Category: Prospective Students

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

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

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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

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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

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.

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“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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Creating young leaders: Boot camp coaches high school students in entrepreneurship

Thursday, July 23, 2015

On July 18–19, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, along with Junior Achievement of Central Virginia, hosted its first Entrepreneur Bootcamp, a program that coaches rising juniors and seniors at area high schools to think like an entrepreneur.

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The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, along with Junior Achievement of Central Virginia, recently hosted its first Entrepreneur Bootcamp.

The high school students not only learned the basics of being an entrepreneur, but also directly applied their experience at the boot camp to plan an innovative, budgeted solution to a real community problem, helping VCU continue to deliver on its commitment to community engagement.

“It’s not a simulation. It’s not a case study,” said Jay Markiewicz, executive director of entrepreneurship programs at the VCU School of Business. “It’s, ‘Hey, help us solve some of these problems,’ and, ‘How would you build a business around that?’”

Students, divided into five teams, worked on problems concerning family, school or the public. Teams brainstormed to identify problems within their assigned community and presented their solutions to their parents and a panel of judges, who evaluated the projects and declared a winner.

The winning team recognized that students are hesitant to discuss bullying incidents with administrators and suggested creating an app as a platform to speak out anonymously.

The app would serve as a record of the incidents and notify administrators immediately of the report. The team received gift card prizes amounting to $300.

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The boot camp inspired students to think creatively to address a need and to use entrepreneurship tools to make a difference.

“It’s about an educational experience that gets them to think differently,” said Yedda Stancil, VCU alumni and entrepreneur. “It’s for the students to know that we’re all unique for a purpose and an entrepreneur is a great thing to be if that’s what they are.”

Community sponsors such as Stancil, Junior Achievement, General Electric and Maxx Potential contributed more than 70 percent of the
cost to keep registration fees at a minimum.

“It’s a really great program. I know I learned a lot,” said Tyra Wade, a student at Varina High School and media intern at Capital One. “By next year I would have already started my business, and I’ll come back. Maybe I’ll learn more skills.”

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The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, along with Junior Achievement of Central Virginia, recently hosted its first Entrepreneur Bootcamp.


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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.

Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy in Morocco

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University and its strategic partner the International Institute of Higher Education Morocco will lead the inaugural Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy in Casablanca, Morocco, this fall.

Sponsored by the Ford Fund — the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Co. — the entrepreneurship academy will teach local entrepreneurs with varying backgrounds the skills, tools and entrepreneurial mindset to develop creative ideas and grow new ventures.

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“Entrepreneurship plays a critical role in energizing communities and stimulating economies. I have no doubt that the new Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy will make a difference in Morocco, and VCU is proud to play a leading role in this exciting venture,” said Ed Grier, dean of the VCU School of Business.

Faculty from the VCU Department of Management traveled to Casablanca earlier this week to begin their work with IIHEM. The project scope includes identifying students, interviewing local businesses to understand their needs, co-creating the content tailored to local needs, administering the application and acceptance process, and then finally delivering the workshop with the idea that this is just step one of the overall long-term plan for growing entrepreneurship in Morocco.

“The VCU School of Business has an existing partnership with IIHEM, with whom we offer joint degree programs in finance and marketing,” said Doug Pugh, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Management. “The relationships developed through that partnership allowed us to develop this opportunity to work with Ford on the Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy in Morocco. It is exciting because it just shows how one relationship can grow into multiple opportunities. The visibility provided by this program can impact our ability to attract talented international students to VCU. It exposes our faculty to the challenge of applying our knowledge in new international contexts, and it is already leading to new research collaborations between faculty at the two partner schools.”

The academy will be offered twice in the fall as a two-day workshop, covering creative thinking, business models, regulatory and legal issues, financials, marketing, branding and business plans. Jay Markiewicz, executive director of entrepreneurship programs, will oversee the workshops on site.

“VCU is bringing to the table deep expertise in entrepreneurship education and IIHEM is bringing their insights of the local culture and norms,” Markiewicz said. “Integrating the two results in a powerful offer with impact for the local economy in Morocco.”

The Ford Fund supports innovative programs that help the motor company’s neighbors, concentrating on community, education and safe driving. Ford is opening 13 retail facilities in North Africa this year, three in Morocco.


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

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.

