Julio Cesar Manzano loves education. Cesar is in his third year as an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher at Vanguard Academy, a charter school district in South Texas where he also helps coach 8th-grade track and field, high school cross country, and currently serves as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) sponsor at his campus. Before becoming a teacher, Cesar worked in recruitment at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas where he majored in English receiving his bachelor’s degree in December of 2017. While at UTRGV, he was an outreach representative for their primary feeder high schools in Brownsville, Texas, and worked closely with the admissions and financial aid departments. Cesar enjoyed meeting new students and helping them transition into higher education. This love of education also sparked a new desire in himself – to pursue his MBA.
Cesar said that the decision to enroll in an MBA program was unorthodox since he doesn’t come from a business background. But after teaching English language arts for two years at a Title 1 charter school, he thought about the different ways he could serve his community and school district. “I knew I wanted to go back to school, but I wasn’t sure how and when. I decided to go for an MBA because of the skillsets in leadership, decision-making, and organizational behavior that could be useful within my school district’s administration. I want to work in human resources eventually, and I believe this degree will open new career opportunities. I am looking into switching careers, and a graduate degree in business will help me land a job in the business field. The Bible teaches that we make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9), and I remain hopeful that He will continue to use my life in the service of others, regardless of my job title.”
Once Cesar made the decision to enroll in an MBA program, he began searching for one that aligned with his values. ACU rose to the top of the list as the program that was the best fit for him saying, “ACU’s mission aligns with my Christian values and its commitment to service resonated with me. Plus, its fully-online MBA program meant I could have the flexibility of working full-time and learning from home. What solidified my decision, in the end, was its accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the highest accreditation body for schools of business. I thought to myself, ‘This is the best of both worlds!’”
It’s important to Cesar that his faith and his vocation are connected. “I like to think of my work and ministry as one because the work I do is unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24), and the people I serve have God’s very own fingerprint. At Vanguard Academy, my faith impacts my work directly since we are a faith-based charter school. Walking with Jesus means loving God and loving people, and in my everyday work, I like to make that my goal. C.S. Lewis puts it this way, ‘There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal’. That means the work I do for my students, parents, and community transcends into eternity! My faith translates into service, and my workplace is my mission field.”
Cesar was not unfamiliar with ACU, hearing about the university when he was a high school student. For his bachelor’s degree, he chose The University of Texas-Pan American, now known as UTRGV, and had a good undergrad experience there. But, even though UTRGV offered an accelerated online MBA program, he chose ACU for his graduate degree because of the faith-based foundation. Cesar has not been disappointed in his experience with the ACU program saying that it has been “beyond amazing. Even though this is a fully-online program, I feel just as connected as I would be in-person because my professors have been available to me.” Even though he doesn’t meet with them in person, Cesar has felt supported by his professors and the academic MBA team. “From my academic advisor, Mrs. Krystal Jackson, to our program director, Dr. Phil Vardiman, everyone has been so supportive. I will be forever grateful to my ACU family for the encouragement, prayers, and lessons they have provided me.” Cesar said that out of the eight ACU professors that he has had for a class so far, each of them “has been great” and has individual gifts and talents which makes choosing a favorite professor an impossible task. “I love Dr. Don Pope’s humor, and I like how passionate Dr. Vardiman is. It seems like each semester that passes, I get to meet another great professor.”
Cesar’s background in education combined with his entrepreneurial aspirations are helping him form his next dream, a startup company called Rio Grande Valley Learning Solutions (RGV-LS). RGV-LS will be a fully online and affordable personalized tutoring business for 3rd through 12th-grade students who are English Language Learners. “As a teacher, I see the need to support students in reading and writing, especially for our bilingual students.” He is in the beginning stages of marketing RGV-LS, using the marketing skills he has learned from the MBA program to launch the project. Cesar would also like to return to work in higher education one day, with a focus in recruitment, where he hopes to leverage his teaching expertise with the lessons he has learned in the MBA program.
For Cesar, recommending the ACU online MBA program to others is easy to do. “Whether it be to start your own business or advance your career goals, this fully-accredited program will provide you with the tools necessary to be an effective leader. For someone who’s on the fence about completing their MBA, I would say the fully online program is doable. As far as the coursework, you get to log on to a live session once a week. The consistency of the assignment deadlines through the program allows you to set a routine. You will learn a lot more about yourself than you expected. For example, in our leadership class, we learned about our personal leadership style and how to leverage our strengths and weaknesses in the workplace. In my experience so far, much of our classes include project-based learning and essay writing. If you enjoy applying concepts to projects, then this would be a good fit.”
As a first-generation student, Cesar is grateful to the ACU family for their support and encouragement and has some advice to current students as they prepare for their future. “My advice is simple: Be faithful in the little things (Luke 16:10), whether at work or school, or home. We serve a faithful God, and He will honor the work we do when we do it wholeheartedly. Remain steadfast, continue studying, and finish strong.” Cesar Manzano is a wonderful example of a student living out the mission of the College to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. We can’t wait to see how he changes the world around him. If you’d like to learn more about the ACU online MBA program, click here.
