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Class of 2022: Emma Xu Takes the Right Risks

We reached out to Xu while she’s still on Grounds to discover how her McIntire professors prepared her with the skills and philosophies that she can rely on in the years to come.

Emma Xu

Emma Xu came to the University from Vienna, VA, without any intention of studying business, yet she soon discovered that McIntire’s reputation and the B.S. in Commerce degree could empower her by providing a wealth of opportunities.

She recalls the significance of early impressions: Every Commerce student she met proved to be intelligent, composed, and thoughtful.

“I understood McIntire to be the common denominator that empowered these students with the right foundations, while nurturing their interests and development. Although I still wasn’t sure what role I wanted to pursue in business, I was confident that McIntire could guide me,” Xu says, explaining how she decided to apply to the Comm School.

Clearly, the Management and IT concentrator found her path, completing a track in Business Analytics and a minor in French, all while taking advantage of what UVA has to offer. Throughout the last four years, Xu served as President of social impact entrepreneurial student group Enactus, Head Program Director of Madison House’s English for Speakers of Other Languages, a Commerce Career Services Peer Coach, a research assistant, and a member of the prestigious Raven Society.

Despite her inherent desire to reach out and connect with her peers, Xu’s first year at McIntire was shaped by the pandemic. However, the health crisis would also be indirectly responsible for her favorite memory: an informal picnic organized by Blocks 5 and 6 at the end of the 2021 spring semester. She explains that earlier that day, Block 5 had delivered its final deliverable, a quantitative analysis assignment that capped off the rigorous Integrated Core experience—which, due to the restrictions of the coronavirus, had been mostly virtual, with one-on-one meetings confined strictly to Zoom breakout rooms. As many who have had to learn and work remotely can testify, it can often be difficult to develop relationships in the traditional way.

Xu recalls approaching the picnic with some teammates and being overcome with surprise: “My first reaction was ‘Wow! I can’t believe how tall or short certain people actually are. How unexpected.’”

But what followed was pure joy. “I can’t describe how freeing it was to finally meet the kids I saw on Zoom every single day for an entire year. Seeing them in person, a foot away from me, unrestricted by my laptop screen, was a surreal experience. Being able to talk to them about their life and weekend plans, without the expectation that we’d have to start working on an assignment within the next five minutes for efficiency’s sake, was even better. That fantastic feeling of camaraderie serves as a reminder to me, someone who is often far too eager to get down to business, to relish the people I work with, because at the end of the day, it’s the people who make an experience great,” she says.

As she’ll be headed to Chicago to become a Consultant at Oliver Wyman after graduation, we reached out to Xu while she’s still on Grounds to discover how her McIntire professors prepared her with the skills and philosophies that she can rely on in the years to come.

What Comm School course or professor has made been most impactful for you?

There are simply too many professors and experiences to call out. Kerrie Carfagno not only taught a fantastic Communication class, but she’s a role model to the women of McIntire, standing strong in her convictions about environmental justice and gender equity. Jeffrey Lovelace is one of the most conscientious professors I have ever encountered, demonstrating remarkable servant leadership through his never-ending commitment and care to the learning and life experiences of his students. Derick Davis is the most generous professor, always ready to help his students with anything, whether that be projects outside of his class or with job and internship searches. Jingjing Li is unquestionably devoted to the success of her students, despite taxing research, family, and teaching demands. Chiraag Mittal is one of the most skilled lecturers I’ve ever had, and is responsible for increasing my love for consumer behavior. Rick Carew, despite being a Visiting Lecturer, offers some of the best McIntire classroom experiences, developing his students’ ability to read between the lines, while exposing them to impressive guest speakers and perspectives. Peter Gray, Cynthia Fraser, and Gayle Erwin deserve special attention for all being insanely intelligent and infectious in their love for all things IT, analytics, and finance.

Even though I just spent a paragraph gushing about my other professors, I have to devote special attention to Professor Suprateek Sarker’s Database class, an unexpected contender. I was hesitant to declare an IT concentration, because the course title “Database Management Systems and Business Intelligence” was so intimidating. As a self-declared “non-technical person,” I doubted my abilities to succeed in this class, knowing that coding would be necessary.

