When the Commerce Cohort was launched in the fall of 2018, it sought to engage high-achieving, high-need first-year UVA students who had an interest in business. And in reaching out to first-years from traditionally underrepresented and underserved backgrounds, the McIntire program was instrumental in providing its participants with academic mentorship, personal development opportunities, and business-related career preparation.
And the results? Success on so many fronts.
While the Comm Cohort offers academic, personal, and career development resources that would prove helpful for any University student, it also serves to advance McIntire’s strategic objective of creating a more diverse and inclusive student community by increasing enrollment across its own programs.
Year over year, the Cohort is seeing an increase in its participants who have elected to apply and matriculate in Commerce. The inaugural class, which graduated in 2022, counted a little over half of its 30 student members who graduated from McIntire; that number increased to 79% for the Class of 2023, and rose again to 82% with the Class of 2024. Likewise, academic performance continues to improve on average, both before and during Cohort students’ Commerce experience.
And while classroom achievements are one thing and making a difference in the real world another, the Comm Cohort has excelled in that area as well: 81% of 2022’s graduating class secured internships, and nearly as many secured their first professional position once they completed their McIntire education.
Employers that hired Comm Cohort participants represent industries ranging from commercial and retail banking, consulting, and diversified financial services to accounting, nonprofits, and information services.
We caught up with three alumni from the Class of 2022—Sara Hamilton, Luis Jerez, and Sammy Wondwossen—to find out how their time learning in the Comm Cohort has impacted their professional lives.
Hamilton works at Apple as a Procurement Analyst in Global Sourcing and Supply Management; her main responsibilities include overseeing data analytics for the team, managing various cross-functional programs, and leading initiatives regarding market intelligence and environmental compliance.
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far in this role has been adjusting to the culture and pace of work at Apple,” she says. “This isn’t a company known for hiring a lot of people straight out of undergrad, so I’m by far the youngest person on my team.” What she’s enjoyed most about the position is the dedication of her colleagues. “Everyone’s got their heart in their professional lives and careers,” she says. “Hearing about my coworkers’ passion for their work has been truly inspiring and has prompted me to think more critically about what I want out of my own career.”
A Management Consulting Associate at RSM, Jerez, who is based out of McLean, VA, works primarily with the Government Contract Consulting team.
“I spend most of my time performing cost analysis or business system review and development,” he says. “My team provides value and assistance to clients by helping them develop cost rate models, enhancing their business systems with industry best practices, and maintaining federal compliance.”
He enjoys the collaborative aspect of interacting with his colleagues and C-suite client personnel, as well as the work-life balance that RSM provides. A current challenge for Jerez lies in focusing on a great deal of subject matter expertise—something he’s working toward acquiring as he gains experience. “As I am new to the industry, I don’t quite have that expertise yet, but I have a great team that is investing in my development.”
Wondwossen, like Hamilton, works at a tech giant: He’s an Associate Consultant with Microsoft, where he’s mostly been working on internal projects and developing his knowledge of Microsoft products to potentially work on external ones.
“The most challenging part of my position is probably understanding the breadth of resources Microsoft has to offer. There are so many cool things at Microsoft, so sometimes it’s hard to understand what resources and benefits I have as a full-time employee. I am still learning about new benefits every day. This includes the mentoring resources, employee benefits, access to learning resources, and more,” he says, noting that he enjoys the growth opportunities and culture at Microsoft. “Everyone is willing to talk with me about anything.”
Putting Skills into Practice
Now that they’ve begun their professional lives in earnest, the three alums we spoke with are still able to point to specific skills and coursework from the Comm Cohort that helped prepare them for their careers.
Hamilton says that the various skill assessments she completed helped her to understand her specific work style and how to optimize it in the workplace; it also led her to identify areas that she felt she needed to pay attention to in order to be a more well-rounded employee. “These exercises helped me figure out that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, but these individual skills are what make a successful project. Everyone contributes something unique and valuable!”
She also mentions how the Cohort introduced her to the art of networking. “Networking does not come easily to me, and I never wanted to do it, but it is very important,” Hamilton says. “Your network will be the key to some of the best career opportunities.”
Communication remains paramount for Jerez—and something he took to heart from the Comm Cohort: “In everyday business, if you can’t deliver a message that is clear and concise, you will find yourself answering more follow-up questions than planned or lose a client’s trust due to them being unable to follow your recommendations or conclusion.”
Along the same lines, Wondwossen says the most important skill he learned in the Comm Cohort was collaboration and presenting ideas. “It prepared me for my McIntire classes, because we presented in most classes. Prior to the program, I didn’t have much presenting experience, especially with a group,” he says, pointing out that the skill led to similar success when creating presentations in his professional life.
Thriving at the Comm School
Getting to where she is now, Hamilton credits the Comm Cohort with putting her on the path to McIntire. “Before getting the offer to join the program, Commerce was just an idea; I wasn’t set on it one way or the other,” she confesses, explaining that joining the Cohort helped her commit to applying to McIntire because she understood the culture and expectations for students early on. “The Cohort program is very reflective of McIntire’s overall culture and helps students know for sure if McIntire is an environment they’ll thrive in,” she says.
Jerez says that the Comm Cohort provided him excellent course enrollment advice in two different ways. “First, the Cohort helped me avoid overloading my course load in any one semester; UVA students are very ambitious, but sometimes that ambition can cause someone to accidently spread themselves too thin. The Commerce Cohort leaders supported me in making sure I was challenging myself but not putting myself in an unnecessarily difficult position,” he says. “Second, they encouraged me to enroll in classes that I was truly interested in. With the goal of being admitted into McIntire, students sometimes student believe they need to take as many business-oriented classes as possible to give themselves a boost for admissions. However, the leaders inspired us to be intellectually curious.”
Through skill-building activities, he says that the community helped him to realize his value. “They encouraged diversity, as there is no perfect Comm student. The Comm Cohort allowed us to assess our personal strengths and taught us how to use them to our advantage,” Jerez recalls. “In McIntire, you work alongside many different students with different strengths, so with everyone playing to their own strengths, everyone can find great success.”
Final Thoughts for Future Professionals
Wondwossen echoed Hamilton about the importance of networking and suggests all current students give attention to developing the skill for academic and professional success.
“Your network will help you build your brand and grow to become the person you’ve always wanted to be,” he says. “I learned that you should trust in yourself throughout your academic and professional career. The process comes with its ups and downs, and you should learn from all your experiences, because they all play apart in who you are.”
Jerez agrees. “Aim for lots of networking experiences. Networking will help any student in their academics and future careers,” he says, admitting that while it’s easier said than done, meaningful connections can help students find everything from a new study group to an alumni connection who can help them to get a foot in the door at a company where they hope to start a career. “Network is a huge skill that almost everyone talks about, and the Comm Cohort is a great sandbox [in which] to build this skill with your fellow peers, program administration, or undergraduate resources.”
Remaining open to new and unique experiences is top of mind for Hamilton. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself into a career you think you need to have based on your current path. I was presented the opportunity for my current role through my second major, Global Commerce in Culture & Society [a Global Studies program in the College of Arts & Sciences]—up until that point, I had never even considered a career in supply chain procurement,” she confesses. “And don’t worry about a bad grade here and there; people are more understanding than you may think!”