When Gbemi (pronounced Bemi/Bimi) Adebesin (’17) came to ACU, she was no ordinary freshman. Gbemi came to ACU as an international student from Nigeria at the tender age of 15. Prior to that, she had spent 6 years in boarding school so the adjustment to a new place, a new culture, and a new style of learning was a shock. Gbemi began her academic career as a biochemistry pre-med major but in her sophomore year, she says she gained more insight and clarity into her personality and purpose and changed her major to accounting graduating in 2017 with a Masters in Accountancy.
Being such a young college student meant that ACU played a huge part in shaping Gbemi and her future as an adult. She said, “I remember being so super shy when I arrived and having a lot of doubts in my faith and career; but my time and experiences at ACU definitely helped me broaden my horizon and gain more perspective, direction, and confidence. I can’t overemphasize how much the knowledge, culture, and skills I gained from ACU and COBA continues to be so relevant and important to me to date.”
Part of the vision, mission, and values that COBA hopes to instill in students is “Excellence and Impact” which means upholding high moral and professional standards of excellence for faculty, staff, students, and alumni, calling each person to a life of service and leadership that glorifies God and transforms communities and society. Gbemi is a shining example of that excellence. She obtained her CPA (Certified Public Accountant) in 2018 and her CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) in 2020, receiving the notable honor of Top Achiever Africa Award from the ACFE (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners) South Africa chapter for having the highest overall score in Africa. Adebesin recognizes how special receiving the honor is saying, “It feels amazing and that’s partly because I had never expected to receive such an award. The exam is designed such that you never really know your scores, you only know if you pass or not, so I didn’t think such an award existed. Taking the exam was out of my deep interest and passion for the field, so to have that reflected by the award is truly special.”
Gbemi is currently working as an external auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Nigeria but gained experience in the accounting field working at Eide Bailly in Abilene for a year before moving back home and enrolling in a one-year nation-building program during which she joined PwC as an auditor. Like most new graduates, Gbemi found the transition from being a student working full time to be a bit jarring. “Having spent the majority of my life at school with no internships in my career field, I felt like a fish out of water every day for the first few months. I really loved and enjoyed school so transitioning from that secure ‘bubble’ environment was a big step out of my comfort zone and a paradigm shift. Let’s just say reality hit me.” Along with the adjustment to work, there have been other challenges she has faced. One of those challenges is something that’s felt by many but rarely discussed – Imposter Syndrome. She said, “I feel the challenge I struggled with the most and for the longest time is Imposter Syndrome, which has held me back in some ways; but I’m learning to just show up with my best foot forward and leave the rest. The other notable challenge I experience, being in the working world now, is finding ways to integrate all facets of my life with my work and ensuring my faith and relationships don’t suffer.”
Adebesin’s faith is integral in her career and her relationships with colleagues and clients. “My faith plays a huge role in my work and is what keeps me going. Apart from cultivating a greater sense of meaning in my work, it has shaped and improved my values, work ethic, and relationships with people like my colleagues, clients, etc. It drives me to continually strive to be better in everything I do and contribute as much as I can to a better world and environment. Since I spend most of my time at work, work is one major way I’m able to express and fulfill my faith through leading by example and letting my life and work tell the story of my faith and trust in God.”
The people and places of ACU were formative for Gbemi in many ways. Some of her favorite memories at ACU are those “little moments like walking across campus, even though sometimes it’s while rushing to class, hearing the chapel bells ringing, being in class, the activities and events (homecoming with the fireworks, tailgates with amazing food and activities, international student events, theater, etc.), the Bean and campus center food, snow days, chapel worship, and most importantly the time I got to spend with all the wonderful people I met at ACU.”
Adebesin said that some of her best memories come from her time at McDonald dorm in the spring of 2013 saying, “I was so shy back then, but I still remember how welcoming everyone I met there was.” She cherishes the friendship of the people she encountered while working at the ACU Foundation and Advancement office, as a tutor in the University Access Programs, and at Residence Life, who were so kind to her, saying how much she deeply appreciated them. She is also thankful for the kindness and support she received from her academic advisors, the ACU Career Center, and Student Financial Services.
Gbemi also has high praise for her former professors, saying, “Wow, I love a lot of different professors for different reasons and they all left memorable impressions on me in various ways. They were so admirable, kind, patient, and always willing to help, even beyond the classroom, which really enhanced my ACU experience. I guess I can use this as a form of a shout-out to all my professors from COBA (in no particular order): Professors Perkins, Vardiman, Stewart, Fowler, Little, Clements, Stovall, Neill, Wertheim, Brister, Burton, Easter, Phillips, and the Popes. I didn’t have Professors Marquardt and Tippens for class, but they were also really caring on other occasions. There were also quite a number outside of COBA too that I appreciate. For example, I’m always grateful for the Powells, who took my siblings and me in as part of their family, Professor David Merrell, who always cared for me and my sister, and Professor John Willis who was such a loving person. I know I mentioned many names and there are still more I could mention. It was truly a blessing having these wonderful and brilliant professors and I just want them to know that I always remember and appreciate them beyond words, and I can still mention a thing or two that I learned from each of them that stuck with me.”
