Clustered around two TV screens hanging from the wall of a local burger joint, a group of students watches the election results pour in from across the country on November 4.

Students in Len Bierman's class gathered on election night to track the election returns as they came in.
Students in Len Bierman’s class gathered on election night to track the election returns as they came in.

As they compare the coverage from Fox News on the left and CNN on the right, they discuss issues in the individual swing states with more depth than your average undergrad: Will the failing economy in Ohio land the all-important state in the Obama camp? Or will racial prejudice in the state’s large, rural population deliver the vote to McCain? Will the Yucca Mountain proposal, which would bring millions of dollars as well as tons of radioactive waste to Nevada, be attractive enough to residents to keep the state red?

Nearby, two other students share a table as they discuss the candidates. One student, a Muslim and a Democrat, originally from Pakistan; the other, a Texan, a Christian chaplain in the Corps of Cadets, and a staunch Republican. With total respect, they express very different ideals for the country.

“Americans need to unite against poverty and domestic injustices,” affirms the first.

“We need to have safety and security before we can fix anything else,” says the second. Both watch the screens, wondering which opinion would carry the night’s election.

For a group of 24 upperclassmen at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, the 2008 election was filled with more political dialogue than most, thanks to an innovative class taught by Management Professor Len Bierman called “Business Issues and the 2008 Presidential Election.” According to Bierman, the purpose of the once-weekly upper division class was to get students talking about issues they may not have considered when it comes to the intersection of money and politics. “Rarely are things black and white in this arena,” he said. “Even on extreme issues, there are shades of gray. Things are more subtle and complicated than you might think on first blush.”

Rhetoric and dialogue

One thing that set this class apart, said class member Miguel Abugattas, a senior finance major, was its “Ivy League” format. “This class wasn’t about scantrons and textbooks,” he said, but about reading up on a current topic and exploring it through debate. Bierman assigned no textbook for the class, instead asking students to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and read it everyday to keep informed.  Several of the class periods featured guest lectures from experts in fields such as national security and education funding, who provided students with an insider look at the issues.

“Rarely are things black and white in this arena,” says Mays Professor Len Bierman. “Even on extreme issues, there are shades of gray. Things are more subtle and complicated than you might think on first blush.”

The discussion and debate style of the class was important to Bierman, who says his objective was simply to get students to see both sides of the two-party coin. Class assignments forced students to research and examine issues from all angles.  Through written assignments and oral presentations, students were challenged to think critically about issues such as energy, tax policy, healthcare, transportation infrastructure, and communication regulation. “There aren’t any easy solutions to these kinds of problems,” Bierman told students. The remedies to the nation’s problems students proposed will likely never end up before Congress, however, Bierman said that more than anything else, he hopes the class has turned them into more informed citizens.

Bierman noted that the class has also been writing intensive, with each student writing two individual and two group papers. Bierman teamed with the Mays Center for Effective Communication to grade these papers so that students received both feedback on content as well as style and grammatical concerns.

Class discussions focused on the most timely of public policy issues. While the subprime mortgage crisis was in the news daily and investment banks were disappearing, Mays Professor of Finance Don Fraser paid a visit to Bierman’s class to cut through the jargon and explain the state of the economy to students in a guest lecture. Similarly, Tom Saving, director of the Private Enterprise Research Center and a distinguished professor of economics at A&M, spoke to students about the looming problem of Medicare and Social Security, which, if left unchecked, will bankrupt the government in 50 years. As they explored the topics, students asked both professors: How did we get here? Who’s responsible? And what is to be done?

One of the most provocative lessons was from Jim Olson, former CIA operative and current professor at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service. Olson asked students to consider the importance of a well-funded intelligence network, giving examples from the news and from his own 30-year career in espionage. “We are going to be hit again,” he said, in reference to the 9/11 attacks, telling students that sufficient funding for intelligence is essential to national security. “Innocent American lives are stake.”

Olson’s lecture resonated with Jordan Allen, a senior marketing major from Mesquite, Texas. The most important issue in this election for her was national security; Olson’s lecture reinforced her support of John McCain. She says that she feels young people are often ignorant about what candidates really stand for. “People tend to blame who ever is in control when things aren’t going well,” she said. “This class opened up my eyes.”

Swing vote

When guests weren’t presenting, Bierman turned the tables on the students and had them teaching each other. He broke the class into six work groups and tasked each one to present on a swing state, providing their classmates with a comprehensive picture of which issues would be important when it came to capturing that state’s electoral votes. Looking at demographics, local legislation, voting history, and current statewide events, students predicted (with a high degree of accuracy) which party would win Missouri, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada. Elise Hilgemeier, a senior finance major, says she was most interested this assignment, which helped her to understand how issues specific to one geographic region can impact the entire nation. This type of research kept her involved in the political race, said Hilgemeier.

  • To read a blog from a participant in Bierman’s Business Issues and the 2008 Presidential Election class, click here.

“I was kind of disillusioned with this election,” she said. “I don’t think I would have kept up with it if not for this class.”

