Academics

Community College to Commerce Community

McIntire students talk about their journey from Virginia’s two-year schools to Grounds for National Community College Month.

Thomas Green, Alexa Rusu, Caleb Sica, and Aimy Simbi

Anyone who’s ever graduated from the Comm School will tell you that the courses at McIntire are transformative, based wholly in real-world experience, and, perhaps above all, demanding.

The School’s well-earned reputation is one reason that many community college students who transfer from Virginia’s 23 community colleges to UVA—and McIntire—for their third year, come ready for the challenges that lie ahead as they pursue their B.S. in Commerce.

In recognition of National Community College Month, we spoke with four McIntire students from the Class of 2022 who chose, prepared for, and adjusted to all that comes with life in Comm: Thomas Green, Alexa Rusu, Caleb Sica, and Aimy Simbi shared their stories about how they succeeded on the community college route to arrive on Grounds.

Getting Ready
Rusu came to Virginia by way of Făgăraș, in Transylvania, Romania. She says that when she moved to Arlington, VA, with her parents three years ago, community college seemed like the most appropriate decision, since she was completely unfamiliar with the American educational system. After some helpful advice, she registered at Northern Virginia Community College.

“NOVA provided a strong cultural environment, for which I am thankful for helping me to integrate easily into UVA and McIntire. The whole experience of being a student in an American school set me up for succeeding at UVA. I didn’t even know what a syllabus was, so for me, even the smallest experience—from talking to professors, attending different events, to chatting with a diverse body of students—had the biggest impact on my preparation,” Rusu says.

Her classmate Sica also attended NOVA. He says that he applied online while still attending high school in Fairfax, VA, citing the reasonable cost, class flexibility, and nearby location for influencing his decision to enroll.

Richmond native Green attended Reynolds Community College and says she chose the two-year school for its proximity to both her home and a middle school where she volunteered.

“My experience at Reynolds definitely prepared me for succeeding at McIntire,” Green says, explaining how she completed the four-semester degree program in three semesters with heavy course loads—all while working a part-time job. “This academic rigor, accelerated timeline, and additional time constraints provided an opportunity to further enhance my time management skills, which paid off later in McIntire’s Integrated Core Experience.” 

Simbi, who graduated from John Tyler Community College, says that she chose the Midlothian, VA, school for its scholarship opportunities, but its student support resources and transfer programs readied her in multiple ways for applying to McIntire.

“From doing a good amount of research, I knew that the McIntire curriculum was going to be rigorous,” says Simbi. “So I met with JTCC’s Academic Resource Center often to build good study habits and succeed in my Commerce prerequisite classes. The habits and skills I learned allowed me to be prepared for McIntire’s challenging courses,” she says, noting how she met with the school’s Transfer Advising Coordinator and attended information sessions along the way.

Why McIntire?
Rusu says she was swayed to come to UVA after coming to an information session. “It was a hot, sunny day in June when I fell in love with the University immediately. I told myself that this is the place where I want to study.” She says that after reading about the Integrated Core Experience and the School’s other courses, she felt that they would provide her with the knowledge base she was seeking for a potential future in management, information technology, or statistics.

In addition to grad school and IT- and analytics-related work, Simbi had already been interested in preparing for a corporate career, and her research led her to the Comm School.

“I found myself drawn to McIntire’s multifaceted approach, as students solve real-world business problems in the classroom. From a transfer perspective, I liked that McIntire was an upper-divisional school,” she says, pointing out that she took comfort that, though she would be new to UVA, her Comm peers would be new to the program as well.

Green was already familiar with McIntire from having a sister graduate in 2019, but the School’s underlying ethos of using Commerce to tackle the world’s greatest challenges dovetailed perfectly with her career goals.

“I have always been interested in helping society and have focused specifically on educating myself about intersectional environmentalism. I knew that the tools McIntire provides its students with would be applicable to both business and nonprofits alike, ensuring that students are experts in their chosen field. I took an interest in Marketing during the Integrated Core Experience, and that is now one of my main focuses,” she says. 

Sica was introduced to UVA through close friends and, during a visit, “appreciated being surrounded by intellectually curious peers.” He recalls a moment on Grounds when he “struck up a conversation with another student about the Roman Empire and completely nerded out,” he admits. “That was a really cool moment for me.”

He believes that openness for students to learn from one another in an educationally supportive environment, combined with the Commerce School’s place in the University, sealed the deal as it being the place he wanted to spend the next two years. “And because I was interested in studying business, McIntire could be that place, too.”

Adjusting to the Change
For many students—including those who attend UVA for all four years as undergraduates—there are noticeable differences in what is required of them at the Comm School. And as expected, there are adjustments that come with starting McIntire after community college as well.

For Simbi, the emphasis on collaboration and working on real-world projects versus hypothetical situations has been striking. “At JTCC, most of my classes didn’t involve as much teamwork and problem solving as all of my Commerce classes do now. The way that I’ve adjusted to this is by setting clearly defined goals to make me the best team player I can be,” she says, detailing her attention to staying adaptable and open-minded to benefit the group projects.

Another key variance is the method by which the education is delivered at the Comm School.

Sica says that “McIntire tends to teach from a ‘why’ perspective rather than a ‘what.’” He recalls having a lack of context for expectations that was made obvious when he received back his first assignment and realized he’d need to recalibrate. “I learned a lot of valuable baseline knowledge in community college; however, the degree to which I had to analyze its implications beyond understanding the material was a push I enjoyed,” he says of the intellectual aims of his McIntire professors.

Rusu says that the biggest challenge is an exponential increase in studying time as the result of the complexity and number of projects she’s tackling, but she quickly learned to better manage her time and organize herself as a result.

Enriching Diversity
Beyond the various educational experiences that community college transfer students bring with them to McIntire are the wealth of personal ones.

“When we explore different business cultures and globalization in the classroom, I’m able to use my background to understand and apply the learning materials,” says Simbi, who has lived in various countries, including the Dominican Republic and Tanzania. “I believe my experiences overseas helped me develop a global mindset, which allows me to better connect with my peers and contribute to diversifying the student experience.”

Rusu, who attended university in Romania for nearly a year before relocating to the U.S., says that having firsthand experience learning in different educational systems revealed major cultural differences. But all three institutions (her Romanian school, NOVA, and UVA) “played a critical role in my education, and that’s why I can say that I am a well-rounded person,” says the math-loving student who hopes to go into data science.

Sica plans on pursuing an MBA or law degree and to work in real estate in order to better help marginalized communities obtain wealth. He says that creating an independent study abroad helped inform his views and approach to his education.

“It was separate from both NOVA and UVA, and gave me the drive I needed to finish. That experience, the context of the world beyond the U.S., culturally, linguistically, and socially, definitely gave me perspectives I brought upon my return,” says the member of BCSN, the Virginia Undergraduate Real Estate Club, and the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association.

“Coming from a biracial, multicultural background has given me a unique perspective as well. I value the quality of our business education immensely; however, at times, the nuances of socioeconomic status, structures, and other implications of our curriculum are sometimes topics that may not be discussed as much as they should,” he says, adding that he’s hopeful the School will continue to increase its diversity of voices “so that they can be heard a bit more within our educational context.”

For Green’s part, she found that her community college years exposed her to a wide variety of people and ages, often “in their late 40s or older, just trying to get a degree that would allow them to be promoted,” she says. With plans to eventually pursue a career in businesses sustainability or access equity in education, she found that learning among an age- and socioeconomically diverse cohort during her first two college years now provides a unique view and understanding that enriches the Commerce School student experience both for herself and her peers.

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