Undergraduate Blog

From the Centennial Archives: All Roads Lead to Commerce: Virginia Community College Students Find Success at McIntire

Commerce students discuss how they leveraged their community college experience to make the most of UVA McIntire's top-notch business education.

This Centennial Year, we honor our past, present, and future. This article was originally published April 16, 2020.

Students come from across the world to enroll at McIntire and receive a top-notch business education. Yet some third-years accepted at the Commerce School are relatively local. In fact, community college graduates account for 5% of both the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021. They’ve come to Grounds on the strength of their work after two years studying at one of 23 Virginia community colleges on the Commonwealth’s 40 campuses.

In celebration of National Community College Month, we caught up with the Class of 2020’s Clarissa Ribeiro Bittes, Anjali Chauhan, Dong Kim, Winona Pritts, and Kane Springer, as well as the Class of 2021’s Niketas Koussis, to ask them about the benefits of attending community college and how it prepared them for their time at McIntire.

Flexibility and Convenience
Chauhan graduated from Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun campus, where she decided to fulfill her general education courses and then apply to McIntire for her third and fourth years. She says the time there afforded her valuable flexibility.

“I was able to work in a multitude of internships and get hands-on experience in many different academic and career interests while completing my associate’s degree in Business Administration,” says Chauhan.

Koussis chose to enroll at the same NOVA campus after advisers had visited his high school. He saw it as an affordable and logical first step toward UVA.

“It was an easy decision due to finances and the fact that I wanted the chance to attend a top university, plus the campus was only 10 minutes from my home,” he explains.

Kim enrolled at the college’s main campus at Annandale, VA, which was also a 10-minute drive from his home.

While a nearby location was the selling point for Pritts choosing Lord Fairfax Community College, she says the selection of humanities and philosophies courses (including a class in ethics that turned out to be a favorite) sealed the deal.

Both Bittes and Springer chose to attend Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) because of its location, too, but not in relation to their homes, but because of its proximity to McIntire—and that’s despite their vastly different backgrounds: Bittes came from Brazil; Springer was returning to academics after a decade in the Marines.

“I knew this would provide opportunities to meet others on the same path and establish relationships that would help me succeed,” Springer says.

Valuable Skill Development
Bittes says that those pre-Comm years were formative for her academics, supplying her with proper studying habits and preparatory coursework she needed to succeed.

“Since I’m from Brazil, my first two years at college introduced me to the American educational system,” she says. “The small learning environment was ideal because I really needed help with some subjects, especially accounting and calculus.”

Learning to maximize productivity is a pervasive skill that students brought with them to McIntire from community colleges.

Chauhan was working three jobs while going to school, and she says that those demands taught her valuable time management and communication skills: “Through my course load and having to juggle family responsibilities and work, I was able to figure out how to keep my stress levels low, even when I was faced with inflexible deadlines at work and school.”

While Koussis worked part time during the first two college years, he also took advantage of leadership opportunities. “I became involved on campus with student life as the president of the Business Club and vice president of the Honor Society. These experiences allowed me to gain real-world skills, such as teamwork and time management.”

Likewise, Kim says that his years at NVCC are a testament to his well-honed time management and decision-making skills. “I knew early on that I wanted to transfer after my associate’s degree. To make my dream into a reality, I knew I had to maintain an excellent academic record while working to pay for my living and educational expenses.”

Time to Find Their Passions—and the Comm School
In addition to necessary transfer credits, the community college experience gave students the necessary space to find and confirm their passions.

“I took advantage of my first two years,” says Koussis. “I researched the top business programs in the country, and McIntire’s ICE (Integrated Core Experience) program was attractive due to the sponsored consulting project. Furthermore, I liked the idea of customizing my learning experience through a unique combination of concentrations and tracks. I also had a friend transfer in the year before me, and hearing about his experiences at McIntire and UVA as a whole played a significant role in my decision.”

Kim says that before coming to McIntire, he wasn’t completely sure about which specific field of business he was interested in pursuing. But after having the opportunity to speak with alumni and then-current students, he was sold on the wide-ranging aspects of the School’s ICE curriculum, which helped him to further explore his interests both during the time leading up to and during his years at the Comm School.

Bittes wasn’t completely sure what she wanted to major in, she recalls, but knew she wanted to study at UVA. “McIntire had a comprehensive curriculum and introduced students to multiple career paths, which is an important aspect of an undergraduate experience. I also had instructors at my community college and family members who encouraged me to apply, which all together influenced my final decision.”

Preparing for the Rigors of McIntire
While community college can ultimately lead dedicated students to UVA and to the McIntire School, the adjustment and differences were something that all of those we spoke to mentioned when they compared the experiences.

“One of the biggest differences is the people I interact with,” Bittes notes. “At McIntire, we are all motivating and encouraging each other to succeed and improve ourselves.”

Springer says living in proximity to the School provided the opportunity to meet people connected to McIntire. Other transfer students who were already enrolled while he was finishing community college gave him a clear perspective of how best to prepare for the McIntire experience and new level of engagement with his peers. “Commerce students know what they want and are willing to put in much more effort. I think this is a big part of what makes graduates so successful.”

Koussis admits that the rigor of McIntire classes and the work expected by both faculty and peers are “at a completely different level,” but says that community college gave him a solid foundation to build on and help him adjust.

“I was and still am truly surprised at the amount and quality of resources and opportunities available to students here,” he says. “It helped me open my eyes to what is possible. I am extremely grateful for my time at community college, as it allowed me to overcome financial hurdles to reach UVA.”

Pritts agrees that the intensity the intensity of Commerce coursework is unique. “The activities and projects at McIntire really help reinforce all that you learn in the classroom, and enhance your technical skills in many areas. These types of hands-on activities help prepare you for employment responsibilities, and really set apart McIntire grads from other students.”

She adds that the commitment from professors is also “astonishing.”

“Every McIntire professor I’ve had has been incredible at answering questions, setting aside office hours for any issues you have, or even just talking about your career goals and plans,” Pritts says. “Most have open-door policies and welcome students every day. I was lucky enough to have one amazing professor who stayed in his office until all hours of the nights when students were working on projects—he was even answering questions at 11 p.m. That’s not something you’ll find anywhere else, and shows the professors true commitment to their students’ success.”

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