“I cannot say that I knew as a high school student or even as a second-year that McIntire was right for me, but I am now more certain of that simple fact than of anything else in my life,” says Ralph De Palma IV.
The Finance and Accounting concentrator who came to UVA from Central New Jersey’s Monmouth County is right to be confident in his assertion. Having excelled in his studies and forged strong connections with others in and out of the classroom, the natural extrovert and leader with a passion for student self-governance took his interest in people where it would do the most good. De Palma dedicated his time to serving others in University clubs, volunteering, and cultivating friendships across Grounds as well as in the local community.
The 2021-2022 McIntire’s Commerce Council President began studying commerce fundamentals in high school through a business magnet program and decided that studying the subject as an undergraduate was the next logical step. During a visit to Grounds for a Comm School information session, he met a McIntire Ambassador from his home state who provided what De Palma felt was an unbiased account of the student experience that he might expect to find at Rouss & Robertson Halls. Though he was still considering other universities at the time, he was drawn to UVA—and to McIntire.
“The career prospects, various services available to students, and world-class professors were just a few of the exciting aspects about the School,” he says.
He would ultimately discover that majoring in Commerce offered another engaging promise found in a hallmark of the program itself: the opportunity to collaborate. Looking back, he says many of his best McIntire memories are from the times he spent getting to intimately know his fellow students and connecting with his Comm School professors.
De Palma says that McIntire faculty have made a great impact on him for different important reasons.
He credits Accounting Professor Katie McDermott with making a significant impact on his decision to study Accounting. Having taken her Intermediate Accounting I, GNP, and ESG Accounting courses, he says that “her warm, welcoming nature coupled with her sharp, quick intellect made me feel comfortable and confident as a student in her class. I did not expect to enjoy an Accounting class as much as I did hers, and our interactions led me to continue my coursework in Accounting.”
Finance Professor Patrick Dennis was also a meaningful figure in De Palma’s education. He credits Dennis and his Advanced Investments: Derivatives & Fixed Income course with preparing him for his career with a wealth of pertinent information. “Professor Dennis has a humble, succinct method of explaining even the most complicated concepts, breaking everything down into bite-sized bits for students to consume. His ability to synthesize in-class material with real-world information encourages me to continue learning and asking questions well beyond my time as his student,” he says.
Accounting Professor Andrea Roberts was also influential, reinforcing the value of being comfortable asking questions and seeking feedback.
“While I have always considered myself to be inquisitive, the last two years at McIntire encouraged me to find clarity in all aspects of my life,” he says, recalling when he met with Roberts to discuss his class participation.
De Palma was relieved to learn she thought he was doing a fine job participating, and as their conversation continued, she noted that she especially appreciated his willingness to ask questions and make comments, even when he was uncertain. “She also emphasized that I should continue doing exactly what I had done, seeking feedback from future professors and bosses,” he says. “Professor Roberts is now one of my favorite professors at McIntire, and I am greatly appreciative of her advice and information I will not soon forget.”
Outside of his McIntire coursework, De Palma is adamant about the central role Commerce Council has played during his undergraduate years.
“Serving as the Commerce Council President is the most rewarding activity I have been involved in throughout my UVA experience,” he says, explaining that the position has tasked him with planning community-building events for McIntire’s B.S. in Commerce students.
“This year, we have been working toward improving students’ mental health, with targeted events that encourage socialization, physical activity, and enhancement of knowledge about healthy life practices. We have and will continue to host volunteering events, like raising and donating over $1,200 to Madison House’s Holiday Sharing event (Pie a Member of Comm Council),” De Palma says, recognizing the excellence of his executive team peers Matt Smith (McIntire ’22) and Kendall Roche (McIntire ’22) and the dedication of all Council members. “Getting to know these folks has been almost, if not more, rewarding than my broader involvement in this organization,” he insists.
He says that in addition to looking out for student needs at McIntire, the position has also afforded him the opportunity to represent the School and the third- and fourth-year Comm students he serves at all McIntire-affiliated and undergraduate school-oriented events. “For example, I served on two committees related to learning and common spaces in Shumway Hall and still offer my student perspective to Student Services at least biweekly—and usually much more frequently. I love this position because I care deeply about the McIntire School, as well as the health and well-being of McIntire students.”
After graduation, De Palma will begin his career as a Sales and Trading Analyst at Barclays Investment Bank, having completed an internship there last summer. He is rightfully excited to start his professional life, and takes comfort in the fact that he will have a support network “none stronger than McIntire.”
He acknowledges that Hoos remain committed to their various schools and each other, but believes that Comm School students share a more powerful connection.
“Many of us know the value and the importance of being McIntire students. I greatly enjoy connecting with my peers, and I hope to do so into the distant future. In addition, I have had numerous faculty and staff members offer me meaningful friendships and mentorships. I am particularly close with those in Student Services, who have constantly supported my journey as a student, as the Comm Council President, and simply as a person,” De Palma says, adding that he is looking forward to continuing those relationships long after he walks the Lawn.
“What will stay with me most is the memories of those people who made the late nights bearable—and even enjoyable, those whom I could always rely on, and those who provided me guidance in many areas of my life,” he says. “That is part of what is so beautiful about being a McIntire student: The relationships you make along the way are so strong.”