As the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20”. Gbemi’s advice for freshmen comes from looking back on what she experienced and learned while at ACU. “I’d say ‘be water’ and be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Get involved in campus activities and keep up with the meaningful relationships you form but obviously not to the detriment of studying and classes. The professors and students are so helpful and there are numerous resources and tools on the ACU campus, so be open to asking around and being vocal about your needs. One of the most important things for incoming COBA freshmen is to make use of the Career Center early.”
As business students look to their future careers, she encourages them to take advantage of all that the ACU Career Center and COBA’s Professional Development program have to offer. “I’d advise them to be curious, open-minded, and continue to challenge themselves in as many ways as possible. They should try to get practical experience and exposure through networking, jobs, and internship opportunities. An internship was something I didn’t experience and now know its value in hindsight. The career center is a great resource to take advantage of for this. Also, this is a great time to start taking a holistic view of their life and being mindful to have a clear life vision for their future.”
Adebesin knows that attending college in a foreign country is a challenge for many international students. She advises international students to “be open because most people at ACU are always ready and willing to help. The international student community has many wonderful people as well as a lot of activities such as international student dinner, ethnos, Hispanic Unidos, etc. I always had an amazing time at these events and would encourage every international student to participate. In light of this, I would like to give a special shout-out to Lucy Dawson, Laura Blake, Daniel Garcia, Susan and Art Green, and the other international student office staff who made ACU feel like home.” Gbemi was also enrolled in the Friendship Family Program where she met Karen Douglas, a counselor at ACU. “Karen and her family have been such a blessing in my life while at ACU and after in more ways than I can thank her for. I’m very thankful and blessed to have met someone so loving and amazing and to have another home and family away from home.”
Gbemi Adebesin truly is living out the vision of the college to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world as she lives out her calling in her vocation and in her community. “My time at ACU has been so memorable, even the littlest experiences, so I experience a lot of nostalgia when I look back. I will forever feel blessed to have been a part of that community and to have these spectacular people in my memories, including those not mentioned here.” Congratulations to Gbemi on the honor received – we can’t wait to see the ways she changes the world.
When Matt Boisvert (’97), President and co-founder of Pharos Resources, graduated from ACU with a degree in marketing he never would have dreamed that his professional life would be so heavily influenced by his time as a student and as an educator. Matt has given back to his alma mater by being consistently involved in helping current students with professional development by providing internships and support at Pharos Resources as well as serving on COBA’s Visiting Committee.
After graduating from ACU, Matt began his career at C&W Manufacturing in Alvarado, Texas as the Director of Marketing. It didn’t take long for Boisvert to return to the classroom. In 2001, while working on his MBA in Services Marketing and Management at Arizona State, he began interning with Hallmark Cards at their headquarters (Kansas City, MO) in their Specialty Retail Group, implementing and measuring the grand opening marketing strategy for Hallmark stores. Matt received his MBA in 2002 and came back to ACU’s College of Business Administration to become the Director of COBA’s Career Development Center, building a comprehensive career readiness and employer relations program for business majors.
Some of the colleges and universities that Pharos works with.
In 2004, Boisvert became the Director of Career Development for ACU and, in 2006, the Executive Director of the Office of Career and Academic Development. It was during these years that he learned about the challenges of student success, as this office was tasked with overseeing the “Support Our Students” program and related SOS software, as well as providing career development and academic counseling services to students. In 2007, Matt returned to COBA and served as the Assistant Dean of Marketing Operations and as a marketing instructor. He said, “Teaching taught me the power of actually ‘seeing’ your students in the classroom… identifying those who were struggling in academic and non-academic ways. At the same time, I was consulting with ACU to help commercialize the SOS software for the higher education market…which led to me making an offer to purchase and transfer the ACU-developed technology to a newly formed entity (Pharos Resources) in 2008.” In 2010, Matt entered Pharos Resources in the Springboard Ideas Challenge and won the “most fundable” business plan. It was time to fully pursue growing Pharos Resources – which meant leaving ACU in order to do so. However, this did not mark the end of his relationship with ACU. In fact, it has led to many opportunities for Matt to collaborate with COBA through Pharos Resources. Today, Pharos Resources serves 61 institutions across the United States and Canada. Its solutions are used by over 10,000 faculty and staff and provides support to over 125,000 college students.
Faith has played a vital role in Boisvert’s work throughout his life. “Having my identity in Christ has sustained me during the lows and keeps me humbly grateful in the highest highs. It is an incredible experience to be able to create value, impact lives, and build a team of people who are passionate about meaningful work. I feel so blessed to do this work.” Matt allows his faith to guide him day by day in all seasons, reminding him that he is uniquely made and loved by God. “God is investing in me, wanting to teach and continuously lead me for His plan. That has given me the freedom and confidence to create Pharos in a way that honors Him.” This is lived out by the way that Pharos treats their clients, how they interact with competitors, and how they invest in their client’s success.
