Alumni Spotlight: Sneha Chiliveru

sneha2Sneha graduated from the University of North Florida in 2011 with a B.A. in Management Information Systems before joining the M.S. in Commerce Class of 2012. She was in the Finance track, and now works as a Senior Associate for Optimity Advisors in Arlington, VA.

Leveraging information systems and business

My undergraduate degree is in information systems. By complementing this with my M.S. in Commerce degree, I have been able to leverage both my technology and business skills to add value to all aspects of a project. With simply a technology background, I would have never learned the management skills necessary to see a project through from beginning to end. On the flip side, without my technology skills, I would not have the strong delivery expertise I do today. Combining both of these tracks has provided tremendous value for me in my career and everyday work life.

Preparation for the job market

The M.S. in Commerce Program did a tremendous job in preparing me for my role today. The skills I learned in the program, from Visio to SQL, are ones I use daily that allow me to provide added value to any client. In addition to those hard skills, the M.S. in Commerce Program taught me to be an effective speaker and presenter, skills extremely useful when facilitating meetings and presenting to C-level executives.

The value of Commerce Career Services

I believe Commerce Career Services is unparalleled. I’ve been involved with my company’s Recruiting team, and it is always said that the resumes that come out of McIntire are top-notch. CCS strongly positions you to apply for top jobs—from helping you develop your resume to the interview process. It not only facilitated my job search, but also provided me the right skills to succeed in it.

What makes the job great

As cliché as it may sound, my favorite part of my current job is the culture and the people. Many of us are friends outside of work, and we have a great rapport internally as well as externally. We have a flat company structure and an informal work environment, which provides for an incredible day-to-day work life. We also employ very intelligent and talented people, which provides a great forum in which to learn and an excellent network of resources.

Typical day at the office

I start the day at around 8:30 a.m. and may participate in a weekly project status call, in which the team provides status updates on its work as well as brings up any issues or concerns individuals have. I’ll then work on requirements deliverable for the client, encompassing information from JAR (joint application requirement) sessions. We will break for a team lunch, and then I will participate in a meeting to discuss requirements and next steps for current scope of work. The rest of the afternoon is spent in a continuation of required deliverables. I wrap up the day with internal work for Optimity Advisors, including strategy project outlining the strategy for the next five years of the firm; planning and executing the first training session of the company; developing content for a culture book; and developing an executive presentation for an employee satisfaction and growth program.

Importance of the Global Immersion Experience (GIE)

I believe the biggest lesson from GIE that I have been able to leverage is that each company has its own way of conducting business. As consultants, we work with a variety of clients, all with their own policies and procedures. Being able to experience this firsthand prepared me to quickly adapt to the different cultures of each different client.

Most memorable GIE company visit

My favorite company visit was to a median-size business in Indonesia, BTPN Bank. There, we learned about how the company provides microloans and teaches people how to start a very small business. It showed a new side to the corporate world, and as someone who has always been interested in social entrepreneurship, it showed me that I could make a difference while developing a career in the corporate world.

Advice for future students

An important lesson I learned from my time in McIntire is that your career and your future are what you make of them. Putting an early effort into my job search allowed me to secure a job long before graduation, and I apply that lesson to my daily life as well, in that the earlier you start something and the more effort you put in, the faster you see the results.

Life after graduate business school

I currently serve on a young ambassadors board for the American Cancer Society, and spend Sundays volunteering for a hospice organization called Capital Caring. I also play on a social sports kickball league on Thursday evenings.

Favorite Charlottesville activity

How can I just pick one? The greatest thing about Charlottesville is the wide range of things to do there, from tubing to wine tasting to camping.

Conquering the GMAT

Hello everyone, my name is Danielle and I’m an incoming M.S. in Commerce (MSC)  student with a unique career goal compared to the majority of students in the program. I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Winthrop University, a small school in South Carolina, and I’m using the MSC program to my first step toward a career as a professor. Since this career goal will require further graduate school in a doctoral program (post-MSC), I retook the GMAT* this summer to position myself as more competitive in future applications. This makes me somewhat of a GMAT pro, and I’m here to provide some advice on tackling the intimidating test.

If you are reading this, you probably cringe hearing that I took the GMAT more than once. In the seconds following my first GMAT, I told myself I wasn’t going to go through it again and rebelled by throwing away my study materials. Unfortunately, I knew deep down that I could do better and that if I took it again and increased my score, I’d be more successful at getting to where I ultimately wanted to go after my master’s: a  competitive doctoral program.

