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Meet McIntire’s Integrated Core Block Representatives for 2021-2022

We recently checked in with the newly elected student reps to learn about their backgrounds, interests, and what they hope to accomplish with their blocks.

Basak Gafoor, Elsa Jensen, Joey Mistretta, Katelyn Ragland, Shoaib Rana, Neha Subramaniyan, Serena Xia, and Reza Zaidi

Top row: Basak Gafoor, Elsa Jensen, Joey Mistretta, Katelyn Ragland. Bottom row: Shoaib Rana, Neha Subramaniyan, Serena Xia, Reza Zaidi.

Since the Integrated Core was adopted across McIntire for all third-years two decades ago, the School’s newest class of students has put democracy into action by electing eight of their fellow classmates to represent them and their student learning sections (long known as “blocks” within the program) at Commerce Council. The student reps are charged with promoting camaraderie within their blocks and helping to reinforce the many positive attributes to emerge from developing a tight-knit block culture—one that fosters the kind of crucial connections and peer support opportunities that help McIntire’s newest class to meet the rigorous and often demanding coursework in the B.S. in Commerce Program.

We recently checked in with the newly elected student reps to learn about their backgrounds, interests, and what they hope to accomplish with their blocks.

Block 1: Basak Gafoor
A double major in Commerce and Economics, Gafoor is concentrating in Management and IT with a Business Analytics Track at McIntire. The Aldie, VA, native is following a long-ranging consulting career plan that he hopes to augment with an MBA and, later, time as a business professor as well. Gafoor serves as President of UVA’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA-PBL) chapter, as Executive Vice President of the Virginia FBLA-PBL, and as a member of the International Relations Organization, where he is Chief of Staff for Virginia Model United Nations at UVA (VAMUN).

Block 2: Shoaib Rana
Born and raised for 10 years in Pakistan before immigrating to the United States with his family, Rana is double majoring in Commerce and Computer Science. During his first year at UVA, he was involved with the Muslim Students Association, which he says introduced him to many people with diverse backgrounds; during that time, he participated in the Big Sib Little Sib mentorship program and was elected as the representative for first-years. He also completed Node Pro, an advanced data science course with Charlottesville nonprofit school Forge.

Block 3: Neha Subramaniyan
Hailing from Johns Creek, GA, near Atlanta, Subramaniyan is pursuing a double major, balancing her Commerce studies with Statistics. She is currently involved with the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society and Smart Woman Securities, holding leadership roles with each student organization. Additionally, she is part of other McIntire-related clubs, including the McIntire Investment Institute (MII) and the Virginia Consulting Group (VCG).

Block 4: Katelyn Ragland
Ragland intends to pursue a concentration in Marketing as well as complete a minor in Spanish. Coming to the University from Birmingham, AL, she is also working as a writer for the Arts and Entertainment section of The Cavalier Daily. Additionally, Ragland is part of the Virginia Dance Team, performing on the sidelines at UVA football and basketball games.

Block 5: Reza Zaidi
A transfer student from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), Zaidi plans to concentrate in Finance and IT at McIntire. The Great Falls, VA, native is a chair for UVA’s Model UN Conference and is collaborating with McIntire’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to launch an affinity group for Asian students. He also intends to participate in UVA’s debate organizations, an interest that he has maintained since his days competing as a high school student.

Block 6: Elsa Jensen
Jensen is pairing her Commerce studies, in which she expects to concentrate in Finance, with a double major in Foreign Affairs and a minor in Urban and Environmental Planning. A product of Palm Beach, FL, she says that her interest in business and politics has led her to roles as a Congressional Intern, a State Department Intern to the UN, and a Public Policy Intern at Amazon. She also serves as Public Affairs and Outreach Chairwoman for the Alexander Hamilton Society, as the Inter-Sorority Council Representative for Pi Beta Phi, and as a member of Women in Policy.

Block 7: Serena Xia
Xia, from Fairfax, VA, plans to concentrate in Marketing and IT at the Comm School as she double majors in Statistics. An active member in the Chinese Student Association and AKPsi Professional Co-ed Business Fraternity, she has also had experience working with startups during her first year at the University. With that strong interest in entrepreneurship, she leads the Women’s Entrepreneurship at UVA student organization.

