Italy, here I come

I just found out that I was accepted into the International Business minor in Pamplin.

This video just made me so excited to study abroad. Every time I start to doubt myself, I find encouraging things like this that reassure me; it’s meant to be.


New living-learning community of entrepreneurs occupies former Sig Ep house

The $5 million home to first-year students and residents of the Innovate living-learning community.

The $5 million home to first-year students and residents of the Innovate living-learning community.


The recently constructed $5 million house on Oak Lane, originally intended for the Sigma Phi Epslion fraternity, has been designated a new purpose as of this semester.

This semester marks the beginning of a two-year pilot program for Innovate, a new living-learning community that has been given access to the house after Sig Ep lost its charter last year due to misconduct and failure to meet national expectations.

Innovate is a residential community with an entrepreneurial concentration where 35 first-year students of different majors will work together to ideate and launch student-led business ventures.

The community-specific course in entrepreneurship is being taught by assistant professor in Pamplin College of Business Department of Management, Marc Junkunc.

“My immediate reaction was ‘this is outstanding, a great opportunity for the students… for the university,'” said Junkunc. “I felt this was something that really was going to be impactful.”

The idea for Innovate stemmed from the collaborative efforts of the provost’s office, the Division of Student Affairs, Pamplin College of Business and the department of Housing and Residence Life.

“In terms of entrepreneurship education and living-learning communities, those are two separate phenomena that are occurring now at universities and this is bringing [those] together,” Junkunc said.

Two staff members of Housing and Residence Life reside in the house with the students in the program including residential learning coordinator for fraternity and sorority life, Chad Mandala, along with the resident community fellow, Drew Stegmaier, a graduate of Virginia Tech class of 2013 and CEO of Drink it Up.

Stegmaier calls his situation a “win-win.”

“I’m learning a lot from the students,” said Stegmaier. “They’re so much further ahead of where I was when I was a freshman… some of them already have patents, some of them already have started companies.”

According to Junkunc, most students get involved with entrepreneurship in their junior or senior years, while one of the benefits of the Innovate community is encouraging students to pursue their ideas early on.

“If we can get students engaged in those activities earlier it gives them a much greater opportunity to develop those aspirations and capabilities throughout their whole college experience,” Junkunc said.

Freshman apparel, housing and resource management major, Caroline Johnson, is a member of Innovate this year and has always had dreams of opening her own clothing store.

“I feel like overall we’re going to become a family,” said Johnson. “It’s going to be really cool to bounce ideas off each other and learn what everyone’s different talents are and be able to build something.”

Students in Innovate will learn to network and create business models, among other useful skills.

“One of the first things we’re doing is demystifying it, showing the kids that this is possible,” said Stegmaier. “[If] you think you can’t, you’re the biggest barrier to your own success.”

One concern that has been mentioned about the location of Innovate is that it may be too far from campus for the students to be engaged in the Virginia Tech community as a whole.

“I don’t feel connected to the campus just because I’m so far away from everything, but everyone in my classes are making me feel welcome and they don’t treat me [differently],” Johnson said.

However, Junkunc says this barrier shouldn’t last long into the school year, especially with a Hokie Express bus stop located very close to the house.

“I don’t think there’s any reason they should miss out on anything,” said Junkunc. “It’s an interdisciplinary program… We have a cross-section of many different cultures and majors. I think it’s a way for them to have a lot of like-minded housemates, but at the same time they’ll be able to plug into many different aspects of what’s going on on campus.”

Johnson says she feels very fortunate to live and learn as a member of Innovate.

The future of the community is uncertain at this point, but Junkunc predicts that the results of this pilot program for Innovate will be positive and the community will evolve and grow in time.

“Right now we’re just focused on doing the best Innovate program we can,” said Junkunc. “I think it’s poised to be one of the best programs of its kind in the country.”

But the eyes are blind, one must look with the heart

Today I was able to experience something not many people can say they have. I was taught by a blind professor.

My boyfriend let me tag along to his ancient history class this morning, taught by a blind woman. He had talked about this teacher and her class many times so I was happy to have the opportunity to sit in on a lecture. It was a small class, of only 30 or so students, but she was not aware that I didn’t belong. I watched her seeing eye dog relax on the floor by her side as she routinely pulled up PowerPoint slides on her computer, listening closely to the text-to-speech narration. She then began to speak of the history of Islam with dates, people, events, places, and context to the beat of the maps and pictures on the slides from memory, without braille notes or a list of topics. The history of Islam was as familiar to her as if it were her own. Needless to say, I was in awe.