Mission First with Anthony Melchiorri
Pharos’ current challenge, like most of the rest of the world, is helping clients navigate COVID-19. In May, COVID-19 forced universities to face difficult decisions about their summer and fall reopening plans. After hearing Anthony Melchiorri on the daily podcast “No Vacancy”, Matt reached out to the “Hotel Impossible” host and hospitality expert to see if he would share his insights from the hard-hit travel industry to improve the success of higher education institutions during the pandemic. Anthony is an expert on how to create clean, safe spaces with visual signs of sanitization, and provides an exceptional understanding of how to deliver service excellence. The Travel Channel host, Melchiorri, is known for being direct, honest, and committed to excellence. In addition, he is deeply passionate about student success! Melchiorri points to his own higher education and military experiences as life-changing and the fact that he has three daughters in college right now makes his investment clear and personal. He is also involved in the business of higher education, by serving on the board of Park University, his alma mater. Anthony’s response was immediate and definitive: “If this partnership can change the life of one student, it is worth it.” Pharos Resources is partnering with Anthony through 2020 and has already hosted four Mission First webinars with him, providing practical advice and encouragement with an engaging and entertaining format: readers can access those webinars at the links below.
Helping Boisvert and Melchiorri drive the Mission First marketing campaign is Tres Cox, senior marketing major from Lewisville, Texas. Tres has been a marketing intern with Pharos since fall of 2018. While the Mission First marketing campaign promotes the Pharos partnership with Anthony Melchiorri, Tres has had the opportunity to work on a wide range of marketing projects for Pharos including COVID-19 resources, brochures, conference sponsorships and exhibits, digital/social media marketing campaigns, and marketing new product launches. Boisvert is highly complimentary of Cox, saying, “He is incredibly talented, with a great combination of valuable skills. It is clear that COBA continues to develop talented students into business professionals. Tres has added significant value to our brand and the team.”
Matt’s student experience at ACU, especially with faculty members, was formative as he described each of his COBA professors as exceptional and still appreciates them for connecting him to real-world applications while in the classroom. He said that COBA gave him confidence in his ability and instilled in him the value of service as a Christian leader in business. Dr. Rick Lytle was Matt’s overall favorite professor for the reason that “he modeled a life in Christ through his love and leadership” which has greatly influenced who Matt has become.
Boisvert’s favorite ACU memory? That would be Welcome Week during his senior year. “For my friends, roommates and me, it was junior/senior wars and my house was the de facto headquarters for seniors. My roommates and I had crates of eggs set on the roof of Bob Hunter’s rent house as massive egg fights erupted. In the middle of this ‘war’, I met my wife Melissa and we have been together ever since.”
Matt advises incoming freshmen to complete at least one internship before graduation. “They expand your network, allow you to explore your career options, and will test your competence.” And to current students, he says, “I would strongly encourage COBA students to invest in learning more about who they are and how they can make an impact in the world. Then, to prepare for their future, I really encourage students to develop their ACU network: peers, faculty, mentors. The value of a college degree is more than the classes you take…the people who love the ACU mission will be valuable connections for life.”
Since its inception in 1999 with an initial amount of approximately $100,000, STAR has had several goals in mind. One of those goals was reached when the group hit a huge milestone with $1.5 million in their portfolio this past spring although the portfolio has dipped slightly with the recent economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another one of those goals was reached today when the group was able to make their first distribution from earnings.
Photo by Jeremy Enlow
Assistant Professor of Finance Dr. Jody Jones, said that the distribution will be “$63,000, roughly 4.5% of the December 31, 2019 balance. Students ‘final’ this Thursday is to make sure they have the cash to distribute back to the endowment. The cash for this disbursement came primarily from gains made this semester on Ford (F), Gold (GLD), and decreasing the holdings in Healthcare Inc (HCA). As of this writing, the fund is $1.3 million (almost to the penny) and STAR is beating the S&P 500 by almost 5% YTD.”
STAR is a student-managed equity fund that is part of the university’s endowment. This semester the students must have $63,000 (4.5% of the 12/31 value) in cash. That money will be used to support the operation of the university as a whole. Jones says that students gain experience that will career over into their professional careers in the future. “Managing over $1 million dollars is something they can put on their resume and shows they have experience – especially this semester when many students lost jobs and internship opportunities.”
Senior Finance major Hunter Jennings said that he learned many things from his time in STAR. “I learned that in order to learn and be successful, you have to be willing to take risks. This experience will translate into my professional career because it pushed me to make decisions and effectively communicate my thoughts and ideas with my peers.”
Photo by Jeremy Enlow
As for learning during a time when the stock market was particularly volatile, Jennings said, “The stock market can be rewarding and it can hurt you. It is all about how you react to those changes. There was a point where we had the fund to its highest value, just to have the market crash and the value go back to where we started.”