Classmate Kaylee Heathcott said Bierman’s class got her more involved as well. “I’ve always had a shallow party affiliation,” she said. After examining issues more thoroughly from both sides, she’s made up her mind. “Now I’m not just a Republican because my parents are.” Heathcott, a senior management major, said that this election had special significance for her and her classmates most of whom are nearing graduation. “For the first time, we are voting about issues that are going to directly affect us in the workplace,” she said.

Like Heathcott, Shez Ismail, a senior marketing student, says this election and the class has helped him to realize his role in politics and society. When he and his classmates graduate, he acknowledges that they will have a special obligation due to their education. “As business people, we are hopefully going to be doing pretty well. It’s our responsibility to look out for others with the wealth we will create,” he says, citing his support of the Democratic Party.

Categories: Featured Stories, Students

Nearly 250 retailing executives attended the second annual Retailing Summit, hosted by the Center for Retailing Studies.
Nearly 250 retailing executives attended the second annual Retailing Summit, hosted by the Center for Retailing Studies.

Nearly 250 retailing executives gathered at the elegant Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas, Texas for the annual Retailing Summit, hosted by Mays Business School’s Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University. This event paired industry leaders with the latest research from the world of retail. Representatives from 92 companies in 21 states attended the summit October 2 and 3.

“It was a phenomenal presentation,” said one attendee, Gary Freedman, who owns a retail consulting firm in California. Freedman says that in the current economic climate, this event was timely. “Retailers are desperate for new ideas to grow their business, or sometimes just stay in business,” he said. Freedman felt that the summit provided a great forum for innovation in the industry. “I would recommend that anyone in retail attend,” said Freedman.

Next year’s summit will be held at the Westin Galleria in Dallas, October 1 and 2.

Didn’t make it to the summit yourself? Not to worry. Here is a collection of news you can use from each of the topics presented. Click on a speaker listed below to see a synopsis of his or her presentation:


Clarity of Assortment

Linda Hefner – Executive Vice President, Wal-Mart Stores, Home Division

Hefner discussed Wal-Mart Stores’ new branding identity, “Save money. Live better,” and how that idea plays into the product offerings in the Wal-Mart home division. Hefner described the three consumer demographics that make up the 140 million shoppers that visit Wal-Mart each week:

  • Price-value customers: those looking for everyday needs at the lowest price
  • Brand aspirational: mid-range consumers interested in brand-name products and are willing to pay slightly more for them
  • Price sensitive affluent: those interested in high-quality goods at a reasonable price

To cater to these segments of the market, Wal-Mart home division has launched two new brands this year, Canopy and Better Homes & Gardens, to accompany their basic store brand, Mainstays. They have also created a new signage and color-blocking system for their product shelving organization that makes it easier for customers to identify the brand they want on products across the department. Wal-Mart as a whole is changing store layouts to be more intuitive and convenient for shoppers, and the home division is driving that transformation.

Over the next three years, Hefner says every Wal-Mart in America will see some changes, from complete remodel to minor redesign.

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Hug Your People

Jack Mitchell, Author of Hug Your People and Hug Your Customers, chairman of Mitchell’s

Jack Mitchell recounted the humble beginnings of his business, which has been family owned for three generations. His parents opened the first Mitchell’s store in Westport, Connecticut, where they sold men’s and boy’s fashions to their friends and neighbors. Mitchell says their marketing research was a phone book and customer service included his mom bringing her coffee pot to the store. Running the business was something fun that the Mitchell family did together—and today, 50 years later, it still is. They are built on a concept of serving customers as friends and caring for employees as family. Today, with 237 employees at three stores selling upscale clothing and accessories in the New York area, these concepts are what make the organization unique.

Mitchell has written two books based on his stores’ culture of caring, called Hug your Customers and Hug your People. He’s not talking about actual embraces, though he says that happens in his stores occasionally; rather, any small deed that makes a personal connection between store and employee or customer is a “hug.” When customers and employees experience that level of care, Mitchell says they become friends who are loyal to the store for life.

Mitchell says his HR principals are simple:

  • Hire great people, not just ones who are competent. Look for those with genuine passion for what they do.
  • Trust and empower your employees and involve them in the business so that they develop personal pride in the organization.
  • Recognize your people by paying them well and by publically praising them for a job well done.
  • Talk to your employees about their career, not their job, so that they know you want them there for a long time.
  • Trusting your people instead of policing them creates loyalty. Check in with your staff, rather than checking up on them. Send birthday cards and other notes to let your people know that they are valued.

Mitchell encouraged the audience to practice being a hugger by looking for ways to meaningfully reach out to customers and employees, recognizing their needs and how you can meet them. He also warned them that “hugging” takes time. The personal relationships you create must have adequate care in order to be maintained.

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Two Friends Discuss Retailing, Customer Service, Life Lessons and More

Carl Sewell, CEO, Sewell Automotive, interviewed by Dr. Leonard L. Berry, Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University

Carl Sewell owns nine dealerships in five major Texas cities, employing 1,400 people and selling $1.2 billion of cars and service annually. He says that the Internet and the ease of comparison shopping it affords has made price more import than service to most customers. However, he still values service, and advised those in the audience to do what they could to make customers happy; there is so much negativity in the world today that to make a customer smile is a very valuable thing.

Sewell was philosophical about the economic crisis facing the auto industry. “This too shall pass,” he said, expressing his confidence in American automakers.

