I majored in American Studies as an undergraduate. Through this major, I analyzed American culture, and tried to figure out where it came from and how it evolved. I focused on the evolution of music in the 20th century. I wanted to understand the socio-political and economic factors that influenced music, and how music influenced those factors in return. While interesting, this path from American Studies to graduate business student is not immediately obvious.
Throughout my undergrad, I had many interests but didn’t know how they might come together. I loved music, but did not want to become a musician. My dad was involved with business, so a career in business was on my radar, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. Finally, I always understood myself to be entrepreneurial, but how could I manifest that at such a young age with so few resources?
My first venture into business
In spite of business internships I’d had, I still did not completely grasp the world of business. I had wanted to apply to UVA’s M.S. in Commerce (MSC) program since my second year because while I loved American Studies, I understood its limitations for my career path. The critical analysis I performed prepared me extremely well for deep thinking, but left me short of marketable skills.
I saw the MSC as a way to bridge that gap. Through my undergrad, I gained the ability to question and to be critical. Then, through graduate school, I would learn how to operate in the real world, and gain skills that would allow me to get a job. From there, I could combine the knowledge I gained from undergrad and grad school to provide the most value as an employee.
With the recommendation of McIntire Admissions, I decided to enroll in a business class during my last year of undergrad while I was applying to the MSC program, to get a taste for what graduate business school might be like.
Creating value in B2B markets
I was caught off guard when I stepped into my first business class as a fourth year. While many of my past classes focused on discussion, they did not prepare me for the level of involvement in this class. The professor, Jeff Boichuk (now one of my good friends), explained from the first day that he would be attempting to take us out of our comfort zone.
What did this mean? It meant that he wanted us to work as a team to gain real-world marketing and selling experience. Instead of studying theory, we would be interacting with actual companies and people. We would be connecting with successful business people to try to find a mentor. At the same time, we would be preparing a gala to pitch to the mentor. To be successful, we had to pitch ourselves to the potential mentor, then sell this mentor on the gala we prepare.
I learned a great deal of things about myself in this class. While I considered myself an outgoing person, I feared picking up the phone or talking to a business. I thought I would fail — that I would be unable to sell.
Jeff encouraged this class of 7 people to push beyond their worries and limitations. In the end, the 7 of us each gained a mentor and raised over $2000 for this gala! To our excitement, some of our classmates who felt the most nervous became the best salespeople!
After this class, I felt extremely excited to begin the MSC program. I had learned so much in one course that I couldn’t imagine what a whole year would allow.
Ahh, the spring again!
This spring, now being in the MSC program, I look back a year ago to when I started “Creating Value in B2B Markets.” Seeing what I have learned from then until now amazes me. From an in-depth knowledge of business curriculum to understanding my career goals, I feel far more prepared for postgraduate life than I could imagine.
I don’t mean to be superfluous — I legitimately believe I have learned more in this past year than in any other year of my life. I have gained the confidence that no matter what obstacle arises, I have the tools and resources to overcome it.
In the past year professors have pushed me to think in ways that I never had. I learned models, methods, and strategy with which I can now approach business. I even feel I have a decent grasp on the business landscape of the world, and feel prepared to engage with it!
What does this mean?
The biggest value that MSC provided, however, is twofold. First, it gave me another year to mature and to learn about myself. If I had entered the workforce after undergrad, I believe I would have thrived. I also would have learned many a lesson about communication, personal interaction, and life. MSC gave me another year to cement my values and to emerge with a clearer understanding of who I am and who I want to be.
More importantly, however, the MSC gave me a way to synthesize my undergraduate and graduate degrees.
I think that the people who become the most successful will be the ones who can use business as a medium through which to apply their undergraduate knowledge.
I know that’s a mouthful.
By that, I mean that the MSC prepares students wonderfully to manifest their school knowledge in the real world. The program provides both the practical and the theoretical knowledge to innovate and to create. We have the prerequisite business education, as well as the undergraduate knowledge from which we can draw and thus apply.
I now can apply the skills and concepts I learned in the study of culture to the business and marketing problems that arise. I understand how cultures and people engage with one another, and I can use business to use that knowledge to hopefully create a positive impact on the world.
So understand that the MSC is not simply just a business education. It’s a door opening, allowing you to take your passion and creativity and manifest it in the world.
-Written by Spencer Kulow