VCU School of Business recognized by AACSB International for driving innovation in business education

The world’s largest global education network has recognized a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business program as an innovation that inspires. Monday at its 2017 Deans Conference, AACSB International unveiled 35 innovations that represent critical work being done by business schools to better their communities and society at large. The VCU School of Business was recognized for its artist-in-residence program, in which celebrated artist Noah Scalin helped the school institute its new strategic plan, and its effort to drive the future of business through the power of creativity.

“It’s wonderful that the School of Business recognizes the transformative power of art,” Scalin said. “The opportunity for connection, collaboration and dialogue allows the students to have a more in-depth learning experience, which will not only enhance their classroom experiences, but their lives beyond the school’s walls as well.”

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Brandcenter alumni shine on massive Super Bowl stage

Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter alumni once again played their part in the annual spectacle that is the Super Bowl, contributing their expertise and talent to the creation of a bevy of commercials that aired around the world during Sunday’s broadcast.

As in past years, the Brandcenter, part of the School of Business, was well-represented in the parade of big-budget ads that serve as an entertaining aside to the big game itself. Ultimately, 11 Brandcenter alumni had a hand in nine of the commercials that aired during Super Bowl LI.

Here are this year’s ads with Brandcenter ties.


With ‘Boardgrab,’ VCU student’s company aims to reinvent how surfers buy used surfboards

Tony Cannella  Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

Tony Cannella
Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

Over the summer, Virginia Commonwealth University student Tony Cannella lived out of his pickup truck as he traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to northern New Jersey, visiting just about every surf shop along the way to sign them up for his fast-growing used surfboard startup company, Boardgrab.

“We’re calling it [that] we went on tour. I loaded up the truck, and lived out of it all summer,” said Cannella, a senior in the School of Business. “The routine was: Wake up at six in the morning, go to Starbucks and work for four hours, then go to the surf shops as soon as they opened and catalog boards until they closed. Then I’d go back to Starbucks and put the boards up on our site.”

The close-knit surf community can sometime be leery of outsiders when it comes to doing business, so Cannella, a longtime surfer, knew he would need to reach out to each individual surf shop owner in person.

“I would walk in and tell them, ‘We’re Boardgrab, the best place to buy used surfboards,’” Cannella said. “‘We partner with surf shops to catalog their used inventory to our site to help you sell more used surfboards faster. We aren’t charging anything right now — we think of ourselves as surf shop support to help get your boards out to the public and limit your dead inventory in the shop.’”

Nearly 30 surf shops up and down the East Coast agreed to let Cannella post their used surfboard inventory to Boardgrab’s site. Only one shop declined the offer.

“We’re pretty happy with those results,” Cannella said. “We’ve had almost a thousand boards come through the site already.”

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One job gives interns opportunity to gain experience from several companies at once

Aaron Ware, at left, and Nick Green, at right. Photo by Bowie Mok.

Aaron Ware, at left, and Nick Green, at right.
Photo by Bowie Mok.

Graduation was fast approaching for Aaron Ware (B.S.’15/B) and Nick Green (B.S.’15/B) in December 2015 and the VCU School of Business students were trying to figure out what their next steps would be.

They didn’t have to look far. As interns at Lighthouse Labs, a local business accelerator, Ware and Green had experience working at five different companies. One of them, Painless1099, had won a spot in 43North, the largest business idea competition in the world. Along with $500,000 in prize money, Painless, founded by three former VCU students, won a year of incubator space in Buffalo, New York, mentorship opportunities, resources and tax breaks.

As Painless was getting ready to move to Buffalo at the start of 2016, it needed help. Ware and Green knew the company founders needed to hire experienced business developers, but that they would have a hard time finding qualified workers on such short notice.

“At this point, we really knew the business well and we really worked with the team well,” Green said. “We pitched ourselves as, ‘Look, we’re going to work harder than anyone else. We already worked well with the team, we know the team. This would just be a really easy transition.’”

The company founders agreed, due in large part to the pair’s experience as Lighthouse interns. They joined the company on Jan. 1 and moved to Buffalo two days later.

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VCU School of Business announces its first artist-in-residence

Noah Scalin.

Noah Scalin.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business will host its first ever artist-in-residence during the upcoming 2016­–2017 academic year.