Through much encouragement from those around me, I managed to convince myself that I would take the GMAT another time and conquer it. While training my mind and body to tackle my worst enemy I needed to create an original study schedule. Previously, I bought “Cracking the GMAT 2015,” taking a couple of practice tests throughout the studying process, but this strategy did not work for me. The first time around, I unknowingly focused on strengthening skills I already possessed rather than learning new concepts that would benefit my score.

Looking back to my test day, I remember the palm vein scanning and the endless clicking and typing of others in the testing room, which intimidated me and exacerbated my heightened anxiety level. However, these are things that you will expect going in for the second test, allowing you to focus solely on the task at hand: tackling the GMAT. Beyond the familiarity with the testing center, I can offer the study tactics I used to improve my score the second time around:

  1. Take a practice test to analyze your particular strengths and weaknesses; tests that include the breakdown of the question type ( Ex. Princeton Review) are the most useful.
  2. Read blogs and websites such as GMAT Hacks and Beat the GMAT to grasp many strategies and test taking tips that you can implement into your study plan. The most useful skill I gained from reading these sites was when and how to guess. The GMAT is not a test of intelligence, but rather of endurance.
  3. Practice the concepts you often miss, relearn information you do not remember, and retest.
  4. Take multiple timed practice tests throughout your study schedule, trimming 5-10 minutes off of each section. This eliminated my fear of the clock on the real test day.
  5. Take multiple timed tests and study during the time of day when you will be taking the real GMAT.
  6. The most important tip I would give to anyone in a similar situation is to have confidence in yourself. Tell yourself that you have studied all you can and that you will knock the GMAT out of the park!

Each of these tips can be accomplished without spending a penny of your money; you just have to be willing to commit the time. Eat, breathe, and live in the GMAT mindset and you will be as prepared as possible. Most importantly, with confidence in yourself, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, even the GMAT!

-Written by guest blogger Danielle Thibault

*Applicants must submit official test scores to the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, code KC7-K3-45. Applicants who have already taken the GRE or plan to take it in order to apply to other graduate programs may substitute the GRE in lieu of the GMAT, but please note the GMAT is strongly preferred.

Click here for information about the M.S. in Commerce application process, or reach out to the Kelsey Nicholson, Assistant Director of Marketing and Recruiting.


Alumni Spotlight: Andrea Keating Lopez

  • Andrea Keating Lopez, M.S. in Commerce 2010profile pic
  • Before: B.A. in Foreign Affairs 2009, University of Virginia
  • After: IBM, Strategy Consultant

Where did you go undergrad, and what was your major?

I graduated from the University of Virginia  in 2009 with a degree in Foreign Affairs, and a concentration in East Asian politics. I decided to stay and complete the M.S. in Commerce (MSC), in the Marketing and Management track.

From your personal experience, describe the value of combining your undergraduate major with business.

As an undergrad majoring in Foreign Affairs, I found myself writing paper after paper and discussing political theories in class. The result was that I learned how to think on my own and developed strong communication and writing skills.

During MSC, I developed analytical skills by learning the importance of asking questions. A sense of curiosity is crucial to professional and personal growth, and my MSC experience taught me to look at a situation or a problem holistically, and to always question. The combination of my degrees at UVA have allowed me to excel upon graduation and into my career at IBM. I was able to purposefully contribute on day 1 because of what I learned in the program.

What surprised you most about MSC?

There is a different energy that exists among grad students, probably because we all elected to stay in school for another year. That enthusiasm and interest created a palpable, invested, lively community. I loved working with such a high caliber and strongly invested group of students.

Where did you go on GIE?

I was on the GIE China track, where we traveled to 5 different cities throughout this massive country to compare and contrast business and societal issues. My favorite cultural experience was in Chengdu where we visited a Panda zoo and had some of the spiciest food in my life. My eyes still water thinking about it!

What was your favorite activity to do in Charlottesville?

Tubing the James! (and then getting Bodo’s!)

What job did you take after graduating from MSC and what are you doing now?

Andrea at IBM

After MSC, I accepted a role as an entry level strategy consultant at IBM. Fortunately, I have had the ability to move and explore new career paths, and find myself now as the IBM North American Recruitment Marketing and Branding lead for GBS (our consulting business unit). I love the autonomy and ability to make decisions and show the world the “new” IBM. IBM is at the heart of cloud, analytics and mobile—it’s a really interesting time to be in this space.

Most recently, I participated in IBM’s Corporate Service Corp program. CSC is designed to take top performing IBMers from around the world, and send them on a one-month community-based assignment in an emerging market. The program is a unique leadership development program, while solving critical community problems. I was sent to Cordoba, Argentina and you can learn more about my experience here.

