Life is very different than it used to be for third-year Commerce student Melissa Baez Corral.
On the one hand, the changes that have impacted Baez and UVA and McIntire students like her universally tend to present a marked departure from the past worlds they inhabited in their hometowns and high schools.
On the other, Baez’s transition to Grounds has gone beyond the sudden independence and additional academic responsibilities that many other students experience. In her case, arriving in Charlottesville from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, she has had to navigate cultural, social, and language changes during the last three years as well.
“It took a lot of work to move to a place where I didn’t know anyone and was unfamiliar with the town. Home was very far away,” she says.
But despite of—or perhaps because of—the challenges, she followed through on her choice to enroll at UVA. Her decision was motivated by a pair of interests: business and neuroscience. “I wanted to explore both areas without falling behind on requirements for any of the two majors, and UVA was perfect for my plan and a top choice in both programs,” she says.
Once on Grounds, Baez considered applying to the Commerce School, and after attending a Days at McIntire event, she was convinced.
“I had the experience of an ICE class and talked to faculty and current students. I liked the program’s applied learning methods and how interactive the courses were,” she recalls, being particularly won over by the eventuality of having the chance “to use everything we learned by developing a business strategy and pitching it to a corporate sponsor.”
She enrolled at the Commerce School, hoping to graduate with strong theoretical knowledge and practical experience. “This is precisely what I have found at McIntire,” she says. “I am able to learn the concepts and apply them in real-world situations. After a semester at the Commerce School, I really feel I have improved my critical-thinking skills, my communications skills, and my knowledge of the business world.”
Different Ways to Reach New Goals
As a native Spanish speaker who was educated in the French system at the Lycée Francais of Santo Domingo, Baez has adapted to challenges directly involving the methods of what, for her, have been a new academic system, which include the expectations of faculty, format assignments, grading, and how classes are organized.
“The American system looks for a more interactive way of teaching,” she explains. “I was used to lecture-based classes.”
Now that she’s gone through the Integrated Core curriculum, she says its culminating project has been particularly significant. “I appreciate having had the opportunity to work for a company and develop a business strategy along with a group of students with really different backgrounds, interests, and areas of expertise. I was able to learn from them and enhance my critical thinking skills through the exposure to my teammates’ different ideas and contributions,” she says.
Baez has also found it to be particularly rewarding to have an introduction to the financial industry through her Integrated Core coursework. “This experience has introduced me to interesting transactions such as M&A deals and decision-making strategies for portfolio management.”
Though she’s still getting acquainted with different industries and opportunities that lie ahead of her, she has already been drawn to consulting and wealth management.
Having exposure to and gaining a broad understanding of different industries and their current challenges have made consulting an appealing choice for Baez as she continues to enhance her communication, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills and prepares to enter the professional world.
She also believes that her future may lead her to a rewarding career in wealth management, since it relies on close contact with clients and nurturing relationships in order to help them to achieve their financial goals.
It would seem that those types of connections are most important to her.
Finding a Family of Friends
Despite being a great distance from Santo Domingo, Baez says she has found a sense of home and familiarity with other Latin American students.
She’s a founding member, part of the executive team, and the Marketing Director of the UVA chapter of ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America) student organization, which supports Latinx students’ career development, hosting workshops and networking events with major companies such as Bank of America, Bain, and FTI. “Last semester, I contributed to getting recognized as a CIO by the University and as a national chapter by ALPFA. Today, we have almost 60 members. As of Feb. 16, we are an official ALPFA chapter,” she says.
Baez is also part of TBLA (Towards a Better Latin America), a student org aimed at creating awareness about political, economic, and social issues in Latin America. The club raises funds for several social causes in the region, and each semester, it chooses a nonprofit organization to support with their efforts. Baez creates strategies to promote the club’s mission—and issues impacting Latin America—across Grounds.
“I enjoy seeing our work, which embodies some Latin American culture, recognized and appreciated as students purchase and wear our clothing designs,” she says.
Though it could be argued that being at UVA, away from her native soil, is already challenge enough in some respects, she’s looking for more to expand her horizons.
And back home?
“My family is happy because they see that I have found a place at this University where I feel comfortable and at home, surrounded by great and supportive friends,” Baez reports. “They feel that in the course of the past year, especially after entering the Commerce School, I have grown intellectually very fast.”