Celebrated artist Noah Scalin will help the school institute its new strategic plan, which aims to drive the future of business through the power of creativity. Scalin will conduct several creative-thinking seminars, guest lecture in courses, create large-scale artwork installations with the students and spearhead a 30-day Creative Sprint challenge in October and during the spring semester. These will connect VCU School of Business students, faculty and staff with elements of the strategic plan through experiential learning, creative problem-solving curricula, innovative research and creative culture.

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VCU offers new Master of Decision Analytics degree

A new Master of Decision Analytics degree in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business will give students expertise in advanced statistical analysis, big-data information technology and state-of-the-practice analytics software.

Students will get experience using real — and sometimes messy — data to solve real problems for real clients. Classes start this fall.

The degree’s traditional track offers evening classes that can be taken full or part time. The professional track is a weekend cohort program specifically designed for working professionals who want to earn the advanced degree without interrupting their careers.

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New da Vinci Center director sees university as a living lab

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, in the former vault housing the center's 3-D printers and other high-tech tools. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, in the former vault housing the center’s 3-D printers and other high-tech tools. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

As associate dean of student entrepreneurship in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Arizona State University, Garret Westlake oversaw the university’s status as the country’s No. 1 most innovative university — beating out Stanford and MIT, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Westlake, who became the executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center July 1, sums up the cause of ASU’s success with an anecdote about the school’s swim coach.

“We had a student robotics team that wanted to test an underwater robot,” Westlake said. “They came to me and said, ‘The deepest body of water in all of Arizona is the ASU swim team and dive pool. Is there any way we can test our robot in the swim team pool?’ I called the swim coach [but] thought this was never going to happen. And his feedback to me was, ‘I understand that entrepreneurship is one of our values at this institution. So anything this team needs to do in the pool outside of hours we can absolutely make it available to them.’

“And I thought a culture where your swim coach recognizes the value of entrepreneurship and innovation and opens the doors to facilities that might not otherwise be thought of as, you know, test beds for new technology, really speaks to an innovative culture across an institution.”

Westlake believes one way to create such a culture is to allow students the opportunity to fail, which means allowing them to put into practice what they’re studying, rather than just sitting in a classroom or reading. Whether that means experimenting with an underwater robot in the pool or a creating a new resin for gloves used by the tennis or golf team, the goal is to turn the whole university into a living lab.

In a Q&A with VCU News, Westlake explained how he has hit the ground running in creating that environment.

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First female to win Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon twice in a row eyes higher prize

Melanie Kulesz

Melanie Kulesz

Virginia Commonwealth University M.B.A. student Melanie Kulesz never imagined she would go from a little-league soccer player to winner of the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon — let alone a two-time winner. But this year, cheered on by family, friends and spectators, Kulesz became the first female to win the 26.2-mile race in consecutive years.

Kulesz’ passion for running began during her days playing midfield on a youth soccer team.

“I was very unskilled, but I could just run and run,” the 25-year-old said. “Soccer made me realize I have a lot of endurance, but my older sister is the one who really got me into trying cross-country and track.”

Encouraged by her sister, Kulesz joined the UNC Asheville track and field team, running cross country and indoor and outdoor track. While she ran everything from the 800-meter all the way up to the 10,000-meter, her specialty became the 5k and 10k. Although Kulesz graduated in 2013, she still carries a piece of her alma mater with her today. Jesse Norman, the head coach at UNC Asheville, has been Kulesz’s trainer the past two years. Kulesz credits his support and knowledge for her success.

“He’s so smart and really brilliant,” she said. “Not only is [he] a full-time head track and field coach, but he has agreed to continue to coach me. I’m really thankful.”

Kulesz worked to conquer the 26.2-mile marathon course as well as her graduate school courses, training for two hours a day and even longer on the weekends. Balancing a full-time graduate school workload was hard, Kulesz said, but the flexibility of the Master of Business Administration Program at VCU made things a lot easier.

“VCU’s MBA classes all take place in the evenings to cater to full-time workers, so I am able to do all of my training in the morning and do additional training — weights, core, second run — in the evening before class,” she said. “I have a graduate assistantship at VCU, so my work and studies are flexible and I can work them around my training schedule and vice versa.”