Andrea with her colleagues when she first started at IBM after graduating from M.S. in Commerce
Andrea with her colleagues when she first started at IBM after graduating from M.S. in Commerce
Andrea in Argentina doing service work for IBM
Andrea in Argentina doing service work for IBM

Is there anything else you would like to tell current or prospective students about the program?

I would recommend MSC if they are looking to enter the business world and need to develop or add a business acumen, or simply want to stay in the industry they studied in as an undergrad but want to develop some core business skills to be leaders in their organizations. It’s a condensed 10-month investment that opens doors and opportunities.

Some advice for incoming students: make sure to develop friendships with your classmates. So many of my classmates have gone on to do some pretty incredible things, not only is it a nice network, but it’s also fun to watch!

One Last Wahoowa

Well, that’s a wrap! The fastest, most challenging and best year of my life has ended and I am ready for the next chapter. Now that my M.S. Commerce experience has officially come to a close, I wanted to take some time to share with you the impact that McIntire has had on my life and how I feel it has prepared me for the professional world.

First, a life update: I’ve started working! I started my job at Inmar in late June and have been loving it so far. As an Assistant Marketing Manager, I am responsible for making both strategic and tactical marketing decisions for the company. In the short time that I have been there, I have already used plenty of concepts that I learned this past year and would not have been able to do a year ago.

For example, one of my projects involves evaluating how competitive our company is compared to other players in the industry. After taking Strategy and Systems in the fall, I have a much clearer idea of how to evaluate the competitive space and the right questions to ask when I am interviewing Directors and EVP’s in the company.

I’ve also been working on improving our social media marketing initiatives. Before I left McIntire, my Social Media Marketing professor took some time to sit down with me and discuss some ideas that I could bring with me to work. It was just one example of professors going above and beyond, taking time out of their busy lives to prepare their students for success. I am confident that some of the ideas we came up with together will be implemented and that my colleagues and managers will be appreciative.

Most importantly, I have commanded more respect in the workplace because of the fact that I have a degree from McIntire. On my first day of work, my manager said to me, “You have a master’s degree, I’m sure you’ll be more than capable of handling the demands of this job.” (I’m still processing the fact that I have a master’s degree!). A few days later, the Director of Marketing introduced me to a new hire as someone with a “strong pedigree” having come out of UVA. The M.S. in Commerce and UVA as a whole both carry a lot of weight in the professional world. People understand how rigorous the program is and understand the McIntire reputation. I have no doubt that I will add more value and progress more quickly through my career as a result of completing the program.

For all of you incoming or prospective students out there, I guarantee you you are making the right choice by applying and/or enrolling in the M.S. Commerce program. Work hard, take advantage of your professors’ wisdom and challenge yourself to think differently and share your ideas. If you approach the program with an “all-in” mindset, it will be one of the best life decisions you could ever make.

On behalf of all of the 2015-16 M.S. in Commerce bloggers, I want to thank you for reading the blog and being a part of our journey this past year. It has been a pleasure sharing our experiences with you. If you ever have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at my new email: I could talk about UVA and the M.S. in Commerce program all day so I’d be happy to discuss any questions you might have.



Blurring Lines

Reflecting on the 2016 M.S. in Commerce GIE course in India, the Middle East and Africa…

Something clicked for me while I was relaxing at the ritzy Gymkhana Country Club in New Delhi, conversing with local Virginia alums.  There we were, enjoying drinks among the Delhi elite.  Our surroundings would lead one to believe that we were at any snooty club in the U.S., yet we were in a country that is home to a third of the world’s poor and a quarter of the world’s hungry.  The contrast was confounding.

Nevertheless, the club members around me did not appear phased by the paradox of tremendous wealth among crushing poverty.  This trend persisted throughout our company visits.  I had suspected the company representatives to immediately point to poverty when asked about the biggest challenge to doing business in India; instead, their responses were what you would expect an American manager to say: knowing the customer, cutting costs, boosting the bottom line.

I had also anticipated sadness.  I had expected these Indians to lament the destitution that blankets much of Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi, that hinders the livelihood of their neighbors.  But if they did, their despair did not appear to manifest itself during our interactions.  Deep, widespread poverty was another part of their day that they had grown accustomed to.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what clicked for me that evening, though I believe part of it was grasping just how different an Indians’ reality was from my own.  The difference was not simply language, tradition, or history, but all of the minutiae that contribute to one’s perception of the world around them—the little things that typically go unacknowledged.