Hunter encourages students to consider being a part of the group. “I think that if anyone is interested in getting to work with a team and see real-world results, then they should join STAR. You don’t have to have any experience trading stocks or even be a finance major. Overall, it was one of my favorite classes to take at ACU.”
Christian Guerra speaks to students at a Lunch and Learn event.
ACU’s Career Center, Department of Engineering and Physics, and College of Business Administration worked together to host ACU alumnus Christian Guerra (’06) on January 28th. Christian serves as the Vice President and General Manager Operations for Avanzar Interior Technologies and returned to campus to address engineering, physics, and business students about the career opportunities available in automotive manufacturing. Christian was joined by other Avanzar team members including C.D. Rodriguez, who serves as the Human Resources Manager. Avanzar, an award winning manufacturer located in San Antonio, Texas, is a Toyota Motors production partner who manufacturers the seats for the Toyota Tundra.
The Toyota automotive manufacturing production standards are truly world class and give Avanzar employees the tremendous opportunity to learn best practices and work to produce top of the line products. Christian gave students insights into the internship and career opportunities available with their company as well as the company culture. Guerra was a student worker for former COBA Dean Dr. Rick Lytle when he was at ACU. He shared with students that Dr. Lytle impressed on him the need to be “Christ in the workplace”. Christian said that he puts this lesson into practice every day as he works to lead this family owned business with 1,100 associates in San Antonio and 200 associates in Mexico. He also reflected on his time in LYNAY and Dr. Gary McCaleb’s encouragement to go back to your community and help where you can. Christian took this advice, returned home, and is helping Avanzar provide an excellent work opportunity for employees in his hometown of San Antonio. This same work ethic is exemplified throughout the Avanzar organization. Berto Guerra, founder of Avanzar and ACU Board of Trustee, was honored by EY as the 2015 Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year.
Addressing work challenges through effective teamwork is critical at Avanzar. In their visit to the Engineering Department, the Avanzar representatives had a chance to observe current students working in teams to determine objectives and alternative solutions all while
Engineering, physics and business students were invited to learn about careers and internships with Avanzar.
operating with constraints during their engineering classes. The opportunity to work with ACU engineering, physics and business students aligns with the needs of the manufacturer both with regard to their work ethic and with their Christ-centered focus in the workplace. HR representative C.D. Rodriguez was impressed with the Engineering and Science facilities and enjoyed meeting the professors and students, stating that they will be back later this spring to conduct interviews. COBA looks forward to creating more opportunities for our students as we continue to collaborate with our partners in the ACU Career Center and across campus. To learn more about the ACU Career Center and job and internship opportunities, click here.
COBA sends students and professors across the world every summer. It’s an initiative that ACU and the College of Business feel strongly about and one that always leaves the professor and the student changed. During the summer of 2019, COBA had two student groups in Asia and Oxford. While the classes offered and excursions were different, one thing is the same. Students unanimously endorse studying abroad.
MGMT 419: Global Entrepreneur was the two-week class that sent eight students to Asia – specifically China, Thailand, and Hong Kong SAR – and was led by professors Andy Little and Jim Litton. To make the most of the group’s short time on the continent, classes were held on campus during the spring semester, with some of the work being completed ahead of time online. While in Asia, students and faculty gathered for several academic class discussion sessions. The trip also included a day spent in the Thai mountains visiting coffee farms and a visit with a group of “digital nomads” in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Among the unique experiences that students had in Asia, they climbed the Great Wall of China, spent two days in the mountains of Thailand visiting Karen hill tribe villages and hiking through the jungle, had a fun session learning about Muay Thai (Thai boxing), explored Hong Kong, and visited numerous religious sites in Thailand and Hong Kong.
Litton and Little are not strangers to China but no matter how many times they go abroad; they learn something new during each trip as well. Dr. Little said, “I learned a lot about eight great students and four distinct cultures (traditional Chinese, Thai, Karen hill tribe, and Hong Kong). It was interesting to compare and contrast the Confucian values and culture of China with the predominantly Buddhist values and culture of Thailand.”
Emily Goulet, junior accounting major from Austin, Texas reflected on the trip. “Assessing this program in the literal sense is something that I have found hard to do because the benefits and knowledge that this trip has allowed for me to gain have an immeasurable value that doesn’t align with any quantitative scale in my mind. Travel allows for a certain intrinsic value to be added to one’s knowledge and perspective and these are how we end up having a new shape to our worldview. One way that I feel able to begin to understand and measure the impact of this program is within the amount of time I have spent in reflection after I returned home from the trip.”
Katie Norris, sophomore marketing major from Texas City, Texas said that Study Abroad gave her an opportunity to get to know her professors in a different setting. “It was really cool to have professors that I have not yet had in a traditional setting believe in me. I was the youngest one on the trip, but the professors did not make me feel like I was any less knowledgeable. I was also glad to pick their brain a bit about their journey and what they learned on their way to their current position in life.”