Sewell says that most Americans will spend $700,000 on cars and service in their lifetime. He tells his employees to treat every customer as if they are $700,000 customers, as they have the potential to spend that much in the long run at your business if you provide them with excellent service and they return each time they have an automotive need. He advised everyone in retail to determine what an average customer will spend in a lifetime at their store and share that number with employees so that they will understand why every interaction is important to the business.

Other good advice from Sewell:

  • Hire people you like. Ask yourself, do I enjoy being around this person? If the answer is no, chances are your customer won’t enjoy them either.
  • Don’t associate yourself with a product if it isn’t great.
  • Be in markets you can personally relate to so that you can understand your customers’ needs.
  • Evaluate your team and put members where they can thrive and succeed.
  • In this time of economic turmoil, retailers need to streamline their inventory and staff, and look for growth opportunities in every situation (for example, while car sales are down, he’s emphasizing service).

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Retailing 2008: Demographic and Economic Change, the Perfect Storm for Traditional Retailers

Kathleen Mason, President and CEO, Tuesday Morning

It’s no secret that retailers are feeling the pinch of the problems on Wall Street. As the economy continues to falter and more and more retailers file for bankruptcy and close their doors, Mason says it’s more important than ever before to understand what it is that customers want and how your business can deliver it.

Recent research indicates that consumers are looking for:

  • Time savings
  • Easy
  • Home delivery (especially if it’s free)
  • Turnkey solutions (“Get it done right, right now.” A product or service where one step solves the whole problem.)
  • Quicker to prepare (no-assembly or pre-cooked products)
  • Smaller/more convenient
  • Healthier
  • Greener

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Macy’s Inc.: Reinventing the Brand

Ed Holman, Chairman and CEO of Macy’s Central

Since 2002, Macy’s Inc. has taken on one of the largest rebranding efforts in retail history. In the past several years they’ve bought out several other retailers and given the stores a Macy’s makeover, turning 400 locations of stores such as Foley’s and Famous Barr into red-star-emblazoned Macy’s chains.

The challenge for Macy’s through the acquisition of so many new stores is to mesh all of the regional brands into a cohesive national brand that sells as well in New York as it does in Nevada. As part of their branding, Macy’s has contracted with a handful of celebrities such as Martha Stewart, Donald Trump, Sean (Diddy) Combs, and Jessica Simpson, who each have their own lines of merchandise offered in the stores. Macy’s also stocks the stores regionally to give local flavor to their assortments.

Holman says that the $26 billion company with 850 stores in the U.S. is dedicated to building their brand one customer at a time, targeting their shoppers through promotional (sales) and emotional (famous brands) channels. Macy’s must “wow” new customers so that they don’t miss the store they just bought out and turned into a Macy’s, says Holman. Macy’s is committed to community service on a local level, and has several programs established to get employees out of the store and involved in service activities.

Currently the chain is celebrating its 150th birthday. On October 25, special promotions and activities were held across the nation. As part of this celebration, iconic 34th Street in New York City (forever tied to Macy’s through the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street) will be renamed R.H. Macy Drive.

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Why Aren’t You Hiring People Who Love What They Do?

Terri Kabachnick, retail consultant and author of I Quit, but I Forgot to Tell You

Why is there such a disconnect between interview success and job performance and retention? In this break-out session, retailers compared notes on a topic familiar to all in the industry: employee turnover.

  • There is a great challenge in finding people who are not only possess the technical skills needed for a job, but also are a match for the company culture.
  • Retail is often not seen as a career path, but simply a job; this mindset leads to decreased retention.
  • Most hires are made when there is a hole in the staff that needs to be filled quickly. Poor hiring decisions are made when not enough time is taken to find the best candidate.
  • Kabachnick described “the seductive interview,” where individuals are wooed by a company that says they are one thing, but turn out to be another once the employee has signed the contract.
  • The impact of a wrong hiring decision is huge. Monetarily, the Wall Street Journal says it is equivalent to 1.5 times the employee’s annual salary. It can damage a company’s reputation and can harm morale and cause others on the team to quit.
  • Selection of products in retail is based on statistics, examination of trends, and hard facts about the marketplace. Kabachnick says that selection of people is still made primarily on emotion. She recommends giving assessments and hiring to benchmarks to remove human bias.

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Transforming a Culture

Mike Ullman, chairman and CEO, and Michael Theilmann, chief human resources officer of JCPenney

Mike Ullman had retired from a rewarding career with retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Macy’s, and IBM when he was offered the top spot at JCPenney in 2004. He says he wasn’t interested in another job, but the idea of transforming JCPenney stores excited him. The organization had become decentralized, with each store creating its own assortments and culture. One of Ullman’s first actions was to revamp the nation-wide merchandising and advertising efforts to create a more constant culture for employees and shoppers.

Theilmann, the chief HR officer at JCPenney, conducted an engagement survey to gauge how the culture was growing. When they saw a need for further leadership training, they implemented a retail academy, a one-week course for store managers and others in leadership positions. The academy gave 30 managers at a time a broad look at the company with personal attention. Theilmann said they hoped to change the culture of management so that the differentiating factor in all of their stores was the quality of the people. They’ve also strengthened their training program for associates.