Perhaps if the roles were reversed, an Indian would be surprised that I live mostly unconcerned with being the victim of gun violence, despite the steady stream of mass shootings that have ravaged the nation.  I suspect there are myriad other aspects of life in the U.S. that have profoundly impacted my perspective that I would have trouble identifying and explaining to a foreigner.

My first realization of the stark and often subtle contrasts between cultures occurred in the M.S in Commerce classroom.  Earlier this semester, I participated in a discussion that ended with the takeaway that Chinese people are in general less concerned about government and corporate transparency.  As a part of a culture that is almost innately distrusting of power, I was stunned.  I arrogantly assumed that the need to be informed was not an American characteristic, but a human characteristic.

I made another profound connection when riding through Dubai in a taxi with a Chinese classmate.  She asked me why everyone seemed enthralled with the U.A.E.’s centrally dictated prosperity, yet disapproved of China’s.  I responded that I do not agree with either nations’ governing policy, as neither provides its people a choice.  She did not seem particularly interested in choice so long as the entity making the choices for her was keeping her best interests in mind.  Indeed, it is hard to argue with the world-class infrastructure and near full employment in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

However, much of what we saw in the U.A.E. appeared to be too good to be true, or at least unsustainable.  Of course, the government is so opaque that obtaining the information necessary to make an informed decision regarding the country’s future success is nearly impossible.  I am nonetheless optimistic about its prospects; based on the country’s success over its short 45-year existence, it appears that its leaders are truly invested in the welfare of their people.  That being said, Emirati’s by no means have the ideal circumstances.  While there is plenty of oil wealth to go around, Emiratis are stuck in the desert and will never vote in their lives.  It is therefore not too good to be true, but a carefully engineered balance of exceptional qualities and shortcomings.

I also could not help but wonder if my classmates’ bearish sentiment regarding the U.A.E. stemmed from a suspicion that anything that appears better than it is in the U.S. must be withholding some insidious reality.  The quality of Dubai’s infrastructure is head and shoulders above that of infrastructure in the U.S., therefore it must have been built by manipulated immigrants.  I have developed a tremendous appreciation for the United States during my travels, but I have now witnessed and accepted that we are not the best at everything.

The reality for South Africans is entirely different than that of the Emiratis, but there were two characteristics of South African history and current events that I found strikingly comparable to conditions in the States.  First, the legacy of apartheid harked back to what I have learned about the civil rights movement in the U.S., which, despite having already achieved its primary policy goals, has still yet to satisfy many of its constituents.  Movements such as Black Lives Matter continue to underscore and condemn the existence of institutional racism, which further widens the divide between races in America.  Similarly, apartheid wounds are still far from healed, and there remain major psychological barriers to feeling like a unified country—not to mention apartheid programs leaving many of the black majority at tremendous disadvantages even after regime change.

South Africa’s political drama also felt reminiscent of the forthcoming election in November.  Jacob Zuma maintains his office through the support of much of the country’s uneducated and disenfranchised, as well as through the practice of cronyism, but is simultaneously loathed by the other half of the country and any one who had once considered investing in South Africa.   His almost humorous follies reminded me of the confounding popularity of Donald Trump and the prospect of his presidency.  The alarming and even upsetting reality is that Jacob Zuma’s behavior could drive away foreign investment to such an extent that he squanders the economic opportunity of South Africans for generations to come.

It was fascinating to see how all of our realities intertwined to create a sense of a global community.  I had a cab driver in Mumbai ask me in broken English how I felt about Hillary Clinton.  Mundane details about the NBA playoffs made the Economic Times’ sports page.  Our hosts at the Dubai culture center devoted much of our conversation to defending Islam, which has received more media scrutiny lately than ever before.  Several British pilots in Johannesburg spoke to a friend and me for hours about Donald Trump and American gun control.  Maybe I am biased as an American, but it did seem that most people were paying close attention to what was going on in the U.S.

It seemed the locals were also reading the Financial Times.  Janet Yellen’s decision—or lack there of—to change the fed funds rate came up on a number of occasions.  Most people had an opinion on Brexit, or could at least explain why it was not particularly pertinent to them.  China’s slowing economy also came up in conversation, as well as its impact on emerging economies.  I have not been alive for a very long time, but I imagine we are more a global community now than we have ever been.

