Category: Undergraduate Studies

2014-2015 Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Awards

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.

VCU Business student awarded the Boren Scholarship

Wilson,-Asya-feature (1)

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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 natlscholar@vcu.edu 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 www.vcu.edu.

VCU School of Business announces its largest endowed real estate scholarship

GRACRE leadership and previous scholarship recipients proudly present their gift to the VCU School of Business Foundation. Photo credit: Clement Britt
GRACRE leadership and scholarship recipients proudly presented the organization’s gift to the VCU School of Business Foundation in support of Kornblau Real Estate Program student scholarships. Photo credit: Clement Britt

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business announced today that the Greater Richmond Association for Commercial Real Estate (GRACRE) has increased its endowed scholarship fund for students in the school’s Kornblau Real Estate Program.

The additional backing brings the endowment’s total to $100,000 — the largest scholarship for VCU’s real estate students. Awardees are selected based on GPA.

Robert Taylor, executive director of the Kornblau Real Estate Program at the VCU School of Business and Bob Hughes, the 2015 president of GRACRE, announced the news during a meeting of VCU’s Real Estate Circle of Excellence, a group of real estate executives who advise on the quality and relevance of the school’s real estate program and offer student internships and scholarships, bringing practical real-world experience to the program.

“VCU is an excellent source of new talent for the next generation of real estate leaders and we are very proud of our partnership,” said Hughes, noting that GRACRE values its ongoing and special relationship with the Kornblau Real Estate Program, which dates back to when the scholarship was established in 2003.

GRACRE — an advocate for commercial property owners, developers and related professionals, comprising more than 450 area members — established the scholarship in 2003 with an initial $25,000. Since then, the organization has sustained an ongoing relationship with the VCU School of Business, most notably sponsoring the annual Real Estate Trends Conference. Its member businesses have hired VCU graduates and offered numerous internship opportunities.

Pictured in the photo (left to right) are:

Debbie Wake, GRACRE 2010 President, Divaris Real Estate
Roby Hackney, GRACRE Board Member, Hackney Realty Partners
Allison Petty, GRACRE 2013 President, Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer
Nick Staffort, 2014/2015 GRACRE Scholarship Recipient
Jane Farrara, GRACRE Board Member, City of Richmond Economic Development
Tim Davey, GRACRE 2014 President, Timmons
David Auman, GRACRE 2009 President, Capstone Contracting
Doug Atkins, GRACRE 2012 President, Fidelity National National Title
Frank Martino, GRACRE President-Elect, LF Jennings
Bob Hughes, 2015 GRACRE President
Garrett Hart, GRACRE Board Member, Chesterfield County EDA
Kurt Wallenborn, GRACRE Scholarship Recipient, Kroger
Katie Coleman, GRACRE Scholarship Recipient, Douglas Development
Scott Corwin, GRACRE Board Member, Johannas Design Group
Lindsey Barden, GRACRE Scholarship Recipient, Rappaport
Robert Taylor, GRACRE Board Member and Executive Director of the Kornblau Real Estate Program

Daniels invited to speak at Sovereign Investor Institute Investor Roundtable

Kenneth Daniels
Kenneth Daniels

Kenneth Daniels, Ph.D., professor of finance, School of Business has been invited to speak at the prestigious Sovereign Investor Institute Investor Roundtable in Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 25–27. The Sovereign Investor Institute represents sovereign wealth funds from around the world and allows funds managers to engage in open dialogue about the current investment environment.

Fifty-seven delegates are scheduled to participate in the roundtable, including representatives from such various institutions as Bank of Tanzania, Bank of Uganda, Reserve Bank of South Africa, Nucleos Instituto De Seguridade Social (Brazil), FMO Netherlands, Regents of the University of California, Oxford University, Barclays Africa Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers and T. Rowe Price International.

Daniels will serve on a “spotlight session” panel discussing Government and Shareholder Rights along with:

Scott E. Kalb (Instigator)
Executive Director
Sovereign Investor Institute
Institutional Investor
New York

Daniel Malan (Presenter)
Senior Lecturer, Business Ethics; Corporate Governance
University of Stellenbosch Business School
Cape Town

Dr. Renosi Mokate (Questioner)
Board Chair, GEPF
Executive Director, Graduate School of Business Leadership, UNISA University
Johannesburg

Daniels, chairman of the board of the Richmond Retirement System, has participated in several investor roundtables sponsored by institutional investors. Virginia Commonwealth University’s participation in such internationally sponsored events signals the rising quality of the Department of Finance, Insurance and Real Estate at the School of Business.

