daytime. That’s a correlation, right? Well that’s interesting, but in this case, just because we passed 12 hours, doesn’t mean it caused the light to come back on. What caused it was the earth revolving. It is only through better management of the data surrounding these questions of light and dark that we can begin to understand various causes and effects.”
As an authority on data, Aiken teaches his students how data management can help organizations to better approach various decisions, including separating reality from randomness. The exercises are so effective the state has taken note, tasking Virginia Deputy Secretary of Technology Anthony Fung — known informally as “Deputy Secretary Data” — with overseeing the state’s data re-engineering internships among his other duties.
Last fall, Gov. Terry McAuliffe established the program through VCU to explore additional uses of data to improve citizen benefits and state government effectiveness and efficiency. Based on Aiken’s curriculum, the internships provide a unique opportunity for graduate students to collaborate with chief information officers of participating states agencies. The students work in teams of two or three to evaluate available data and identify specific business cases in which data can be used to improve decision-making.
Why is this so important? Well, “big data” is more than just jargon.
“Data is the only resource we have that is a nondepletable, nondegrading, durable, strategic asset,” Aiken said. “We spend or invest fiscal resources, we wear out as human beings, capital assets degrade over time. … All organizations maintain data assets and if you put in place a program to treat them with the respect they deserve, they will grow in value over time and more importantly the organization will mature in its ability to employ them productively in operations.”
About 20 state agencies and 45 students have participated in the internship since its launch last fall. Class participants gain practical experience using data to drive re-engineering. At the end of the semester, participating CIOs have concrete examples of how to make better use of data to provide innovative and less costly services to citizens.
For example, Aiken cites one agency that works with endangered children. Agency workers would go to homes with an 80-point checklist to evaluate specific cases. The VCU interns tested the variables to see how much impact each had.
“This team did a phenomenal job, determining [which] data collected had little or no impact on the cases,” Aiken said. “By getting rid of the data that’s in the way, we can concentrate on those aspects of the case that are really important. Separating correlation from causality. In the future, it will be easier to separate urgent from routine cases, permitting this agency to better allocate resources according to its mission.
“Once we have that type of a result, we can now package these results for other classes permitting increased analysis,” Aiken said. “The hope is that we can expand this program to other universities.”
Certainly the program benefits both the state and its students.
“We estimate that total agency benefits [include] permitting specialists to process more cases, focus more time on investigative work or reduce the paperwork requirements,” Fung said.
Benjamin Siegel has gotten so much out of the internship that he is now in his third semester of the program.
“Supplementing my textbook learning has increased my ability to meet prospective employer requirements,” said Siegel, an Army veteran who is pursuing a master’s degree in information systems. “I’ve grown by working on a real-world problem. I’m working with real-world people, with real-world problems and real-world deadlines. It motivates me to find the best possible solution because the outcome isn’t only a grade but the implementation of a solution I helped to create.”
While typically information systems students apply for the internship course, it’s open to any graduate student in the School of Business. The course does not require students to have an information systems background, but it does require a background in data. Aiken said the program has attracted students from just about every School of Business department, such as accounting, finance and logistics. Moreover, he sees such a future for data analysis that he’s proposing a data course for all business undergraduates and collaborating with Jeff South, associate professor in the Robertson School of Media and Culture, on a possible interdisciplinary project with students from both schools.
“Our thinking is that Peter’s students would focus on compiling and analyzing large data sets and that my students might focus on putting a human face to the data — by using the data as the foundation for news stories,” South said. “In data journalism, reporters analyze data, find trends and anecdotes to support those trends, and then write news stories that combine statistical analysis and compelling narrative.
“It’s hard to make people care about numbers, statistics and data. But if we show how the data connect to ‘real people,’ then we can get the information across.”
“If you looked at that, you’d say, ‘There must be a relationship,’ right?” Aiken said. “This is why we need the additional grounding to go in and say, ‘Is that coincidence or is that, in fact, causation?’”
Utilizing existing data to its fullest potential is a risk-free route to better efficiency.
“In a time when government is expected to do more with less,” Fung said, “data is a resource that we can turn into actionable information in order to get greater [return on investment] and improving programs and outcomes for our citizens. In government, we need to move toward a much more data-driven culture where we can measure the value we create.”
For more information on the governor’s data internship, contact Peter Aiken, Ph.D., firstname.lastname@example.org
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