I took note of this global perspective one night in Delhi where several of us went out to dinner: a group of Americans and Chinese out for Japanese food served by Indians.  Perhaps this is a trite example, but it did serve as a mental primer for the rest of the trip.  Unlike India, which was highly diverse in ethnicity, language, and culture, the U.A.E. was tremendously diverse in terms of nationalities.  While walking through the Dubai Mall, the variety of nationalities often created a feeling not unlike being in America.  In South Africa, I was in contact with Britons, Irishmen, a Mozambican, a Zimbabwean, and Indians.  I had not expected so much diversity.

It seems the winds of globalization may indeed be encouraging a convergence of global realities.  India is bound to continue exhibiting Western traits as it develops, particularly if it maintains the alliance with the U.S. that our current leadership is pushing for.  The Emirati culture will continue to be diluted by tourists until it becomes something new entirely, defined by the swaths of expats that call it temporary home.  South Africa is nearing a crossroads where it will either continue its journey toward development or recede into the long list of sad African stories.

Still, the undercurrents of history will always impact development in nuanced and unpredictable ways.  It may take generations to outgrow the legacy of partition in India, oil dependency in U.A.E., or apartheid in South Africa—perhaps they cannot be outgrown at all.  These details may become the reality-shaping minutiae of the future, obstinately resisting the global pressures of cultural and ideological conformity.

-Written by guest blogger Michael Miller, M.S. in Commerce 2016

At RBI in Mumbai
Perusing an Emirati spice market, known as a souk, in Dubai
Struggling through 110 degree heat at the Agra Fort
Exploring the ornate Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Taking in the view of Table Mountain in South Africa




Alumni Spotlight: Alan Donovan

Where did you go undergrad, and what was your major?

I went to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. I studied Economics as my major.

When did you graduate from M.S. in Commerce (MSC) and what was your track?

I graduated from M.S in Commerce in 2014 and I was in the finance track.

Alan with fellow MS Commerce students cheering on the 'Hoos
Alan with fellow MS Commerce students cheering on the ‘Hoos

From your personal experience, describe the value of combining your undergraduate major with business.

I found tremendous value in the combination of my liberal arts undergraduate degree and the business classes at McIntire. My undergraduate experience gave me a broad range of critical thinking and writing skills and the graduate business courses helped me apply my skills practically in a business setting. The MSC program also helped me build on this skillset with new business and finance skills.

What was your most compelling class and professor and why?

The most compelling class and professor for me was our Foundations in Global Commerce class with Professor Maillet. Professor Maillet has a tremendous ability to boil abstract concepts and issues into very clear lessons. It helped me understand the global economy much better.

What is one “must have” skill or experience you gained in the program and how has it impacted your career thus far?

The most important skill I learned during MSC was the ability to take initiative and make decisions. We had the opportunity to work on live business problems and present to executives. This kind of experience is very rare at that age and prepared me to think independently and gave me the confidence to start my own business.


What surprised you most about MSC?

Going in, I underestimated how diverse our class would be and the variety of perspectives that would come into play in the classroom. We had students with all sorts of undergraduate majors from a variety of both domestic and international undergraduate institutions.

Where did you go on GIE and have you been able to leverage your GIE experience during your professional career? If so, please give an example.

I went on the Latin America GIE course! And I definitely have been able to leverage the experiences I had on that trip in the jobs I’ve had post graduation. I have a much better understanding of the different cultural aspects to business and this has helped me work more effectively with others in a diverse workforce.

Alan during the Latin America GIE course
Alan during the Latin America GIE course

What was your most memorable company visit and why?

I really enjoyed meeting with Startup Chile, an accelerator program funded by the government to encourage businesses to come work out of Chile for a year. It was interesting to hear the stories of the entrepreneurs and learn how the Chilean government is trying to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation within the country.

What was your most memorable cultural experience and why?

Machu Pichu in Peru was an amazing experience. We learned so much about the history of the area and were able to see a part of the country vastly different than Lima. This greatly helped us understand present day Peru.

What was your favorite activity to do in Charlottesville?

Eating! I loved trying out the different Charlottesville restaurants including Mono Loco and The Local, a few of my favorites.

What job did you take after graduating from MSC and how do you think MSC prepared you for that job?

I became a Financial Analyst at Freddie Mac, and I felt very prepared for the financial aspects of the work as well as feeling very comfortable giving presentations and doing public speaking after all our work on this throughout the MSC program.

Is your liberal arts background plus a business degree different than others in the workplace?

Yes, many people in the workforce have narrow educational backgrounds and the combination of non-business and business degrees in the MSC program provides a unique perspective.

What do you enjoy the most about your current job? What do you enjoy the least?