2015 Thalhimer Scholarship Luncheon

Thalhimer Scholarship recipients Mariam Bello (undergraduate) and Miles Dumville (graduate) with Harry and Marcia Thalhimer

The annual Thalhimer Scholarship Luncheon was held at The Jefferson Hotel on Friday, February 6th, 2015. The Charles G. Thalhimer Family Endowment was established at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business through a generous gift from the family in 1986. In addition to supporting the Thalhimer Executive-in-Residence and the Thalhimer Scholar-in-Residence programs, the endowment awards two merit scholarships annually, one for a top graduate student and one for the top undergraduate student.

Mariam Bello, this year’s recipient of the undergraduate award, is a senior with dual majors in accounting and finance. While at VCU, Mariam has been involved in many student organizations including Beta Alpha Psi Accounting Honors Society, Beta Gamma Sigma Honors Society, and the Business Student Ambassador program. In addition to holding leadership positions in three student organizations, Mariam tutors at the VCU campus learning center. After graduation this May, Mariam plans to take the CPA exam, and hopes to live and work abroad in the future.

Miles Dumville, this year’s graduate recipient, is currently pursuing his MBA at the VCU School of Business. In addition to his full-time coursework, Miles has served on the School of Business Strategic Planning Committee as well as the Master’s Program Committee. He was also recently invited into the Phi Kappa Phi and Golden Key academic honor societies. His interests include marketing, finance, real estate, the outdoor industry, the hospitality industry and not-for-profit humanitarian and conservation organizations.

Both scholarship recipients attended the lunch, as well Dean Ed Grier and members of the Thalhimer family, including Harry Thalhimer and his wife Marcia.

2015 UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) Summer Fellowships

vcu-uropThe 2015 UROP Summer Fellowships opportunities have been announced. Proposals from students and their supervising faculty are due March 1st. The proposals will require a commitment (and a letter) from the faculty member. These fellowships provide money for the student ($1,500) and the faculty member ($500) and are designed to introduce undergraduates to real academic research by working on a faculty-supervised project over the summer (Click here to view the PDF). There are now a multitude of different programs to which students can apply:

Information about each of the fellowships can be accessed here:

http://wp.vcu.edu/vcuurop/2014/12/02/summerfellowships2015/

 

Transforming students into responsible citizens

 

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015

Manika Avasthi encourages her colleagues in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business to incorporate service learning into their curriculums, which results in a win-win situation for everyone involved, she says.

Avasthi teaches organizational behavior — a field of study devoted to understanding and explaining the attitude and behavior of individuals and groups in organizations — and has included a service-learning component in her class since fall 2013.

“It gives students an opportunity to put into action the various life skills such as persuasion, influence, decision-making and creativity, motivation, negotiation and teamwork,” Avasthi said. “It also helps them to understand and address community-related issues.”

Moreover, the community gets an additional workforce full of energy and enthusiasm while the School of Business provides an active learning environment to the students that encourages creative thinking and creative problem-solving.

“In doing so, we take a step towards realizing the university’s commitment to ‘sustainable, university-community partnerships that enhance the educational, economic and cultural vitality of the communities VCU serves in Virginia and around the world,’” Avasthi said, referencing Quest for Distinction, the university’s strategic plan.

Capture-walk_to_endThis past semester, Avasthi’s two sections of MGMT 319 had 95 students working in 16 teams. Together the group raised $11,130.88 for Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, Alzheimer’s Association and VCU School of Business Foundation, providing 1,950 hours of community service in the process.

Each class functions like an organization, with a CEO (the class instructor), senior managers (teaching assistants) and team managers and members. The senior managers act as liaisons between the instructor, team managers and partnering organizations.

The student teams organized various mini-fundraising events for these organizations, contacting more than 100 businesses in and around Richmond. Students managed and coordinated all the mini-events, including developing the appropriate fundraising strategy, identifying and getting access to suitable individuals and organizations, persuading them to contribute to the cause, and ensuring that the project progressed at an appropriate pace.

Events included a two-week competition at Cary & Belvidere Residence Hall. The floor that raised the most money for the Children’s Hospital Foundation won a pizza party. Other events included “haircut for a cause,” proceeds night at nearby restaurants and recruiting teams for the Alzheimer’s Walk and the Walk for CHoR. Almost 15 percent of the money raised came from crowdfunding sites such as fundly.com and gofundme.com.

Charities were chosen based on the needs of the charity and the ones that the students related to the most, Avasthi said.

The course succeeds in providing a broad range of learning experiences and opportunities through community engagement,” Avasthi said.

“It helps students in the School of Business see the relationship between their private interest and the interest of the larger community, a key component in transforming the students into responsible citizens.”