One of Katie’s favorite experiences was traveling to a small village in the Thailand mountains where students were greeted and taught to roast their own coffee. “This experience showed us how simple life could be when separated from the consumerism food chain. It also showed us the simple and pure joy that comes from creating something you are passionate about with your own hands and how important that is to take into a successful business as an entrepreneur.” She advises any student thinking about studying abroad to, “Choose a trip that is a culture you would be least likely to visit in the future.”
Professors Phil Vardiman and David Perkins took 27 students to Oxford, England with a side trip to Leipzig and Berlin, Germany. Students were able to earn up to 6 hours of course credit in International Business and a choice between Operations Management or Leadership in Organizations.
As part of the Operations Management course, the group visited the BMW and Porsche production plants in Leipzig, Germany. They learned about the automation innovations that have taken place at BMW and the craftsmanship approach that Porsche boasts in the assembly line at their facility. The group also visited Oxford Analytica. Oxford Analytica helps their clients “actively manage the impact of geopolitical, macroeconomic and global social factors on their performance.” One of the highlights of the trip for all involved was a project that the students completed with Asda, a British supermarket retailer whose parent company is Walmart. Students visited an Asda superstore and an Asda dark store as part of the International Business course to see first-hand the technological revolution happening overseas in the grocery industry. Students were asked to analyze Asda after visiting different store locations, give feedback about what they saw, and provide ideas for improvement in various areas. Near the end of the trip, student teams then gave professional presentations and recommendations to some of the corporate managers at Asda’s corporate auditorium.
Dr. Perkins and Dr. Vardiman were impressed with the students’ presentations and extremely proud of the way in which they represented COBA. They said that many of the recommendations were things that Asda was beginning to consider or would now look into considering because of the students’ findings. Vardiman also said that many of the Asda corporate managers encouraged the students to connect with them on LinkedIn and reflected, “You never know what kind of doors these presentations have opened for you and your career.”
Ben Fridge, sophomore financial management major from Sugar Land, Texas, enjoyed the experience that the Asda presentation gave to him. “Asda allowed us to visit some stores and examine the production and check-out systems they had. Towards the end of the month, after weeks of preparation, we came back together for a “Ted Talk-esque” presentation of innovations and plans that we had developed since visiting the store.” Ben said that the most unique experience of the trip involved the time spent at Asda. “Being courted by the division heads at Asda Superstores was an experience that I was beyond blessed to encounter as we were ushered into their facilities to tell them what we saw that could be improved in their stores. They allowed us to consult for them and offer multiple paradigm shifts that could benefit their company as a whole. The experience was nearly surreal as a group of (some still teen) college students offered ideas and innovations that were seriously considered and discussed by adults in executive positions.”
Allie Sorrells, junior management major from Waco, Texas said, “I think the Asda project was probably one of the most beneficial learning experiences I have ever had. We had to work together with our teams to come up with some really solid and creative ideas and learn how to professionally relay those to the managers at Asda. The presentation was very nerve-racking for me, but it was an excellent opportunity to grow in that area and learn how to express to others the ideas that our group worked so hard on. The Asda employees were so helpful and encouraging throughout the entire process and provided a lot of helpful feedback on our presentations. It was definitely an experience I will never forget.”
Along with gaining real world work experience, Allie and Ben grew as individuals and made life-long friends. Ben loved getting to know his professors outside of the classroom. He said, “I loved the ways our professors poured into us through intimate conversations about our plans and big vision items, encouraging us through what they had seen thus far on the trip. Two on ones (the two professors sitting down with each student individually) were incorporated at least once during the experience to dig deep into the things we’d seen, plans we had coming home and reflections on our growth and team bonding.”
Allie really appreciated the time and attention that Dr. Perkins and Dr. Vardiman gave to each student. “I really enjoyed that they were dedicated to spending time with the students outside of the classroom. Those 2-on-1 conversations allowed for the professors and students to learn more about each other and provide encouragement to each other. It was a favorite memory for me as well as for lot of other students. Their wives were also so great and kind and made an effort to get to know the students and provide encouragement for us whether that be in the form of homemade pastries one morning or endlessly praying for us as we took tests and embarked on journeys in smaller groups.”
Allie would encourage other students to study abroad. “DO IT! You won’t regret it. There are so many opportunities abroad for growth intellectually, socially, and spiritually. Even if you don’t know anyone else going, just go for it. It is so easy to make friends abroad because you are all going through the same culture shock and newness. You will make so many memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life, and you will get to see so many places you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. So yes, 100% do it!”
Ben is also a big proponent of Study Abroad. “Absolutely take on this journey. You will grow in obvious and non-obvious ways due to the cultural, environmental, social and academic ways that you are tested. I cannot recommend seeing the world in this way enough. I would recommend, for the bold, jumping into Study Abroad not knowing anyone or bringing close friends along, as I did. Going in, I planned to make connections that will last with every member of my team by the time we had finished. Coming out of the experience, I have twenty-six new best friends who I have crossed the globe with and made specific, diverse memories with that I will hold onto for longer than just these next few years in school.”