Today Ullman and Theilmann say that JCPenney is not “hunkering down” to weather out the financial storm; they are using these tough times as an opportunity for growth and innovation.

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Secret Sauce: Crafting Extraordinary Customer Service Magic

Chris Zane, founder and CEO of Zane’s Cycles

Chris Zane has a simple illustration for his ideas about customer service: all the services you offer are like quarters in a bowl. When that bowl is held out to a customer, some retailers fear they’ll get ripped off. But, Zane says when you offer more service than people think is reasonable, they won’t take advantage of you. Instead, you’ll be rewarded with amazing loyalty. Zane’s talk focused on different service tactics he’s used to grow his business.

Zane says he’s ruthlessly competitive. He loves to put his competitors out of business, or at least really annoy them with his over-the-top service. Some of his most successful service offerings have been lifetime free service on bikes purchased in his shop; lifetime warranty on parts and products; 90-day price protection (which guarantees the difference in the price of the products, plus 10 percent); flat tire insurance; and a helmet program that provides kids with protective headwear at cost.

Zane encouraged retailers to consider what it is their customers are really looking for. His customers aren’t buying rubber and spokes, he says. They’re buying a relationship and an emotion. With that in mind, Zane practices relationship marketing, involving giving away small items (“no more nickel and diming customers!”), providing a fun area for kids to play in, a complementary coffee bar in his store, and data tracking to help customers buy the item that specifically meets their needs based on other items they have purchased.

Constant innovation has kept Zane ahead of the pack. Some of the more creative ideas Zane has employed over the years have been:

  • A trade-in program for children’s bikes (buy a kids bike from him then trade it in and get 100% of its price back toward the purchase of a new bike. This sounds like it would be a poor business practice, except that fewer than 20% bring the bikes back for the upgrade.)
  • Green construction on his new store (opening soon in Branford, Connecticut) will include solar panels and wind power. Elementary school groups are already calling to arrange field trips to see how it works.
  • When a competitor goes out of business, Zane buys their phone number, so that when a customer sees the former competitor’s ad in a phone book and calls, they will get Zane’s store. He also puts signs for his business in their empty storefront windows.
  • A live web-cam tech center that can help long-distance customers assemble their new bikes.

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Brand Transformation: Staying Relevant in Today’s Competitive Environment

Will Kussell, President and Chief Brand Officer, Dunkin’ Donuts Worldwide

Kussell says that in recent years, Dunkin Brands has undergone much more than a brand transformation: they’ve had a makeover from the inside out. One bold step they took was to send every employee through an evaluation process that rated their values: honesty, integrity, responsibility, humility, fairness, respectfulness, and transparency. Hundreds of employees that did not fit with the company’s values were let go and 200 new people whose values were in line with Dunkin’s were hired.

Kussell said that identifying the company’s core principals and purpose was essential to their transformation. Though the brand had always been known for donuts, he said that by 2003 the business really was about coffee. The company sought to move beyond being a New England brand to have a larger presence nation-wide. They began a rebranding process marketing the idea “rituals that revive.”

A subculture had developed around Dunkin Donuts coffee, which the corporation sought to embrace more fully. They started running ads that identified their customers, who are not driven by status, but are average, no frills people, or in Kussell’s words: “The people who make America great.” In keeping with that market, Kussell says you won’t find couches and wi-fi in his stores, which are geared toward serving busy, working class people. They’ve latched on to that market with their newest slogan, “America runs on Dunkin.”

As Dunkin continues to expand across the nation and globe, Kussell says they are constantly updating their menu offerings to stay competitive. The company is also branching out with strategic alliances such as Proctor & Gamble (who has put their products in grocery stores), Sara Lee, and Jet Blue (which serves only Dunkin Donuts coffee on their flights). These alliances give Dunkin Brands exposure in markets where they may not yet have stores, which paves the way for their expansion into those markets.

Another part of their transformation has been a shift in franchisees. It is harder for individuals to find the financing needed to purchase a franchise today. Kussell says that the trend is shifting away from mom n’ pop owned-stores to fewer owners with more stores.

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Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Potential

Shawn Achor, CEO of Aspirant and Harvard University Teaching Fellow

Everyone is aware that mental wellbeing has an effect on physical wellbeing and productivity, but Achor surprised the audience when he told them just how much of an effect it can have. Citing scientific studies, Achor told the audience that the power of the mind can affect flexibility, visual acuity, memory, intelligence, and even how young or old a person appears to others. Moreover, a positive mindset can make a person more successful in the business world.

One study Achor introduced involved two groups of four-year-olds. Each group was asked to complete a task, but before they began, one group was instructed to think of their happiest memory. Kids in the group that was “primed for happiness” were 50% faster and more accurate as they completed the test. Achor told the audience that we humans hard wired to perform best not in a neutral mindset, but rather, in a happy or positive mindset.

Achor says that happiness is a precursor to success, rather than the reverse. When you’re happy, you are actually smarter, faster, and better equipped to face challenges. This is significant in today’s bleak economy, as it’s the people that can think optimistically that will find success. According to studies, happy people are better at securing and keeping jobs, have superior productivity and greater performance, are more resilient, have less burnout and turnover, and are seen as more charismatic.

