Two tech teens working on their laptops

EMBA Celebrates First WIN WIN WIN

Oct. 9, 2018 - Susan T. Burtch

For the past 24 years, the Executive MBA Program has exemplified VCU’s commitment to the Richmond community. In the spring semester, student teams listen to challenges faced by area non-profit organizations. They then present solutions to problems ranging from branding and operations to marketing and fundraising. Since both organizations and students learn from the process, everyone agrees it’s a win-win experience.

This year, proclaims Executive MBA Director Mohan Sarma with delight, “they took it to the next level.” Not only did a student team propose an IT solution, but the daughters of two team members continued on to its execution – making it a triple win. 

“You really don’t ever see that happen,” says Sarma. “It’s a challenge for our business schools. When the semester ends, there’s no formal way to keep it going. It’s just the nature of how we are organized as an educational institution. So, this is a unique situation.”

Win-Win for Team 5GL

VCU EMBA Team 5GL (“Five Guys and a Lady”) included Vasanth Sunkara, Le-Ha Anderson, Caleb Cox, Jake Hughes, Scott Pennington, and Kevin Quivers, Jr. Their client, Saint Joseph’s Villa, has long been dedicated to “transforming lives, giving children hope for a brighter future and strengthening families and communities.” It’s an ambitious mission, enabled by a cadre of willing volunteers who work tirelessly to keep the Villa running. Yet the existing IT system was proving inadequate at managing data and coordinating schedules. 

The EMBA team ultimately decided no off-the-shelf programming system would be adequate to solve the Villa’s volunteer management situation. So in April, they recommended a customized program. Normally, that would have marked the end of the consulting project. But EMBA students get the summer off between the first and second year of the program, and two team members in particular were reluctant to let the project go.

Vasanth Sunkara: “I felt so compelled when the assignment was over to further the relationship we had built with St. Joseph’s Villa and do what we could to resolve the challenge they face.”

Win-Win-Win for Tech Teens

As it happens, Sunkara and Anderson have four daughters between them. And that’s where the story moved to the next level. “They basically drafted their kids to follow up over the summer,” grins Sarma. “These girls were learning coding in school anyway, and now suddenly they’ve got a real project that’s meaningful to a real organization.” 

The six young women -- Amelia Anderson, Miriam Anderson, Natalie Anderson, Haarika Eturu, Varna Sunkara and Veda Chadalavada -- named themselves “Tech Teens” and dove into the project. By the end of the summer, Vasanth Sunkara (who works for Oracle Corporation) estimated these girls had provided $10,000 worth of coding work.

Anderson, a Dominion Energy employee, was thrilled for her daughters. “Creating this opportunity for them and a few of their peers was so worthwhile. Girls tend to be less drawn to careers in IT, so I saw this project as one that could nurture an interest in technology and create a pipeline of talent for businesses.” 

Kathy Perun, Director of Community Engagement for St. Joseph’s Villa, agrees. “Given our mission, what could be more appropriate,” she asks, “than involving these bright young women to help find a solution to our challenge and give them the experience to develop marketable technology skills?”

So perhaps it’s fitting that Amelia Anderson have the last word. A senior at Deep Run High School’s Center for Information Technology and president of Tech Teens, she loved the practical experience. “Tech Teens gave me the opportunity to apply my skill in project management and to mentor the younger teens in the group,” she says.  I hope this experience will spark their interest in pursuing IT.”

Now that would be an even bigger win.