As an Associate Director of Advising and as advisor to Financial Management majors, Kent Akers spends a lot of time talking with students while helping them plan their academic career at ACU. With counseling degrees in psychology (B.S. ’09) and Marriage and Family Therapy (MMFT ’11), Kent also helps students with issues like pre-martial counseling, career aptitude, and more. Kent shared a few of his favorite memories with us on this Throwback Thursday.
What was your best memory from college?
My best memory from college was either being at the football game where ACU beat WTAMU 93-68 or playing baseball for Coach Britt Bonneau.
What is your best advice for college students?
My best advice would be to keep your dorm room door open as much as you can. My best friendships in college came from people who would walk through my open door and from the open doors I chose to walk through.
What do you wish you could tell your college self today?
I wish I could tell my college self that doing too many things is not a good thing. Choose a couple of things to be really involved in and do them well. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Internships matter. That’s what the COBA Professional Development team and the ACU Career Center want to imprint in every student’s mind. According to a 2017 NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition study (click here to read), “Grade point average and the total number of internships a student completed as an undergraduate student are the major predictors of initial career outcomes.” What the study found was that participation in internships in college greatly increased a student’s chances of becoming employed within six months of graduation. In addition to creating better opportunities for employment, internships help students discern what types of careers they want to pursue after graduation. We talked to two students who completed internships this summer to see how their internships impacted them.
Jemimah Wavamunno, junior management major from Kampala, Uganda, interned for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., focusing on public and foreign policy. Her favorite part of the internship was, “Getting to grow alongside interns in my program (National Student Leadership). I feel in the professional work-space, I learned even more about my desired field of postgraduate study – Foreign Policy/ Affairs. Therefore, I have a better understanding of what I want to learn in the future.”
Jemimah’s advice for students who are looking for internships is to keep their options open while applying. “Don’t just search for what might look good on your resume. Look for something that will pertain specifically to you and your journey. Pray over all your offers to choose the right one, and don’t be so downcast over your rejections.”
Luke Stevens, senior marketing major from Montgomery, Texas, interned with Pharos Resources, LLC in Abilene. Luke served as a Retention Intelligence Specialist performing data analytics and visualization tasks. His favorite part of the internship was learning the Tableau software. “It is an amazing
program and will be very useful in any business setting.” Not only did he enjoy acquiring new skills, but Luke sees this internship helping him in the future in large part due to the support he received from the Pharos staff. “Pharos is a great support system, not just a job. The leaders care about you and want you to succeed in your career. Having their support along with the skills that I’ve learned here will propel me into a career of success.” Luke felt as though his largest area of personal and professional growth came from gaining responsibility “to perform tasks that will actually be seen by clients. I never felt an overwhelming fear of making a mistake. Instead, I learned to have a healthy understanding that I must constantly give my best work.”
Luke advises students looking for internships, “Don’t stop looking for internships or making connections. The offer to intern at Pharos came late in my search and it turned out to be better than I could have hoped.”
We spoke with Steph Brown, COBA’s Professional Development Manager, to learn how she is working to get students engaged with her office and prepare them for successful outcomes after graduation. Building on relationships with faculty, the ACU Career Center, and her ten years of experience in counseling, advising, coaching and leadership training, Steph is working to implement a new program that strengthens COBA’s business and technology professional development. The EDGE Professional Development Program (E = Explore, D = Develop a Plan, G = Gain Experience, E = Employment) helps students take intentional steps each semester to prepare for entry into the professional world of work. Steph says, “Intentional professional development planning in college is critical for students to successfully compete for and gain internships and jobs. Students who begin this process their first year of college have significant advantages over students who do not.”
The EDGE Professional Development Program is designed to develop, equip, and connect business and technology students for career success. By utilizing online self-learning Canvas course modules, weekly workshops, one-on-one coaching appointments, and campus resources, students gain the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience that enables them to compete for internships and jobs. All business majors are encouraged to participate in this professional development program and all technology students have mandated requirements for participation.
Freshmen explore majors and career paths. In their sophomore year, students learn how to manage their professional impressions and create career plans. Each year, students update their resume and create professional portfolios to market themselves to employers. In their junior year, students begin developing professional networks in their industries of choice, learning how to search for, apply to, interview for, and secure internships. As a senior, students expand their networking skills and continue to market themselves professionally. Students also learn strategies to transition from college to the workforce.
COBA’s focus on internship and job preparation through the EDGE program is indicative of the importance placed on the investment that students and parents make in college; an investment of their money, time, and hard work. In the 2017 Job Outlook survey from NACE (click here to read), only 5 percent of employer respondents said that work experience is not a factor when hiring new graduates. The majority of employers are looking to hire college graduates who have completed an internship or gained some kind of work experience while in college. Professional development programs like EDGE and the ACU Career Center, along with internship experiences, accelerate entry-level career opportunities. We think that’s the kind of pay off a college investment should have. Do you have questions about the EDGE program? Email Steph Brown at email@example.com.