The good news is that the brain is a malleable organ; it can be trained to be positive, says Achor. He recommended five exercises have been show to increase happiness in sustainable ways. They are:

  • Three “gratitudes”: writing down three things you’re thankful for each day
  • Journaling about positive experiences (this has been shown to decrease pain and increase immunity in ill patients)
  • Physical exercise (proven to release mood-altering chemicals into the blood stream)
  • Meditation
  • Random acts of kindness

Achor also suggests that cultivating relationships is key to happiness. Studies have shown that lack of a strong social network can be as predictive of longevity as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. Since we are wired for empathy (we naturally observe and internalize others feelings to a degree) it is important to surround yourself with positive people, as their happiness can be contagious.

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Categories: Centers, Featured Stories

Laura isn’t a good student. Her record says she has “attitude problems.” Teachers say that she resents their authority and refuses to apply herself. There are too many students and not enough resources in Laura’s school, so it’s easy for her teachers to unconsciously deny her the same level of engagement and respect they give the better students.

Laura is “at risk.” She’s Latino and from a poor family, increasing the likelihood that she will not graduate from high school, not go to college, and never achieve her full potential as a student, as an employee, as a person.

• • • • •

In 1988, Wendy Kopp was a student at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She was searching for a topic for her senior thesis, looking for a cause that would make a difference in the world. Kopp said she grew up in a bubble, unaware of the disparity between the education she received in an elite New York neighborhood and that of students in less-affluent areas a few miles away. It wasn’t until she got to college that she saw that not all public school educations were equal: some of her smartest classmates weren’t as well prepared for college as she was, due to deficient schools.

  • 13 million kids are growing up below the poverty level in the US today.
  • Half of them will not graduate from high school, and the half that do will only function at an eighth grade level.
  • Only 7% of kids that grow up in poverty will attend college. Even fewer will graduate.

The more she researched the education and achievement gap along socio-economic and racial lines, the more impassioned she became. The numbers she saw shocked her: millions of American children growing up in poverty who would never have the chance to improve their situation due to poorly funded, overcrowded, under-resourced schools that all but denied them success.

Kopp’s senior thesis hammered out the details of Teach For America, a program that would harness the passion and idealism of students right out of college and put it to work in impoverished schools across the nation. “When I first thought of it, I became obsessed with the idea,” said Kopp, who hoped the U.S. government would adopt her program as a national teaching corps. She wrote to the White House, full of confidence that her proposal would be accepted.

It wasn’t.

Undeterred, she launched TFA as a nonprofit organization. At 21-years old, she raised $2.5 million from corporate and individual sponsors, hired a staff, and recruited and trained 500 young men and women from across the country to be teachers in six low-income communities.

• • • • •

A Mays Business Fellows trip to New York City during spring break of her senior year changed the direction of Angelina Fonseca’s life. It was on this trip that the marketing major from Lake Jackson, Texas, first came in contact with Teach For America.

Mays grad Angelina Fonseca (left) went from college classrooms to one of her own at an elementary school in Brownsville, Texas.
Mays grad Angelina Fonseca (left) went from college classrooms to one of her own at an elementary school in Brownsville, Texas.

Fonseca ’06 was drawn to the organization’s mission of providing all children, no matter where they live or how much money their family has, with a high-quality education that would put them on equal ground with children in the best schools. One month before graduating from Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, Fonseca applied to the TFA program. She was accepted, went through an intensive crash course in teaching that summer, earned her state teaching certificates, and was placed in a 5th grade classroom in Brownsville, Texas, in August.

At A&M, Fonseca minored in Spanish, planning to pursue a career in international marketing. When she joined TFA, some asked her why she would throw away her business degree and ambitions in order to teach. Fonseca says it was just the opposite: teaching is applied creative marketing. On a daily basis, Fonseca used innovative messages to reach her audience. If they “bought” her message, she saw the results in orderly behavior and good study habits as well as higher test scores. Her international aspiration was fulfilled as well: Her classroom, near the Mexico border, was completely bilingual. She taught every subject in Spanish and English. Fonseca says that her business background and lack of an education degree was actually a plus, as she was able to enter the classroom with a fresh approach to teaching.

• • • • •

Kopp, now wearing the title of founder and CEO of Teach For America, was honored with the 2008 Kupfer Distinguished Executive Award at Mays in September 2008. This award is given in memory of Harold Kupfer ’54 and recognizes a business professional that has made a significant impact on the world. Gerald Ray ’54 and Donald Zale ’55 sponsor the Kupfer Distinguished Executive event to honor their friend and fellow Corps member.

Wendy Kopp outlined her vision for Teach for America in her senior thesis twenty years ago. Today she is the CEO of the non-profit foundation.
Wendy Kopp outlined her vision for Teach for America in her senior thesis twenty years ago. Today she is the CEO of the non-profit foundation.

“Still to this day, in this country that aspires to be a land of opportunity for all, where you’re born determines your educational prospects and your life prospects,” said Kopp, who addressed a class of more than 300 Mays undergraduate students during her visit to campus. TFA’s mission is to build the movement to eliminate educational inequity in the nation by enlisting its most promising future leaders in the effort. “Ultimately, I know we’ll get there,” says Kopp, who describes TFA teachers as “relentless” and “inspiring leaders” that motivate their students with their passion. “They go into a situation a lot of people have given up on…and they set a vision,” she said. “What they’re proving to us at the classroom level is that [educational inequality] is a problem that is solvable.”