From my experience in school, history was always a reading-intensive subject with impossible amounts of people and places and dates to memorize and put into historical context. I was never meant to be a history major and have always despised the subject wholeheartedly, but still I struggled to grasp the idea that someone with a passion for history, blind or not, could remember all that information, let alone well enough to explain it to others. Especially, how could someone who isn’t able to read about the Nile River in textbooks, or see the Byzantine Empire on a map, or pictures of the patterned tile walls of a Mosque speak to their significance?

At an early age, children are put into categories in school. They are labeled as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners (those who learn better by seeing, hearing, or doing, respectively). In a time when television and computer access for children is virtually inevitable, the population of auditory learners is slim at only 20-30% of students¹. Being a visual learner like my boyfriend, who, unlike myself, frequently falls asleep during lectures with no text supplement as evident this morning, it’s difficult to understand how auditory-dominant people can operate as efficiently. Then, it occurred to me how humans first began to relay information to one another, back in the times before Mesopotamia existed. The beginnings of history lie in spoken word. Before there was written language, there were elderly tribesmen telling stories to their grandsons, who remembered the stories and passed them on to their grandchildren. That was all there was of history and all there was of knowledge. It all made so much sense to me when I considered the fact that she teaches history, the story-telling subject. Her ability to remember and recount information in detailed stories reflects a time when story-telling was all that was available.

Today my curiosity lead me to read that “the principal values held by those with auditory dominance are strength in self and others and hard work in spite of adversity,”² which is exactly what I saw in that professor today. In case this professor never hears words of appreciation from a student, I hope that someone who is able to read this will join me in appreciating her.

Thank you,

From a visitor who sat in on your class today

First annual ePortfolio showcase to be held in April

The office of ePortfolio Initiatives is accepting submissions until March 29 for its first annual ePortfolio showcase to be held on April 25.

The showcase will be held in the Innovation Space classroom in Torgersen 1120 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature 10 student-created electronic portfolios.

“The idea was to put in front of undergraduate students and interested faculty, examples of good, completed student ePortfolios,” said Mark Zaldivar, director of ePortfolio Initiatives at Virginia Tech.

Spectators can come and go at any time to listen and talk to students who have created portfolios.

Students chosen to present will receive $150 to talk about the work that they’ve done and how they’ve created their portfolios.

According to Teggin Summers, assistant director of ePortfolio Initiatives, development of a personal ePortfolio can be beneficial in more ways than one. A good ePortfolio can showcase a variety of different things, including reflectings on past lessons, goals a student has accomplished, and the future aspirations.

Zaldivar estimates that approximately 8,000 undergraduates are currently doing work with electronic portfolios in every college of the university.

English majors are required to take ENGL 2614, where they create an ePortfolio using different platforms, including Scholar, WordPress and Weebly.

Students currently doing work with ePortfolios are seeing the benefits.

“The biggest thing I’ve taken from ePortfolios is the reflection opportunity, but it also has really helped me in being able to showcase myself professionally,” said Emily DeNoon, junior English major and undergraduate intern for the office of ePortfolio Initiatives.

Not all students share the same view as DeNoon on the usefulness of ePortfolios.

“Honestly, I thought it was a waste of time,” said Beth Cameron, junior English major, who hasn’t touched her ePortfolio since taking the class.

Architecture students are also required to archive designs in Scholar, which has presented some problems.

The trouble is in the uploading procedure and formatting, according to Kathryn Albright, foundation program chair for the school of architecture and design.

However, the ePortfolio Initiative has been working with them on those issues.

“(They have) been very eager to work with us to make these changes… and we’re making progress,” Albright said.

Despite these problems, Tech has become a national leader in ePortfolio development and research. The ePortfolio Initiatives office won the Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award in 2012.

Zaldivar and Summers hope the ePortfolio showcase will encourage more students to consider creating an electronic portfolio.

“A lot of what we do is make learning visible,” Zaldivar said, “so, I’d say that’s definitely one of our highest goals here: to make learning as visible as possible at Virginia Tech.”

Get back to where you once belonged

Monday, I was pleasantly surprised when my boyfriend’s younger sister asked me to be a guest speaker in her public speaking class. Not that I am so public-speaking inclined, it was mostly because my boyfriend told her “no.” No matter the reason, I was flattered and agreed without hesitation. So, tomorrow, well later today, I am going back to my high school, getting “back to where [I] once belonged,” as put by the Beatles, to speak. About what? I don’t know yet.