After a yearlong vacancy in the Professional Manager position in COBA, we’re excited to introduce you to Stephanie Brown, who was hired this summer to fill the post. Steph comes to us with an exceptional resume and a very interesting background as a collegiate and professional volleyball player. As a former athlete, here are Steph’s “stats”.
Steph grew up in Union, Missouri and earned a M.S. in College Counseling. She is married to Clint Brown, who is a Defensive Coordinator for ACU Football and they have one daughter, Ava, who is 11 years old. Their family also includes two German Shorthair pointers, Gunner, who is 14 and Buddy, who is 15 and a half.
In her position as Professional Development Manager for the College of Business Administration, Steph is tasked with orchestrating the Professional Development Program for all Business and Technology students, through teaching, training, coaching, leading, management and partnerships. She is highly qualified for such a large task. Steph worked for more than six years as a Career Coach at South Dakota State University (SDSU), for 3 years as a Professional Academic Advisor with SDSU, and for 2 years as an Academic Success Coordinator with SDSU. Prior to her work at SDSU, she had careers in social work, human resources, non-profit market management, teaching, coaching, counseling, and professional athletics.
We asked Steph what drew her to this work. “I have always known that I would work with people. Building upon an undergraduate major in psychology, I worked in the helping professions. My time spent in Division 1 athletics at the University of Nebraska (volleyball) and then later on the USA Olympic Team and professional athletic career abroad instilled in me a love for coaching people toward positive outcomes. When I went to solidify my Master of Science degree program, I chose college counseling as it was the best fit for my skill sets and career ambitions. I believe that college is such a formative time for students and if they get the right support and guidance, they can make effective decisions that will set them up for success for the rest of their lives.”
Steph may never have landed at ACU but her husband, Clint, interviewed for the Defensive Coordinator job in January of 2019 and Steph came with him on the interview. They were both very impressed with the mission of ACU, the campus personnel, facilities, and opportunities for students. Equally impressive was the family-friendly community of Abilene. The position for the Professional Development Manager was still open and Steph actively pursued applying for the position after she moved to Abilene in April, as it was a great fit for her skillsets and interests.
Steph enjoys working with college students because it’s such a formative period in their lives. “College students’ development happens across so many important domains and critical time frames in life. It is empowering to know that you can guide, coach, teach, and shape this development from a supportive position in their lives and know that you helped them on an aspect of their journey.”
When she’s not working, you’ll most likely find Steph enjoying the outdoors. “Growing up in Union, MO I lived in an area north of the Ozarks full of river convergences where rafting, canoeing, camping, hiking, and exploring were our chosen recreational pursuits. I enjoy service to people and community. If given time, you will find me serving our environment on clean ups like the one I recently did with volunteers at Abilene State Park. I am a dog lover and adopt senior dogs, as they are a pet population that are often overlooked. I enjoy mentoring youth and exposing kids to the outdoor opportunities that can restore them. I also enjoy doing small random acts of kindness. Listening to others’ passions and interests and fulfilling them with small tokens of kindness that match those passions and interests is fun for me. “
Students and new co-workers might be surprised to learn that Steph is a twin. “I have a twin brother named Roger and have two other brothers who are twins, as well (Barry and Brad). I come from a family of seven kids and at 6’2” I am the third SHORTEST in my family. My dream is to thru-hike the AT (Appalachian Trail), a 2,200 trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.”
As a competitive person, Steph has lofty goals and ambitions for her new job. “I want to be an effective Professional Development Manager for our students. I want to help them identify their career strengths, empower them to set and work toward their career goals, and help them gain opportunities as a result of their work. I want students to walk out of my office stronger and more confident in their professional identities than when they walked in.”
Assistant Professor of Management, Dr. Sarah Easter (’06) may be in front of the classroom teaching today, but not too long ago she was a student at ACU. In fact, she was a very involved student, participating in Beta Gamma Sigma, SHRM, Leadership Summit, Phi Eta Sigma, Spring Break campaigns, Alpha Kai Omega, Wildcat Week, and was named to Who’s Who and as a University Scholar. She’s got great advice for current students as she reflects on her time at ACU.
What was your best memory from college?
I had a wonderful group of friends as a student at ACU and I have so many fond memories from these years in Abilene – from movie nights complete with a jumbo Tron and stadium style seating in friends’ living rooms to themed parties to playing ultimate Frisbee followed by ice cream club. This was a fun and joyous time and my college friends and I still reflect fondly on our fun memories together.
What is your best advice for college students?
Enjoy the present journey. It passes by all too quickly!
What do you wish you could tell your college self today?
This relates to my advice for college students today above – I tend to be a planner (which can also correspond with being a worrier). I wish I would have learned to be more content in the present and enjoy right where God had placed me in Abilene as a college student rather than continually thinking about what was next after college.