I have been working on a café concept called the Oat Shop for the Boston area for the past year and full time for the past six months. I will be doing a short-term pop-up starting next week throughout the summer and then opening a brick and mortar location in Somerville in the Fall. I love the excitement that comes along with starting a new business and getting to create something from scratch. I really enjoy being part of a food community that is excited and committed to improving the future of food. The most challenging part for me is dealing with the legal and regulatory side of starting a business, which can be very tedious and bureaucratic at times.

Alan working his first pop-up shop

Walk us through what you did at work yesterday.

Day-to-day varies greatly! Yesterday, I spent time talking on the phone to my attorney, the business broker and the town of Somerville, all with the goal of trying to finalize my brick and mortar location. After that, I did some recipe testing and staged some pictures to post to my social media accounts. I then met with the café owners where I will be doing the pop up to get some training on their systems and equipment. And then in the evening I went to a food event in Somerville showcasing the local restaurants.

How has the McIntire alumni network and community helped your career?

My MSC classmates have helped greatly in all aspects of developing and launching my business from the logo and branding to social media and financial models as well as lots of recipe testing! It has been a group effort and I have many McIntire friends to thank for that.

What is the number one most important thing you took from your time at McIntire?

The network of classmates. Along with being some of my closest friends, we all help each other out in our careers, and I know it will continue to be a strong network essential to my future endeavors.

-Interview with Alan Donovan, M.S. in Commerce 2014

Not Your Average Classroom: What GIE Has Added to My MSC Experience

It’s been five days since my 1:00 a.m. arrival to New Jersey on Sunday night and four since my luggage got home (I was SO close to making it all of the Global Immersion Experience (GIE) without losing my luggage…live and learn). Having had a few days to reflect on my experiences in Latin America and letting it sink in that I have my Master’s degree (!!!), I thought I would take some time to talk about the role GIE has played in my educational experience at McIntire.

One of the biggest takeaways from my entire year in the M.S. Commerce (MSC) program is the fact that business does not operate in a vacuum. There are countless factors, both internal and external, that will influence the decisions we will soon have to make as business leaders. The goal of the MSC program is to equip us with the tools we need to understand the environment in which business takes place so that we can navigate these various factors.

This understanding is incredibly important in today’s day and age because, as we learned in Foundations of Global Commerce with Professor Maillet, the world is growing evermore interconnected. Things that happen in one part of the world can have widespread implications on the global economy and business landscape. As such, it is important that students get firsthand exposure to the economies, cultures and political institutions of other countries.

But even more important than what we learned on GIE was how we learned it. As I am sure you know, GIE is an educational opportunity unlike any other and is designed to expand our thinking outside of the classroom. At one of our company visits in Rio, our speaker, a health technology entrepreneur named Dr. Bruno, said something that struck me. He said that business and comfort are not compatible. We are only successful in business when we extend the boundaries of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves to seek out unconventional teachers and learning opportunities. That is exactly what GIE does.

During my four weeks in Latin America, I visited oil companies, environmental NGOs, government agencies, banks, cultural institutions and many other places I would have never had the opportunity to see without participating in the MSC program. Although they may not have been the traditional, classroom learning environment I was used to, at each visit I gained at least one new piece of knowledge that furthered my understanding of the global business context and demonstrated to me how the concepts we learn in the classroom manifest themselves in other parts of the world.

gie ryan 1

Our visit to the Olympic Organizing Committee in Rio was just one example of an unconventional learning opportunity.

I am immensely grateful to UVA and the McIntire School of Commerce for creating an unconventional learning opportunity that expanded my comfort zone. As I begin my life as a professional in just a few weeks, I have a whole new perspective on how big the world is and I am more confident than ever in my ability to navigate it.

-Written by Ryan Riccordella

gie ryan 2

And with that, GIE is a wrap!


GIE 2016: East Asia Update

This year, the East Asia track brought students to:

  1. Tokyo, Japan
  2. Beijing, China
  3. Shanghai, China
  4. Taipei, Taiwan
  5. Hong Kong, China

Below is an recap of what happened in Taipei!

Wednesday, June 1

Our group arrived at Taipei’s airport after a short flight late in the afternoon on Wednesday and the immediate differences between Taiwan and Mainland China were very apparent. Taiwan is a fairly small island (about equivalent in size to Maryland) and has a pretty remarkable topography sporting everything from mountains to beaches (as well as excellent air quality).