Block 8: Joey Mistretta
Hailing from Richmond, VA, Mistretta intends to concentrate in Marketing and Management, as he minors in Data Science. Vice President of Member Development for Enactus at UVA, he also serves as the Head Program Director for Madison House’s Equity Center Tutoring program, where he was instrumental in spearheading a “first-ever partnership with UVA’s Equity Center to bridge the education equity gap by linking public school students most in need of assistance with specially trained tutors.” Additionally, Mistretta is a small group leader in Club Swim at UVA.

Though the semester is only recently underway, what have you enjoyed about McIntire thus far? What are your first impressions?
I have really enjoyed the structure of Integrated Core so far. I love that all subjects are so well-integrated and the fact that they all happen at the same set time. The integration makes my schedule simpler and also makes it feel like one giant class with different specialized subtopics taught by different professors. Shout out to Professor Nelson, Professor Oliver, and Professor Ballinger. All of them have been nothing short of phenomenal and very helpful and approachable. I have also really enjoyed getting to know the students in my block and have learned so much from them during discussions. All of them have some really cool stories and experiences—I think that the diversity of backgrounds is really valuable.

Ragland: What I’ve found I enjoy most about McIntire is the people. It’s been very easy to make new friends. You are also surrounded by other hardworking, intelligent people who will encourage you and keep you accountable. It’s a good environment to be in, and it pushes you to try your best.

Mistretta: Everyone is so friendly here; it’s so easy to introduce yourself to someone and get to know them, which I think underscores the idea that McIntire really is a community. At least in my block, our first impression after orientation was that the Integrated Core would be intense, and that it would be a constant, competitive grind. I won’t pretend it’s not a lot of work (it took some time to get used to all the readings that we’ve been assigned), but after being in it for a few weeks, I think my block has realized it’s not as scary as we initially thought. The environment is comfortable and encouraging, and everyone seems to be on the same page—both the students and the professors. Our professors have called our class “a safe place to take risks,” and that’s the impression I’ve gotten so far; there’s just enough competitiveness to make things interesting, but that’s vastly overshadowed by a strong feeling of support from fellow students and the professors.

Jensen: So far, I have enjoyed how engaged everyone in McIntire is! Every student in McIntire has worked hard to get here, and it makes the community academically stimulating, as everyone has their own interests and goals for what they hope to do with a background in business. The community is more diverse in individuals and interests than I initially expected, and it has made for vibrant discussions in and out of class.

How are you planning to strengthen block culture and camaraderie with your peers?
I will plan block-bonding activities throughout the semester to help everyone get to know each other better, such as hiking, movie night, or a picnic on the Lawn. I want to ensure that we can all have some fun between the stress of academics and recruiting. And I can’t forget food—it’s what truly brings us all together!

Gafoor: Culture is one of the most important aspects of any organization or group environment to me, and while it is difficult for just one person to influence culture, I know that I can focus on the small things I can control, which will hopefully add up to a strong block culture in the long run. Small things like being an open and friendly person anyone can talk to, showing others they are appreciated, and having a positive attitude every day are all things I can do as a block rep that can help create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to be themselves.

Zaidi: As block representative, my goal for the end of the year is to have all my block members get to know each other well. Hosting breakfast events during class breaks on especially difficult work days and giving out small gifts on birthdays are great ways to lighten up students’ lives. Overall, I want everyone in my block to feel represented and like they have someone they can talk to at any time.

What are you most looking forward to achieving with your involvement in Commerce Council as a representative of your block?
I’d love to work with other block reps to see if we can put on cross-block Comm Council-sponsored events. I’d also like to work on helping members of my block cope with stress during tough weeks (e.g., Integrated Core final) and on putting on some fun bonding events.

Jensen: I would like to achieve block sociability and have enough events for everyone to meet each other and learn a little bit about each of their peers. I personally hope that being a block representative will help students feel comfortable coming to me when they might have a request or an idea for the block or the School so that I can work with them to help deliver the best possible experience.

Mistretta: Maybe it’s cliché to say this, but my hope is to walk away from the Integrated Core at the end of the semester with the feeling that we’ve built dozens of friendships that will last throughout the rest of our time here at UVA and even into our professional lives. I’m excited to play a role in bringing our block closer and making us feel like an integral part of the McIntire community. I’m looking forward to showing up to class every day and feeling like we’re all part of a cohesive community.

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