My whole life I’ve been labeled “talkative.” In elementary school, even some middle school, classes, I got in trouble for talking constantly. Many a report card I brought home with a “talks too much in class” in the teacher’s notes section. A family friend called me “blabbermouth,” a nickname which caught on and stuck in my immediate family. My communication skills are on-point to say the least. I have no problems talking to people, which is why I thought it would be no big deal to speak in front of a class of 20+ high school students for 45 minutes to an hour about anything I want. Upon further reflection, I’ve found that this is a bigger deal than I originally thought. Not many people have the chance to share what they’ve learned, their wisdom, with others, especially when those others have no choice but to listen. Not to say that I have wisdom worth sharing or that if I did it would be organized into anything nearly coherent. It wouldn’t and I don’t as of yet. My goal in my “speech” will be to make it relevant to majority of the students.

The extent of direction I was given on what to talk about tomorrow was to tell them about my “college experience.” What if half the kids in that class don’t plan to proceed with their educations after high school? What if they are unsure? If I’m going to talk to a group of people, I want what I’m saying to at least be somewhat relevant to them. Maybe it won’t exactly resonate with every single one of them, or maybe I’ll find that six students are sleeping the whole time, but I want to try to make my time there something the students will be able to listen to without following the hands around the face of the clock.

I’m definitely more worried about what kind of impact I make tomorrow more than the actual task of presenting in front of people. Although I may not dread speaking to a group of people, I’m not exempted from the usual fears of public speaking shared by most. I think I may just have a greater talent for harnessing that anxiety and guiding it into something of a more constructive nature. Anyway, I’m sure that I’m overestimating the importance of tomorrow’s “speech” and over-thinking things. Those kids are just tying to get through another day of high school and I’m coming back for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be heard by a group of kids who may or may not have their lives figured out. I have the power to influence them, but I don’t think I will. I don’t plan to campaign for a college education, or for Virginia Tech, or for working on a newspaper, or for majoring in finance or communications, but I am going to tell them about those things and hopefully, what I come up with tomorrow is useful to someone in that room.

Declining value of college degrees makes way for increase in value of internships

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A recent study published by The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed a trend in the devaluing of college degrees in the eyes of employers.

While the study agreed that degrees were important in the hiring process, they are no longer the only determining factor. Instead, employers are starting to focus more on an applicant’s qualifications outside of the classroom.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE, stated that 63 percent of paid interns from the class of 2012 had at least one job offer when they graduated, in contrast to 40 percent of those who did no internship.

Virginia Tech faculty members have also noticed a recent trend in the growing attractiveness of leadership experience to employers, along with research and internship experience.

Claire Childress, senior assistant director for Job Search and Graduate School Preparation, has worked at Career Services for 16 years and has seen this develop.

“The big thing that an employer looks for when they’re sifting through résumés is ‘do you have relevant experience,'” she said.

Childress also mentioned that it has become less about experience and even more about leadership experience.

However, the study states that employers are complaining of unpreparedness in recent four-year college graduates.

“While fresh hires had the right technical know-how for the job, they grumbled that colleges weren’t adequately preparing students in written and oral communication, decision-making, and analytical and research skills,” said employers in a survey done by The Chronicle and American Public Media’s Marketplace.

The controversy over whose responsibility it is to train students — the university or the job — stems from the fact that on-the-job training doesn’t make economic sense to many companies anymore because people so often change career plans.

“What these companies are saying is, ‘we don’t have time to train like we once did, we need people to come in and (have) the skill sets on their own, whether it’s the personal acquisition of the skills or you do it in higher education,'” said Stuart Mease, director of undergraduate career services in Pamplin.

Neither Childress nor Mease believe college graduates are leaving with inadequate preparation for the work environment.

“They’re getting presentation experiences, they get a writing intensive experience and all those skills are great skills that they’re building to bring to an employer,” Childress said.

Mease believes it’s not only the university that prepares students for the workforce.

“I think it’s a shared responsibility of everybody,” Mease said. “There’s certain things that only a company (can) train somebody specifically to do… and the educational environment needs to be set up to help more people acquire those skill sets that the private sector needs, but it’s the individual’s to decide if they’re willing.”

Childress and Mease have seen a positive overall trend in the number of on-campus interviews and post-graduate salary data over the last few years, so they’re not worried about Tech college degrees decreasing in value.

“Start early; that’s pretty critical,” said Mease. “Know what your mission is and have a strategy in place for how you’re going to get the job or internship. Make sure you’re allocating enough time to implement that strategy. You may have heard finding a job is a full-time job; it takes a lot of time and effort.”