Since its inception, Teach For America has impacted hundreds of thousands of young people in urban and rural areas by providing them with excellent teachers. There are currently 6,000 TFA teachers in the field and 14,000 alumni. Kopp encouraged her student audience to consider serving some of the 13 million children growing up in poverty in the U.S. for two years as a teacher after graduating from Mays.

Fonseca is only one of the many Mays graduates that have taken on Kopp’s challenge.

• • • • •

At the start of Laura’s fifth grade year, something happens. She has a new teacher, one who seems to genuinely believe that she can succeed. Laura is singled out for encouragement and praise, something that has seldom happened to her in a classroom.

Soon, Laura is excited to go to school each day. She starts turning in homework and earning high marks on it. Her test scores improve. The new teacher even asks Laura to be a peer leader, tutoring her classmates during the day. By the end of the year, this once-troubled student earns a perfect score on statewide tests in reading, achieving the highest score in her whole class.

When she enters the 6th grade the next fall, Laura is no longer “at risk.” Her new enthusiasm for learning, brought about through the influence of one teacher, has laid the foundation for a lifetime of academic success.

• • • • •

A classroom should run like a business, reasoned Fonseca. She would be the manager, seeking to have her employees (students) give their best effort to achieve a shared goal (achieving 90 percent or higher on weekly assessments and on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills at the end of the year). Once the students were excited about achieving the goal together, Fonseca measured their success through quarterly reports of test scores mapped on Excel spreadsheets, rewarding them with bonuses when they showed improvement and changing strategies for success when they didn’t.

“It’s life changing,” said Mays graduate Angela Fonseca of her TFA experience. “It’s a very rewarding job. You see the impact, the growth, the change, immediately.”

She found the students responded immediately when she empowered them in the classroom, creating peer managers, so that students governed each other. Poor behavior led to a loss of management status. “They loved those leadership roles,” said Fonseca. “They enjoyed having that kind of good competition, whether it was 10- and 11-year-olds, or four- and five-year-olds.” In her second year, Fonseca put these same principals into practice in a new classroom, teaching bilingual pre-kindergarten. The innovative methods were hugely successful: 95 percent of her students met or exceeded their class achievement goals, blowing past national and statewide norms. There were individual success stories, too, like Laura, one of Fonseca’s star pupils. “I am so proud of my kids,” she said. “They really achieved a lot.”

Today, Fonseca is a study abroad advisor in the International Programs Office at Texas A&M. She says in her current job she uses everyday her TFA-learned skills such as conflict resolution, management, market assessment, and multitasking.

“It’s life changing,” said Fonseca of her TFA experience. “It’s a very rewarding job. You see the impact, the growth, the change, immediately.”  Fonseca says her future plans involve graduate school and a career in marketing, but that she will always be an advocate for equal education and nation wide education reform. In October of this year, she participated in a forum at the George Bush Presidential Library called “Too Many Left Behind: How Do We Close the Gap?” which focused on the achievement disparity between children in wealthy and poor schools. Fonseca also helps with TFA recruiting efforts on campus, speaking with interested students during informational meetings.

Fonseca says too many people with no experience in the classroom think they know the reasons needy students aren’t as likely to succeed academically. They are sick and absent more often due to a lack of proper health care, or, they have parents that aren’t involved in their child’s education, some say. Fonseca says that’s garbage. Her students were mostly healthy and some had very involved parents, who were integral to their success. She thinks a significant part of the problem is society’s mindset, not the students’ economic situation. “We don’t express high expectations to students at lower socio-economic levels,” she says.  Adding to the problem, resources like afterschool programs and high-quality teaching support isn’t available in underfunded schools. Fonseca says schools also need great leaders who implement positive change, motivate a team of teachers, and hold students and teachers accountable.

Her experience is proof that all students, rich and poor, are capable of success. More than that, Fonseca says, all students, no matter what their circumstances, deserve a fair shot at success.

• • • • •

For more information about Teach For America, visit

To read more coverage about the 2008 Kupfer event, click here.

To read about Fonseca’s TFA experience, click here.

Categories: Featured Stories, Students

At the Parthenon
At the Parthenon

SNAP! I savored the unique flavors, sampling each of the dozens of dishes heaped upon the table—Greek salads, fried zucchini, tzatzki, pastitsio, souvlakia, lamb. We clapped along to the lively music as guitarists plucked out traditional melodies, serenading the crowded taverna. Hours later, full of talk and food, and more talk and more food, we wandered the cobbled streets, an eclectic mix of busy shops and abandoned ruins. I glanced up. The famous Parthenon stood, bathed in moonlight, watching over its legendary city. That’s when it finally hit me: I was in Greece!