After a short bus ride, we visited the American Institute of Taiwan, which is essentially the equivalent of an American embassy; however, because the island is not technically recognized as an independent nation, countries cannot formally set up diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Here, a panel of State Department speakers expressed their feelings on the future of Taiwan-China relations and Taiwan-United States relations. After our visit, we checked into our hotel in central Taipei and many of us visited one of the many night markets which are characteristic of Taipei, trying street food from different vendors and sitting down to have a beer and Taiwanese noodle soup.

Thursday, June 2

Thursday was incredibly long but incredibly rewarding. We embarked via bus for Giant Bicycle, one of the largest bike manufacturers globally and a prominent OEM (original equipment manufacturer), meaning the company manufacturers the bikes according to design specifications by other bike companies who then market the product as their own. After an insightful presentation, Q&A, tour of the factory, and lunch, we hopped back on the bus and traveled to MediaTek, one of the largest semi-conductor design companies in the world and sits in Hsinchu Science Park, dubbed Asia’a Silicon Valley. After a fantastic presentation at MediaTek, we visited Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which actually manufactures the silicon chips according to the designs specified by companies like MediaTek (who happens to be one of TSMC’s largest customers). It was a phenomenal experience to visit both of these cutting-edge companies who sit in the middle of a very intricate and increasingly significant global supply chain, especially as mobile technological capabilities progress.

After our visit at TSMC, we headed back to our hotel for a reception with the UVA alumni network in Taiwan, where we were able to chat with alumni about their experiences in Taiwan as well as the challenges that come along with doing business in East Asia—not to mention, we had an incredible food selection and an open bar. Most of us called it a (late) night after this to rest up for the next day, which proved to be equally as interesting.

Friday, June 3

Friday we had a bit of a later start (9:00 AM) which allowed for some time in the gym before leaving for the day. Our first visit was Wan Hai Lines, Ltd., which is a maritime shipping company with its operations focused mainly on Asia, accounting for 93% of shipping volume. The presentation gave a great overview of the industry and some of the challenges shipping companies face, including methods of cost reduction, security concerns, and more. After meeting with Wan Hai, we then visited the Port of Taipei which is a free-trade zone and thus, a major transshipment within Asia. It was fascinating to see the massive cargo being loaded and unloaded from ships (many of which were Wan Hai vessels).

After a quick lunch, we then toured GoGoRo, a startup that aims to change the way energy is used mainly through the production of electric scooters as well as rechargeable battery stations around Taipei to power these vehicles. Most residents of Taipei use scooters as a major form of transportation, so this tour was very fitting. Lastly, we traveled to Taihu Brewery (founded by a MSC graduate), where we had a venture capital panel and then were able to grab some drinks and food. All in all, Friday was a phenomenal day.

Saturday, June 4

Saturday was a free day in Taipei. Many of us took advantage of the natural beauty of the city, where many hiked Elephant Mountain (a public park offering fantastic views of the Taipei Skyline), while some biked to Bali, a beach neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. Others visited the world-renown National Palace Museum, which houses a ton of ancient Chinese art (many pieces stolen from China when the Kuomintang Party fled to Taiwan in the mid 1900s). Finally, many of us just walked around and explored some cool neighborhoods of Taipei (of which there are many), and ended the day at some of the more famous night markets in the city before resting up for our travels to Shenzhen the next day.

-Written by guest blogger Tyler Brownell

The night market
The night market
Giant Bicycle's factory
Giant Bicycle’s factory
The Port of Taipei
The Port of Taipei

GIE Update: Latin America 2016

Greetings from the El Dorado Airport in Bogota, Colombia! Today the LATAM (Latin America) GIE track departs for our third destination: Lima, Peru! I am so excited to see what Peru has to offer, and if it’s anything like Panama or Colombia, I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

We’ve been super busy these past two weeks but we’ve been having a blast and learning more than I could have anticipated. The access to influential businesspeople and government officials in the region has been an outstanding testament to the power of the UVA network. We’ve met foreign ministers, US embassy employees, CEO’s and powerful entrepreneurs, all of whom have been equally excited to share their insights and experiences with us.

Our days typically start early. After enjoying a delicious continental breakfast at our hotel, we hop on the bus and depart between 7-8:30am depending on how far away our company visits are. Company visits tend to last between 1.5 to 3 hours and vary in their format. Sometimes it is a lecture and Q&A with executives, and other times it is a factory or farm tour where we get a little dirty (see below). Regardless of how the visit is structured, each have been incredibly informative and have prompted really thought-provoking questions from students.

To give you a taste of what your GIE experience could be like, here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to so far.

