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iScholars learn entrepreneurship and innovation in the National Capital Region

August 14, 2017

Group photo of Virginia Tech students in iScholars program
Program Coordinator Aaron Burdette, at far left, with iScholars in the National Capital Region.

“Entrepreneurship” and “innovation” dominated the summer vocabulary of 23 Virginia Tech iScholars working at start-ups, new ventures, and larger established firms and organizations across the National Capital Region this summer.

These students from Virginia Tech represented more than half of the 43 iScholars working around the country this summer. In addition to placement in a paid internship, iScholars learn how to present their innovative ideas and about the important roles that team building, leadership, collaboration, and creativity play in the entrepreneurial process.

Emily Shirk, of Chesapeake, Virginia, a junior majoring in marketing management in the Pamplin College of Business, has been building a hiring dashboard for the business development team, conducting email campaigns, and drafting marketing strategy plans for Smartly, an education tech startup.

“By showing how exciting the process of innovating can be, iScholars has defined and influenced my career goal to market meaningful products at a forward-thinking company,” Shirk said.

Shirk also noted benefiting from the program’s seminars because “they bring us all together to talk about our experiences and learn from one another.”

Rehan Ghani, of Centreville, Virginia, a junior majoring in finance and business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, echoed the value of the program’s seminars. “They force me to reflect on myself and ponder introspectively over topics I may not have been able to think of previously,” said Ghani, who is interning at Grant Thornton LLP.  Her responsibilities include researching expiring contracts and preparing primers on opportunities the firm could pursue.

Visits to startup incubators, with the opportunity to engage with founders and leaders in their respective fields, is another component of the iScholars program. These experiences, said Ghani, “shed some light on how vibrant a city like Washington, D.C., can be despite all of the more restrictive government contracting that goes on here.”

Michael Spichiger, of Glen Rock, New Jersey, a rising junior majoring in computational modeling and data analytics and mathematics in the College of Science, believes that a well-rounded education is important. “iScholars offers an interesting way of learning about business for students in all majors,” he said. “But in some ways, science majors can benefit even more from the experience.”  

At his internship, Spichiger is creating new demos for CARTO, a geo-analytical company founded in Madrid, Spain, and its clients.

“I look forward to returning to Blacksburg with a new outlook on my major and to use what I have learned to help me as I continue my studies,” Spichiger said.

“Offering meaningful internships depends largely on cultivating businesses that will hire our students,” said iScholars Program Coordinator Aaron Burdette. “We do this by gathering and organizing portfolios for each student accepted to the program to make sure that the student’s background and skills can be identified to match specific needs of a participating company,” he said.

“We take an alternative approach to the career fair model where companies spend a significant amount of time visiting campuses to search for students with a lower probability of identifying students who best align with their needs,” Burdette said. 

 “Our corporate partners build their talent pipeline with Virginia Tech’s finest students. And our students immerse into the entrepreneurial world of business, learning, and developing the necessary abilities to thrive in a competitive, innovation-based economy, all within a global context,” Burdette continued. “It is a win-win scenario.”

Alexander Shirshov, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, a senior majoring in economics in the College of Science, found a good fit at Transurban Limited, an Australian-based company establishing itself in Northern Virginia. Transurban manages and develops urban toll road networks in Australia and the United States.

As part of the operations team, his work focuses on market research, business analytics, and operations-related tasks.

“My love is working on new initiatives, projects, and technologies as a go-between who can provide value to both the technically minded and those steeped in business aspects,” said Shirshov. While at Virginia Tech, he has taken advantage of learning from leadership positions, business competitions, and other research- and business-related roles.

“The iScholars program has helped me test my abilities, take them further, and do so with great results,” he said.

Shirshov said that being in the Washington, D.C., area for the summer has also provided the opportunity to connect easily with the Hokie community in the region.

iScholars are selected from a highly competitive pool of Virginia Tech undergraduates from all seven colleges and represent a broad variety of disciplines. Accepted students must take a required preparatory course offered for credit prior to the 12-week summer internship schedule in the National Capital Region that focuses on increasing students’ abilities and employability. There are housing options available at WeLive in Arlington, Virginia, and at Virginia Tech’s Gallery in Alexandria, both close to public transportation.

For more information on the iScholars program, contact Aaron Burdette.

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