SNAP! I glanced up…and up…and up at the imposing fortress on top of the even more imposing mountain. One thousand steps to the top of the Palamidi Fortress. One thousand steps! After huffing and puffing up a hundred steps, I began to question our bravado. One hundred steps later, I was convinced we were insane. Another hundred steps, and I was cursing whoever had the bright idea of climbing the darn mountain. Half an hour later, as I stood at the peak and surveyed the city below us, I felt a huge sense of victory. I had conquered the mountain! We clambered around the ruins, whooping and yelling as we explored the ancient fortress. It was a moment worth a thousand steps.

At Meteora
At Meteora

SNAP! Dozens of monasteries perched precariously on the crags of Meteora. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the beautiful stone prayers. We quietly wandered the halls of the Greek Orthodox sanctuaries. Elaborate icons adorned the walls. Incense burned. The murmur of soft prayers was a soothing hymn. I stopped and stared at the walls of a small chapel. The cracked and scarred paintings stared back, defiled and destroyed by Nazi soldiers decades before, left as a silent testimony to the harsh reality of intolerance and hatred. I lit a candle and whispered a prayer, stepping out to sit in the sunlight and reflect on the moment.

SNAP! The setting sun bathed the island of Mykonos in gorgeous colors. The soft light kissed our shoulders, sunburned from lazy afternoons reading on the beach and playing in the blue, blue water. The sun bid us goodbye, telling us to enjoy another night of food and talk, laughter and dancing. We delighted in the carefree fun and revelry of the island until it was time to welcome the sun again at a sleepy waterfront café, sipping frappes and hot chocolates as we watched the sky slowly lighten.

On the island of Mykonos
On the island of Mykonos

SNAP! I gazed in awe at the fabled Mask of Agamemnon and the legendary treasures of Troy in the National Archaeological Museum. SNAP! Loud whoops filled the theatre at Epidavros as we belted the Aggie War Hymn at the top of our lungs. SNAP! We spent the wee hours of the morning sharing our thoughts on a rooftop in Napflion in a scene straight out of the movies. SNAP! We ran a fierce three-legged race on the plain track that was the original Olympic stadium. SNAP! I ventured deep into the recently discovered tomb of Philip II.

SNAP! The Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor called the hearing to order. Champions of education reform—Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan—testified on closing the achievement gap in education. I scribbled the debate on my legal pad, filling pages and pages with the proposals and arguments shaping public policy. As an intern at the U.S. Department of Education, I was eager to learn everything I could about the ideas, reforms, and results changing public education. We interns enthusiastically relived the debate and reexamined the issues over lunch, discussing our growing passion for education reform and the many exciting possibilities of the future.

At the annual White House Tee-Ball Game with First Lady Laura Bush
At the annual White House Tee-Ball Game

SNAP! “And…play ball!” President George W. Bush announced, kicking off the annual White House Tee-Ball Game. Fifty excited five-year-olds ran around the bases on the South Lawn to the enthusiastic cheers of the audience. Country singer Kenny Chesney led the crowd in a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” After the game, the President smiled at us and shook our hands as he walked by. The First Lady posed for a picture. “Wow!” I repeated the word over and over again.

SNAP! Thousands of tourists decked out in red, white, and blue filled the Capitol to celebrate the Fourth of July. Reenactors read the Declaration of Independence to crowds at the National Archives. The Independence Day parade rolled through downtown. Big juicy slices of watermelon sold fast at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Taylor Hicks and Jerry Lee Jones jammed out on the stage in front of the Capitol. Cannons roared in time to the Overture of 1812. Spectacular fireworks exploded over the national monuments. I grinned, overwhelmed by pride and patriotism for our country. Happy birthday, America!

Meeting U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
Meeting U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

SNAP! I peeked into the Oval Office as we explored the West Wing of the White House. SNAP! I ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, reenacting the famous scene from Rocky. SNAP! I enjoyed the local favorite Blue Buck pancakes at Eastern Market. SNAP! I sat at the desk used to film C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. SNAP! I tip-toed after our lantern-toting guide on a spooky ghost tour of Old Town Alexandria. SNAP! I twirled around Times Square singing tunes from Mamma Mia! after my first show on Broadway.

These snapshots are just a few of the many that I took on my travels this summer. The incredible opportunity to travel throughout Greece for two weeks with the Greece Leadership Program and to intern in Washington, D.C. for two months with the Public Policy Internship Program left me with thousands of fantastic photos and memories. These pictures tell exciting stories of new places and new adventures, forming a unique collage of lessons learned, friendships made, and experiences gained in a memoir of a truly unforgettable summer.

Categories: Perspectives

The 4th annual Aggie 100 awards luncheon, hosted by the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, was a time for celebration of the past as well as vision for the future. “The future isn’t somewhere we’re going. It’s something we’re creating,” said Richard Scruggs, then-director of the center at the event on October 31, which honored the achievements of the 100 fastest-growing Aggie-owned or —operated businesses. Their compound annual growth rates from the 2006-2008 period ranged from 26 percent to 261 percent.

