The Pamplin College of Business Office for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging recently wrapped the first-ever Pamplin’s Inspiring Possibilities (PIP) Academy. The 10-day residential program introduced 27 rising high school seniors — many from underrepresented and underserved communities — to the dynamic world of business and business careers.

“This inaugural year exceeded all of my expectations,” said Janice Branch Hall, assistant dean for the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. “I enjoyed engaging with the participants and learning from them, especially the newest, hippest dance moves for this generation. It’s hard to decide my favorite part of the academy because each day was a unique experience with engagement from a diverse group of experts in the field.”

The purpose of the PIP Academy was to “enhance access and create pathways for diverse high school students to gain hands-on knowledge and experience into the many possibilities the business world has to offer," said Hall.

“The academy’s mission aligns closely with the core values highlighted in Pamplin’s strategic plan and fundamental to Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission in fostering diverse and inclusive communities and increasing access to high-quality higher education in Virginia,” she said.

The program also aims to prepare students for life and success as college students, blending learning opportunities with recreational pursuits – including dancing.

Kicking off on July 7, the academy featured a dinner at The Inn at Virginia Tech with a keynote address by Sherman Lea, mayor of the City of Roanoke. The following days were filled with activities designed to immerse the students in the whole Virginia Tech campus experience.

“PIP Academy has shown me in detail what different majors are about and some possible career options,” said Ethan Mutterperl, a rising senior at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria. “It has also helped me get a small taste of what college life is like: living in dorms, eating in dining halls, going to lectures, and more.”

Fralin Biomedical Research Institute PIP Tour
PIP Academy attendees took a tour of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke. Pamplin College of Business photo
Students posed outside Merryman Center
PIP Academy participants also toured Virginia Tech Athletics' Merryman Center. Pamplin College of Business photo

Students participated in professional headshots, business etiquette luncheons, and team-building exercises, and they received introductions to different departments and programs within Pamplin College of Business. The participants engaged with Pamplin faculty, alumni, and corporate partners and interacted with current Pamplin students. They toured Blacksburg campus facilities and attended special sessions in professional development, admissions, financial aid, study abroad, and wellness.

“I have enjoyed my experience here at Virginia Tech and my time in this program immensely,” said Kaitlyn Couvillon, a student at Gainesville High School. “This experience has offered me incredibly helpful insight into my college and even professional career, and everyone at this program was genuinely interested in helping me to discover my passion.”

Each student's experience in the academy culminated with a team-based business simulation project, sponsored by educational technology company Capsim. The activity gave students a hands-on experience to apply business concepts in an immersive, real-world environment and ended with a presentation on the final day of the academy. Ron Poff and Denise Cordova, assistant professors of practice in management, helped lead the teams.

Bob McDonald, director of sales at Capsim, helped judge the team presentations. “The PIP student presentations were impressive,” said McDonald. “Each student group learned via the CapsimCore business simulation key strategic and financial approaches while also developing team-building skills that are essential to career success.”

The PIP Academy concluded July 16 with the team project presentations and a luncheon at The Inn at Virginia Tech. The luncheon featured keynote speaker and Pamplin alum Michael Robinson, executive director and complex manager with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and a member of the Pamplin Advisory Council.

“At first I was hesitant to come here because it was out of my comfort zone,” said Gainesville High School student Toni Middlebrooks. “Now that it is over, I have appreciated this experience because I have never done anything like this. The strategic planning and organization of this program were so amazing that I feel as though I am a Hokie.”

The PIP Academy experience wasn’t all business for the prospective business students. Each day featured time for group recreational activities such as bowling, a visit to a local trampoline park, and teamwork exercises with Venture Out.

“I gained lots of knowledge and experience through my time interacting and connecting with such like-minded and bright individuals,” said Yafet Getachew of Hayfield Secondary School. “The amount of laughs I’ve shared with the new friends I made is something I will always remember.”

Each student selected to participate in the academy has a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 out of 4.0 (or its equivalent grading scale), and all submitted a statement of interest. Students had all costs of attendance covered, including room and board.

“It’s been a great experience. I loved how we were able to meet so many professionals and alumni,” said Rusheel Nadipally from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. “The PIP Academy helped me develop my network and meet many more people.”

Some of the people the students were able to network with included Lea, Roanoke Vice Mayor Patricia White-Boyd and Wayne Leftwich, assistant to the city manager. Representatives from PIP Academy sponsor KPMG were on hand, as were representatives from corporate partner PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Students were also able to engage with Pamplin board members Mervyn Alphonso, Brandon Rule, Bill Chapman, and Brian Wells from the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management; Eric Johnston and Errol Alexander from Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management; and Jamie Harvey, a tax partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers Trust Solutions and Pamplin alumna.

“My experience has been great, and I am happy with the outcome because I learned a lot about business and met a lot of Pamplin faculty and business professionals,” said Sidrah Asghar of Langley High School in McClean.

The positive experience of the PIP Academy may result in at least one future Hokie.

“I enjoyed attending PIP Academy this summer,” said Sarah Purdy, a student at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas. “It provided me such a unique and valuable opportunity that I could not have gotten anywhere else and has fully sold me on attending Virginia Tech and applying for Pamplin.”

According to Hall, the success of the inaugural PIP Academy is something that can be built upon.

“The future of the PIP Academy is bright,” said Hall. “We have created a solid pathway to educate and inspire future business leaders, and we hope to garner greater support to expand PIP and broaden our pre-collegiate experiences in Pamplin — the future of business depends on this work.”

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