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Growing Good: Commerce Cohort Increases Reach

Three current Comm Cohort participants from UVA’s Class of ’26 share their reasons for joining the expanding program and what they’ve already enjoyed about it during the first few weeks.

Haley Day, Zachary Fernandez, Romeo Sarmiento

Haley Day, Zachary Fernandez, Romeo Sarmiento

Ever since it first launched in September 2018, the Commerce Cohort program has been offering prospective McIntire students from traditionally underrepresented groups with academic mentorship, career preparation, and personal development. Through business-focused sessions on active critical analysis, self-reflection, communication, and more, the program has created a multifaceted educational platform and community that support high-achieving, high-need students.

The success of Comm Cohort in helping participants to set goals, collaborate effectively, learn about University resources, understand the McIntire School and its application process—and much more—has led to increased access for those who stand to benefit most from its sessions.

Pierce Coughter, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, says that since it began with 31 Class of 2022 first-years, the Commerce Cohort is now responsible for more students than ever taking part in unprecedented learning opportunities, with major programmatic changes growing the fifth class of students, entering the program this fall semester.

“In order to provide more opportunity and to impact the experience of additional students, we are expanding the Cohort to approximately 60 students this year. We have a group of 30 starting in the fall and another 30 starting in the spring, and we’ll run the foundational course and co-curricular experiences for each Cohort,” Coughter explains. “We’ll continue to engage our second-year Cohort students and leverage the experience and skills of our upper-class Cohort students as mentors and peer educators along the way.”

Establishing More Avenues

Coughter says that the key driver for the changes to the program is simply the intention to create more opportunity for first- and second-years.

“The Commerce Cohort program is positively impacting students and their experience at UVA, and we believe it’s important to expand access where possible. The program’s connection, community, and skill building are helping students to manage the transition to life at UVA and understand their unique strengths and experiences, while preparing them for success in the classroom and in life and work beyond their formal studies,” he says.

“In addition, we have alumni and friends of McIntire who are invested and supportive of these efforts; they want to help the School provide these opportunities for students, and their investment in the program is assisting in making the expansion of the program possible.”

Voices of the New Cohort

Current participants from UVA’s Class of ’26, Haley Day, Zachary Fernandez, and Romeo Sarmiento, shared their reasons for joining the program and what they’ve already enjoyed about it during the first few weeks.

All three consider themselves pre-Commerce students and bring a wide range of experiences to the University. Day, who founded literacy nonprofit Today’s Readers, Tomorrow’s Leaders in 2016, says Comm Cohort appealed to her because she wanted to learn more about McIntire and was also excited by its event schedule, such as its weekend retreat.

“I decided to be a part of the Commerce Cohort because I could not pass up the opportunity to learn from professionals, faculty, and other students in the McIntire School of Commerce,” says the Roanoke, VA, product. “The Cohort has been amazing so far. I have enjoyed meeting the other first-year participants in the program and Commerce class.”

Fernandez, who hails from Ashland, VA, and hopes to concentrate in Finance or Accounting, was drawn to both the program’s social and academic aspects.

“The tight-knit community that the Cohort presents is something extremely valuable and rare, especially as a first-year,” he says.

“Being a member of a small group of 25 friendly students with similar academic interests and goals was something that I couldn’t pass on,” Fernandez adds, noting that the program’s curriculum “seemed like a great academic opportunity.”

“Sure, it’s only worth one credit, but it has been made very apparent that the knowledge, connections, and growth that come from the Cohort are worth much more than any credit,” he says. “I joined primarily to grow my own set of skills and knowledge alongside my peers—and that desire is already beginning to be fulfilled.”

With personal growth through reflection featuring heavily in the early goings of the curriculum, Fernandez is enjoying the experience and appreciating the coursework’s inclusivity. “Everyone can agree that the Cohort is a judgement-free and passionate learning environment,” he says. “It seems that we are going to make tremendous professional and academic progress together while also having a lot of fun over the course of the semester. I am very thankful to Mr. Coughter for allowing me to be a member of the Cohort, and I can’t wait for the rest of the semester with this group.”

Having immigrated to Northern Virginia from the Philippines at age 10, Sarmiento served in the Marine Corps for seven years as an Infantry Demolitionist, responsible for curating explosive charges for his assigned company, before coming to UVA. As he hopes to major in Commerce and pursue concentrations in Finance and IT, he chose to join the Cohort after receiving a recommendation about it from current fourth-year Steven Jiang, who shared his positive experiences.

“He benefited from being a part of the Cohort. And so, I decided to include myself with those who are interested in Commerce. Instead of navigating the rigors of college alone, I could surround myself with a similar but diverse group of people,” he says. “After a few weeks, I could say I made the right choice in enrolling in COMM 2000 [Business Skills in Today’s Workplace]. The proximity and immersion have been invaluable.”

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