Top Ten
  1. Tesoro Homes and Development, Ltd. – San Antonio (Clay Schlinke ’94)
  2. Latshaw Drilling & Exploration – Tulsa, Okla. (Trent Latshaw ’75)
  3. D&S Factors LLC – New Plymouth, Idaho (Scott Moscrip ’93)
  4. Hotslings, Inc. – Dallas (Kristen DeRocha ’96)
  5. Desert Industrial X-Ray, LP – Odessa (Douglas Frey ’77)
  6. River Place Golf Group, LP – Austin (Todd Routh ’86)
  7. Earth Information Technologies, Corp. – Madison, Wisc. (Dan Rooney ’92)
  8. Premier Placement Media, LTD – Cypress (David Gedeon ’96)
  9. Project Solutions International (Thailand) Company Limited – Bangkok, Thailand (Bob Albers ’87)
  10. Next IT Corporation – Spokane, Wash. (Fred Brown ’84)

For the second year in a row, the top spot on the Aggie 100 list went to a Mays graduate. This year it was Clay Schlinke ’94, owner of Tesoro Homes and Development, LTD, a construction company founded in 2003 in San Antonio. Schlinke holds a BBA in management from Mays. “If I had not graduated from Texas A&M, I would not be where I am today,” said the honoree, crediting the Aggie network as well as his education for his success.

Two others in the top ten were also Mays graduates: Scott Moscrip ’93, CFO, owner, and founder of D&S Factors LLC in New Plymouth, Idaho; and Todd Routh ’86, president of River Place Golf Group LP in Austin, Texas.

Recipients of this year’s list of business-savvy Aggies hailed from around the world with a concentration in Texas. Major Texas cities are well represented with 33 Houston-area companies, more than 15 Dallas-area companies, a dozen companies in the College Station area, 10 Austin-area companies, and five San Antonio companies. There were also honored firms in France, Thailand, and Mexico.

The luncheon was attended by a crowd of 650 business people, students, and university officials, including President Elsa Murano, who commented on success of the Aggie 100 honorees. “It’s remarkable, but not surprising,” she said. “After all, you are Aggies. And we expect great things of Aggies.” The combined revenue of the 100 honored companies was in excess of $2.9 billion; all together, the businesses employ more than 20,000 people.

“As you analyze the list of honorees it’s easy to focus on the numbers — revenues, growth, employees, etc.,” said Scruggs. “I think a more interesting measure is the way in which Aggies touched every aspect of our lives — from home building to restaurants, environmental issues, information technology, energy production and so on, there is an Aggie influence in every industry you can think of.”

Scruggs also noted the humble way the recipients credit others for their success and their dedication to sharing lessons learned with current students and in classes and club meetings. “They believe in teamwork, persistence, and hard work, which are valuable reminders for all of us.”

About The Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship

The Texas A&M Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship provides encouragement, education, networking and assistance to entrepreneurially minded students, faculty and Texas businesses. Founded in 1999, the center is part of Mays Business School’s Department of Management. The center enhances student education through campus speakers, competitions, work experiences and financial support. The Texas A&M faculty and Office of Technology Commercialization benefit from the center’s educational programs, extensive business community network and the entrepreneurial services.

The center also reaches out to the state’s business community offering educational programs, business assistance and access to university resources. The center is supported by corporate and individual members and sponsors who believe in the value of an entrepreneurial education program and the value of Texas businesses working with Texas A&M University.

Categories: Centers, Former Students


Michael Shaub, CPA and clinical professor of accounting at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, has received the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants’ (TSCPA) 2008 Outstanding Accounting Educator Award. Shaub was honored at a Dallas ceremony in October during the TSCPA Accounting Education Conference. The accomplished faculty member received a plaque and a $1,000 award provided by the TSCPA Accounting Education Foundation.

The statewide TSCPA Outstanding Accounting Educator Awards honor Texans who have shown a commitment to teaching excellence as well as distinguishing themselves through active service to the accounting profession. Criteria for judging includes instructional innovation, student motivation, the pursuit of learning opportunities for students, involvement in student and professional accounting organizations, and research accomplishments and publications.

“Mike Shaub’s dedication to the accounting field, both in and out of the classroom, are highly worthy of recognition,” said Mays Business School Dean Jerry Strawser. “He’s an outstanding and caring faculty member that is clearly passionate about his subject and his students.”

Establishing a personal relationship with students is one of Shaub’s main classroom priorities. His classes can sometimes have 200 students; he makes it a goal to know every student’s name and a little bit about each one. Through practical lessons, Shaub prepares students for the corporate world as he applies business scenarios in the classroom, always with an emphasis on ethical conduct. Shaub places his students in ethics accountability groups for an annual project that challenges them to analyze the opportunities, motivations and rationalization for cheating in his course. This exercise deepens students’ understanding of internal controls and the fraud assessment process that they will use in real life business situations.

Outside of the classroom, Shaub focuses his research efforts on issues with practical implications for the accounting field. His studies include the realms of accounting ethics, as well as trust and professional skepticism, which Shaub has studied for the last 20 years. The scholar’s research efforts have resulted in a dissertation, many academic articles and book reviews. Shaub is a member of the American Institute of CPAs and participates in the Texas Society of CPAs, Brazos Valley chapter.


TSCPA ( is a nonprofit, voluntary, professional organization representing Texas CPAs. The society has 20 local chapters statewide and has 28,000 members, one of the largest in-state memberships of any state CPA society in the United States. TSCPA is committed to serving the public interest with programs that advance the highest standards of ethics and practice within the CPA profession.

Categories: Faculty