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at http://newsletter.news.vcu.edu/ and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday. VCU students, faculty and staff automatically receive the newsletter. To learn more about research taking place at VCU, subscribe to its research blog, Across the Spectrum athttp://www.spectrum.vcu.edu/

Entrepreneurship course delivers students behind the scenes at startups

Jeremy Rogoff of Kickup, a startup that connects teachers with thought partners and mentors within their extended community, introduces the company to Jay Markiewicz's class on the first day of the consulting project.
Jeremy Rogoff of Kickup, a startup that connects teachers with thought partners and mentors within their extended community, introduces the company to Jay Markiewicz’s class on the first day of the consulting project.

The project? A seven-week gig in which the students worked in teams as consultants for area entrepreneurs and their startup companies.

“I’m guessing everybody’s going to get an A because it’s going to be their No. 1 project,” Markiewicz said at the start of the semester. “And I’m going to find out that that’s not going to be the case, but until that’s not the case, I am holding that every student is going to get an A.”

One of Markiewicz’s beliefs is that to learn to be an entrepreneur, you have to be an entrepreneur. What better way, he thought, to have students experience life as an entrepreneur than by working closely with an actual entrepreneurial startup organization?

To find businesses to participate, Markiewicz didn’t need to look far. An accomplished entrepreneur himself, Markiewicz partnered with Todd Nuckols of Lighthouse Labs, an incubator for local startups that were eager to participate. In his day class, six different student teams worked with one startup. In his evening class, two growth companies each worked with three different student teams.

On the last day of the consulting project, Jay Markiewicz addresses the participants.
On the last day of the consulting project, Jay Markiewicz addresses the participants.

The incentives for the local businesses to entrust their companies to students were manyfold. Each consulting team comprised six students. Even if the students worked a mere three hours per week — although Markiewicz estimates they worked much more — that adds up to more than 120 hours of free consulting for each business. Not only did students help the companies solve some kind of problem, they also gave the companies the opportunity to gain the competency in asking for what they need.

That’s one problem Markiewicz sees often. Companies will spend $10,000 to hire a consulting team to help with a problem, be it understanding their market segment, or a website that’s not returning the hits or revenue stream needed. In the end they get what they asked for but not what they actually needed.

“A lot of companies, especially startups, don’t know what they need,” Markiewicz said. “It’s hard to know what you want. It’s the old adage, ‘I don’t know what I don’t know.’ [The students] are going to go through the process of learning how to ask for something that they need. Then, in the future, if they ever hire consultants they can rest assured that the money that they’re investing has a higher possibility of returning what they need.”

Markiewicz asked the participating companies to come up with a very clear problem statement to engage the respective consulting teams and set them up for success, and a community businessperson with business or consulting experience mentored each team.

At the end of the project, the student teams presented their recommendations to their clients and peers.

Jonathan Hill wanted help with market research for his company, Hourwise. In addition to conducting research on the company’s customer market and competition, the students also helped design, produce and execute a few marketing strategies.

“We put together a flier campaign that tested different ways to reach contractors and they also helped with our Facebook and Google Adwords campaigns,” Hill said. “In a short amount of time the students were able to execute on a variety of tasks. Some of the marketing results showed interesting signals about what our target market responds to and what they are looking for.

“We had a great experience, and the initiative forced us to rethink some of our strategies. It was great to have to work closely with a group that wasn’t familiar with our company or industry and what it takes to get quality work and understanding out of that effort.”

As an observer at the presentations, Mark M. Gambill, chairman of Cary Street Partners, whose son is CEO of one of the clients, Nudge, was impressed with the students’ grasp of their respective companies, especially given the short period of time.

“I think entrepreneurship is very much spot on … and I think Richmond has become a real hotbed of it, which is even better,” Gambill said. “And the VCU School of Business is just a perfect place for that to be brought together.”

As for his two goals at the start of the semester, Markiewicz is happy with the outcome.

He asked the class if this was the best project they have ever done at VCU. At least 80 percent of the students agreed.

“Sweet! And they didn’t raise their hands because it was an easy, lax, joyride of a project,” Markiewicz said. “This project was extremely complex, with high stakes — beyond the stakes of the grade — multifaceted and multi-relationship. I feel the students had an incredible amount of personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. This project created a sense of engagement and challenge that raised the bar on a student’s approach to their academics. They rose to the challenge. And, in rising to that challenge, realized what they could accomplish, which was something beyond what they thought possible. Learning experiences like that are rewarding.”

As for whether the project set up the students for success going forward, again, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Students commented that they have already added the experience to their resumes, learned creative problem-solving, experienced what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or learned how to work through ambiguity.

While not every student will get an A — Markiewicz expects most of the projects will earn an A or B — the consulting project will continue, thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response from the students, mentors and client organizations.


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at http://newsletter.news.vcu.edu/ and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday. VCU students, faculty and staff automatically receive the newsletter. To learn more about research taking place at VCU, subscribe to its research blog, Across the Spectrum athttp://www.spectrum.vcu.edu/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

Business Students Expand Cultural Experience With New International Business Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

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