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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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Clinique VP shares personal and professional insights with marketing class

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Clinique VP shares personal and professional insights with marketing class

Shares how company humanized the iconic brand

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rachel Hargis, a junior in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, plans to join the Peace Corps after graduating. But as recently as last week, uncertainty followed her. Would this decision set her back in her career?

Then, a guest speaker in her marketing class allayed any misgivings she may have had about her choice.

There’s no such thing as a bad choice as long as you learn something from it, said Cara Robinson, vice president of global marketing, makeup and fragrance for Clinique. Assistant professor Brian Brown, Ph.D., whose marketing class hosted Robinson on April 9, said inviting the business community to share these types of insights is crucial for students.

“The benefit of guest speakers is the real-world aspect that they can bring into the classroom,” Brown said. “I know that sounds a little cliche — ‘real world’ — and it’s a little bit overused, but it’s one thing for me to cover certain topics and content in the classroom via textbook. It’s a whole other matter to have someone that’s actually doing it or has experienced the particular marketing concepts and strategic concepts to come into a classroom and describe it.”

But perhaps even more memorable than the marketing and business topics is the career and personal experiences guest speakers bring, Brown said.

For instance, Robinson spoke of the path she followed after receiving her bachelor’s degree — in Spanish. She spent a year teaching in Puerto Rico before returning to the states to pursue her MBA. But rather than regretting her time not spent in business, Robinson appreciates how living in Puerto Rico increased her understanding of other cultures — a huge asset in her work with global marketing.

“It was really awesome to hear how she went to Puerto Rico and how she took her skill set that she learned there and applied it to the real world and applied it to her job when she came back,” Hargis said. “So I think that it’s very encouraging that now that I want to go to the Peace Corps, when I come back I know that I’m going to be able to use what I learned there.”

Other students, such as senior Jarvia Hardley, found Robinson’s journey — earning a Spanish degree before her MBA in brand management — personally interesting as well.

“It’s not like, when you come to school you must do X, Y and Z,” he said. “You can kind of throw your way into things, which is what she did and she turned out to be very successful. So that’s very empowering especially to me. … Having guest speakers like today is really giving me a real-world perspective on the world of marketing.”

The benefits of guests from the business world talking with students run both ways.

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“Millennials are the lifeblood of our brand — and almost every brand out there — so we want to know what you think,” Robinson told the class.

Robinson described the cosmetic company’s fascinating beginning in the 1960s, when people thought you had to be born with great skin. After reading a Vogue interview with a dermatologist who practiced ‘custom-fit’ skin care, the Lauder family decided to create a brand — Clinique — built on this philosophy. Clinique launched with a three-step process: cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing, becoming one of the pillars of The Estée Lauder Cos.

“When we launched, we had one soap, four clarifying lotions and one moisturizer,” Robinson said. “In almost 50 years or so, we now have maybe 12 different soaps. It took until the 2000s to come up with a liquid soap. That’s how sacred the system is.”

But while the system works, after half a century, the company faced a marketing problem — the younger generation considered Clinique a high-end product that their mothers and grandmothers used.

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“What we wanted to do was evolve from being a product icon to a brand icon,” Robinson said. “We wanted people to have a connection, a relationship with Clinique the brand, not the individual products that Clinique has.

“Our mission was to humanize our iconic brand.”

That started with targeting younger consumers with a digital campaign, rather than print, and the hashtag #startbetter.

“A big struggle that brands have in all spaces, but in beauty in particular: We’re all promising the same thing,” she said. “We’re all developing lipsticks and moisturizers and hair products, so how do we distinguish ourselves? It’s not like detergent, or my lipstick is more red than another lipstick. So you have to find a different way to connect and it is on an emotional level.”

After watching a Clinique video featuring #startbetter, students reacted positively, noting the ad was about reinvention, positivity and optimism — about creating a feeling rather than focusing on a product. One called it empowering, while another said wearing the Clinique brand is not about doing it for other people but doing it for yourself; it’s about yourself and how you’re feeling, rather than about how you look.

More than just learning about the Clinique brand, hearing the connection that a professional marketer has with her campaign captivated students.

“I love the strategic aspect of [marketing] and I like planning things out and positioning and that sort of thing,” said sophomore John Kane. “This lecture was very, very informative. Just getting to hear the real connection that a professional marketer has with the campaign that they did, being able to see a campaign that they did and then having the reasoning behind each part explained.”


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Daniels invited to speak at Sovereign Investor Institute Investor Roundtable

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

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.

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