As soon as I sat down for the first class with Professor Sarker, I knew I was in for a worthwhile challenge. I won’t lie: Partial keys, aggregates, and full outer joins still escape me, but Professor Sarker made class an unexpectedly riveting endeavor. Professor Sarker’s energy during our three-hour-long lectures was infectious. His passion for the subject ignited my drive to learn the intricacies of database management systems, which I once deemed too technical and uninteresting. More importantly, it was Professor Sarker’s grounded personality that struck me. Even though I noticed the multiple certificates, degrees, and awards on his wall, Professor Sarker never hesitated to meet with me and other students to refine our grasp on basic concepts. It seems silly that the President-Elect for the Association for Information Systems would spend 30-plus minutes diagramming and explaining cardinalities during office hours, but Professor Sarker was always endlessly patient and concerned with our true understanding.

What’s one lesson that you’ve learned at the Comm School that has helped you navigate your professional future?

On the very first day of our ICE Communication class, Professor Carfagno ingrained two concepts into our heads: 1) the importance of tailoring your communication to your audience and 2) the business world’s notorious bottom-line up-front rule. In other words, she emphasized that we needed to keep things clear and simple, making it as easy as possible for our audience to understand. The less polite version of her lesson can be translated to “keep it simple, stupid.”

Sometimes it seems like you learn things in school to forget it a week later. This was not one of those things. If anything, this communications-oriented lesson was reinforced throughout my Comm School career, through my most technical classes. I found myself turning back to this golden rule, when building Tableau data visualizations during second semester ICE with Professor Gray. The best dashboards were always the ones that were the most interpretable, and I always found it shocking how many office hour visits it took to present a simple and clean data visualization. Even in my Business Analytics course, Professor Li, with her years of work and research presentation experience, constantly emphasized the merits of “strategic information disclosure.” You would think that Professor Li, with her Microsoft background, would want her students to drill down on the technicalities of machine learning, but you would be wrong. Professor Li stressed the importance of keeping data communication simple and accessible. I’ve learned that if you hit your audience over the head with too many technical terms and concepts, you’ll confuse them. Once you’ve confused them, you’ve lost them. Once you’ve lost them, you’ve failed them.

Professor Carfagno’s lesson has already helped my professional future. I’ve received compliments from folks on LinkedIn about my outreach and communication style, which is flattering, but also proof that third-year Integrated Core communications plays a pivotal role in every McIntire student’s professional development.

After you walk the Lawn, what are you looking forward to most?

I’m most looking forward to moving to Chicago, a city that I uncharacteristically chose on impulse. I should mention that I don’t know anyone in Chicago and have never set foot in the Midwest. While these two things sound like a recipe for disaster, I can’t help but feel a little giddy. I’m known to be a big planner. My family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers within earshot know about my deep love for Google Calendar and obsession with planning. Ask any of the group mates I have ever worked with. I can’t leave a meeting without making a plan for our next meeting.

Chicago was completely unplanned. A month after accepting my job offer for the D.C. office, I asked my recruiter for a switch to the Chicago office. I was sitting in Professor Chip Ransler’s Entrepreneurship class at the time, a class whose entire purpose centered around the concept of taking ‘the right risk.’ As I reflected on my personal experiences and considered whether I ever took ‘the right risk,’ I recognized that I was as risk-adverse as they come. This thought made me uncomfortable, because I recognized that it was the moments when I was most uncertain that I learned and grew the most. The first couple weeks of ICE were full of challenges and uncertainty, and while I did feel awkward and unsure at times, I’ve also felt like I’ve undergone a welcome transformation during my last two years, largely because of this new school, environment, and curriculum. I’m looking forward to applying Professor Lovelace’s change management principles to my own life these next few months. Like a great strategic leader, I aspire to lean in, embrace change, and treat uncertainty as a welcome opportunity.

I’m also looking forward to interacting with future UVA students, whether that be through LinkedIn messages, company recruiting events, or coffee chats. When I co-hosted Commerce Career Services’ orientation with Associate Director for Career Development Anne Afriyie and Director of Undergraduate Career Development Sarah Rogis, I was so impressed by the caliber of the incoming Class of ’24. These students, as second-years, are smarter, wiser, and bolder than I ever was. I can’t wait to play a role in empowering these students as they discover themselves and their ambitions.

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