Panama City, Panama

Day 1: Our first day was a cultural activity comprised of kayaking along the Panama Canal and taking a hike to our lunch in the tropical outskirts of Panama City. Then it was a free evening for us to explore. I went to the “Old City,” the historic part of Panama City and enjoyed some tapas with friends.


Kayaking the Canal!

Day 2: Our first stop was the Presidential Palace. We met with UVA alum, Ivan, who gave us the rundown of the Panamanian economy and political environment. In the afternoon, we went to Banco General, the largest bank in Panama and learned about Panamanian banking industry. Lastly, we visited Tecnasa, a software company which is reworking its internal processes in order to compete with larger global providers. It differentiates itself by representing large technology brands specifically in the LATAM region.

Day 3: We spent the entire third day on the Panama Canal. After a tour of the Panama Canal Museum, we got a close-up look at the Panama Canal Expansion with the Project Manager himself! We also met the CFO of the Panama Canal Authority who explained how the Canal is central to the Panamanian economy, how pricing works for ships passing through and how the Canal Expansion helped Panama regain its competitive advantage from the Suez Canal.


We’re all smiles after learning about the Panama Canal expansion project.

Day 4: Our last day in Panama started off with an information session and facilities tour of J Cain & Co., one of the most important logistics companies in Panama. They are the ones who manage all of the cargo that gets unloaded from the ships passing through the Canal. We also went to P&G’s Latin American headquarters where various employees spoke to us about how the Latin American market differs from the US and their processes for market research. Lastly, we had an alumni mixer at a popular Old Town bar where we got to catch up with alumni working in Panama City. There was a really diverse group who came. I even spoke to one lady who works for the UN!


Bogota, Colombia

Day 5: Day 5 was a travel day. We all went through the airport and customs as a group before our quick flight to Bogota. Upon arrival, we were greeted by our new host, Andres, and were able to rest and explore around our hotel.


On our way to Bogota!

Day 6: Our first visit in Bogota was to the National Clinics. There we met a man named Luke who started the first private equity firm in Colombia. He had recently bought the hospital we visited and had plans to make it more efficient and comfortable for patients. In the afternoon, we visited the Juan Valdez headquarters. Juan Valdez is a famous brand of coffee that is sourced exclusively from local growers. We learned about how they have re-branded themselves as a line of coffee houses and how they have leveraged the source of their coffee and their corporate social responsibility as a competitive advantage.

Day 7: On Saturday we got a city tour, courtesy of our guide Andres. We visited museums and historical sites around the city (including the Presidential Palace) before returning to our hotel. In the evening, we went to a world-famous restaurant called Andres (not named after our tour guide although he is a regular). Andres is a dining experience unlike any other. It’s a maze with multiple dance floors and perfectly tacky decorations. The food was excellent and as the night progressed, the music got louder and louder and before long people (including us) were dancing!


We saw some awesome architecture during our city tour of Bogota.

Day 8: Sunday was a free day. I used this time to walk around the city, explore local parks and restaurants and rest.

Day 9: On Day 9 we were visited at our hotel by an economist and foreign-relations expert from the US Embassy who gave us an overview of the Colombian economy and the progress the country is making in negotiating a peace treaty with guerrilla rebel groups such as FARC that are terrorizing the Colombian countryside. To complement their presentation, we also received a visit from the Advisor to the Minister of Labor who talked about how the peace process could impact Colombian productivity and quality of life in the country.

Day 10: The next day we visited Alqueria, a major Colombian dairy producer. Much like Juan Valdez, Alqueria sources its milk from local farmers and is growing quickly both organically and via M&A. We learned about how Alqueria has leveraged some of its core competencies to extend its brand into categories like snacks and fruity beverages before receiving a factory tour. In the afternoon we visited the Salt Cathedral, an underground mine complete with several sanctuaries, and representations of each of the Stations of the Cross.


Us after the Alqueria factory tour

Day 11: Our last day was all about flowers. Fun fact: Most of the cut flowers you buy in the US come from Colombia. We met a UVA alum at Hosa, the largest producer of cut flowers in Colombia, who discussed business considerations like consumer trends and weather that impact the flower industry. She then showed us the process of harvesting and preparing the flowers for the market. In the afternoon we visited Asocolflores, the flower association of Colombia, which helps to promote sustainable and economically sound growing practices in addition to marketing Colombian flowers. Our day ended with and awesome (and terrifying) cable car ride to the top of Monserrate where we had a farewell dinner against the backdrop of the entire city.


Not too shabby.

GIE has been a transformative adventure so far. I’ve learned a ton and have had so much fun! More updates from LATAM and the other tracks to come.

Written by Ryan Riccordella