What if students could meet prospective employers in the classroom as well as in the interview room?
Better yet, what if those employers can complement classroom teaching with firsthand examples from their own careers?
That’s the premise behind several new initiatives within the University of Virginia Career Center that bring top companies into the classroom, both on Grounds and in nearby Washington, D.C.
“Bringing employers into the classroom and encouraging them to share their expertise with students in different ways complements the skill development that occurs in the classroom and creates opportunities for both learning and recruitment,” Associate Vice President of Career and Professional Development Everette Fortner said. “It is another way to help students develop the skills that companies are looking for.”
Business Opportunities in the Capital
Before the spring semester started last week, 25 students gathered for the Career Center’s Washington, D.C. Business Lab. More than 50 alumni and representatives from about a dozen companies – including Capital One, the U.S. Federal Reserve, Accenture, Deloitte, MidCap Financial, Ernst & Young and more – were there to meet them and teach case studies on accounting, finance, marketing, data analytics and more.
The non-credit weeklong residential program, which is also offered in May, is specifically designed to help liberal arts students learn more about business and explore career paths in the business world. Students visited a different company daily, met with alumni and executives and worked in small teams to analyze case studies on real-world problems the companies identified.
“In addition to the skills they learn in the classroom, I hope they walk away with an awareness of the different industries they can enter and how their liberal arts background can serve them well in those careers,” Director of Employer Relations David Lapinski said. “It’s great for our students to see how companies apply what they are learning, and it also benefits employers – those who participated were eager to do so again.”
Second-year student Julia Thompson said the lab was one of the most valuable experiences she’s had at UVA so far. She particularly enjoyed hearing from Jeff Peters, a director at the geographic information system software company Esri, who told students how his company helps governments and organizations use their technology to address crises.
“He gave us examples about his work with the World Health Organization, and how they worked together when the Zika virus broke out,” she said.
Fellow second-year student Elise Hummel said hearing those firsthand accounts from alumni and employers was very valuable.
“It was the perfect experience to throw me into the business world and make myself more competitive,” she said. “It was also the most incredible networking experience I’ve had so far.”
An additional 20 students this semester will participate in UVA’s first partnership with the AEEC Innovation Lab, a Washington-based technology lab launched by American Consultants in 2005 to encourage entrepreneurs working in big data, cloud computing, data analytics, cybersecurity and more.
Some of the students visited the lab in D.C. over their winter break, meeting directly with coaches there and learning how to use the lab’s open-source technology. All of them will participate virtually from Charlottesville this semester, both by using the software and other technology that the lab makes available and receiving remote coaching from one-on-one mentors. The lab does not offer class credit.
“The [AEEC] iLab provides students with opportunities to leverage cutting-edge technologies to solve real-world problems,” said Ray Yin, an UVA alumnus and the chief architect at AEEC. “We place them in situations where they not only understand how the technologies work, but also the business rationale for why certain technologies are selected, while gaining hands-on experience with them.”
Some student teams are setting their sights on developing artificial intelligence or voice technology, while others are more focused on using data analytics to solve business and social problems. One group even plans to compete for Amazon’s Alexa Prize, which challenges university students to come up with innovative ways to use and advance Amazon’s conversational artificial intelligence technology.
“We envision this as UVA’s startup destination in Alexandria,” Lapinski said. “It’s a great place for students to go, get experience with a lot of different technologies and meet with mentors and coaches.”
A Business Class for Non-Business Students
On Grounds, students can learn directly from faculty members and companies in Commerce 1100, a business course for non-business students taught by McIntire School of Commerce professor Robert S. Kemp. Both the class and the business lab were made possible by an anonymous alumni donor.
Third-year student Parker Moore took the course when it was first offered this fall. Moore, who is studying biology and kinesiology, was eager to supplement his scientific background with a firm grasp of business concepts.
“I wanted a solid business background from a course that would familiarize me with the terminology and foundational concepts of the business world,” said Moore, who is considering several graduate business education programs. “Professor Kemp made it very exciting and very easy to understand.”
The class is in some ways an extended version of the Washington business lab, designed to give non-business students an opportunity to learn more about fundamental business concepts and explore career paths in the business world.
“We bring in both employer and alumni speakers to teach some of the content, share their career paths and provide real-world examples of the lessons in the textbook,” said Career Lead for Entrepreneurship and Business Programs Dillon Kuhn, who worked with Kemp to schedule employer talks. “Seeing the students engage with the speakers and with the course content has been fantastic. I am excited to help even more students have these opportunities.”
Students met directly with executives like Christy Donato, an alumna and the vice president of global brand management at JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts. Like many students in the class, Donato pursued a liberal arts education as an undergraduate, earning her degree in psychology.
“It was really cool have the guest speakers come in; it helped us put a face to the positions we were talking about,” first-year student Benjamin Donahue said. “I enjoyed hearing about how they got to where they are today.”