Kulesz was drawn to the VCU School of Business because it was one of the few schools to offer a Business Analytics concentration. She also was in search of a graduate program close to her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., VCU was the perfect choice.

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New lab allows researchers to track customer experience and its effect on behavior

At the Customer Experience Lab opening at the VCU School of Business in April, Brian Brown, Ph.D., sits in an adjacent room reading a document using eye-tracking equipment, while Jodie Ferguson, Ph.D., (left) shows her colleagues exactly where Brown is looking on the document.

At the Customer Experience Lab opened at the VCU School of Business in April, Brian Brown, Ph.D., sits in an adjacent room reading a document using eye-tracking equipment, while Jodie Ferguson, Ph.D. (left), shows her colleagues exactly where Brown is looking on the document.

Jodie Ferguson, Ph.D., hopes the Customer Experience Lab launched this year by the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business will help researchers understand what consumers experience and the outcomes those experiences produce.

“In experiential marketing, we talk about the five senses, so, as a consumer is experiencing things, whether they’re seeing things, smelling things, tasting things, how is that impacting outcome?” said Ferguson, associate professor of marketing in the School of Business. “Are they going to the store and buying? Are they spreading positive word of mouth? Are they using the product? Things like that.”

The CEL, a behavioral research lab, supports initiatives in research, learning and community engagement across multiple areas of customer experience, such as customer service, retailing, experiential marketing, consumer behavior and consumer well-being. The lab is equipped with hardware and software, including data collection and analysis software and physiological instruments such as eye-tracking equipment, which record and track objective and subjective measures of behavior related to consumer experience. Overseeing the lab with Ferguson is Haeran Jae, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing.

Funding comes from a combined $50,000 research grant from The Kornblau Institute, the VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund and the VCU School of Business. Ferguson received the support for her research of the “Use of Heuristics in Consumer Judgments of Offer Fairness in Evaluating Mortgage Documents.”

Ferguson conducted her research using eye-tracking methodology to understand how consumers use visual information on mortgage documents to evaluate loan offers. The “Consumer Judgments” project centers around the new loan estimate form implemented in 2015 that replaced the “good-faith estimate” for people getting mortgage information from different financial organizations.

Heuristics involves a short cut in analyzing information to make decisions.

“Some people are going to spend the time really looking at the fine print and thinking about things and taking their time looking at the terms of the loan,” Ferguson said. “‘Is it a fixed or variable rate?’ and that kind of thing. … Heuristics for a loan estimate would be things like, ‘What’s the monthly payment? If I can make the monthly payment, I’m going to do it.’ [It’s] short and sweet if there’s a piece of information that makes it easy for me to cut out all the clutter and make the decision well.

“Thinking about consumer welfare, we want consumers to take the time to understand their loan so they don’t get themselves into a situation where they can’t afford the loan.”

With the technology in the Customer Experience Lab, researchers can bring in consumers and track how they look at a document and where their eyes go on that document. What are they fixating on? How long are they looking at something? In what order do they view items in the document?

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VCU School of Business maintains prestigious AACSB Business accreditation

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business has successfully extended its accreditations for both its business and accounting programs by AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

AACSB accreditation is the hallmark of excellence in business education, and has been earned by less than 5 percent of the world’s business programs. Today, there are 761 business schools in 52 countries and territories that have earned AACSB accreditation. Similarly, 183 institutions hold an additional specialized AACSB accreditation for their accounting programs.

During the multi-year continuous improvement review process, schools focus on developing and implementing a plan to align with AACSB’s accreditation standards. These standards require excellence in areas relating to strategic management and innovation; student, faculty and staff as active participants; learning and teaching; and academic and professional engagement. Accounting accreditation requires the satisfaction of an additional set of standards that are specific to the discipline and profession of accounting.

Confirmation of VCU’s extended accreditation comes shortly after the launch of EPIC, the School of Business’ new strategic plan, which seeks to drive the future of business through the power of creativity.

“The School of Business is focused on ensuring our graduates contribute fresh thinking and creative solutions to drive future success,” said Ed Grier, dean of the VCU School of Business. “This reaccreditation affirms our success and demonstrates the strengths, innovation and collaborative energy among students, faculty, staff and the community.”

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