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School of Business

She did what she loved and success followed. Julia Rotella, ’17, is set to graduate summa cum laude after being spotlighted as one of the country’s top student marketers.

Among the 11,000 students who are members of the American Marketing Association (AMA), graduating business administration major Julia Rotella is a standout, finishing second in the organization’s 2017 Student Marketer of the Year competition. “It was really amazing to see my name up on the screen,” says Rotella of the honor, which was sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and announced at the AMA’s International Collegiate Conference in New Orleans in March.

The Monroe, Conn., native has always been drawn to the world of business. “I knew I wanted to be a marketing major since I was very young. As a kid, I actually had an eBay account and would sell things,” says Rotella. She also assisted her mother at craft fairs — learning about trade shows and how to best display products. “I enjoyed the satisfaction of selling things — being able to see the results of marketing. . . . Of course, I didn’t know that it was called marketing at the time,” she says with a smile.

That changed in Rotella’s sophomore year at Masuk High School in Monroe, Conn., when she enrolled in a marketing class. “I remember thinking, ‘Yes! This is what I want to do,’” she says. A gifted high school student, she took Honors level and Advanced Placement courses — and was an ideal candidate for very selective colleges and universities. After considering tuition costs, she chose Southern where she was accepted in the Honors College and received a Presidential Scholarship, a merit-based award that covered her full in-state tuition and fees for four years.

Choosing to commute to campus, Rotella made the most of her Southern experience, joining Southern’s collegiate chapter of the AMA, now known as SUMA — SCSU Undergraduate Marketing Association. As a sophomore she became president of the organization, a post she held until graduation. “SUMA has really helped me to become rooted here, to feel like I am part of a community,” she says.

It’s a community marked by achievement. In 2017, SUMA was a semifinalist in the AMA’s prestigious Collegiate Case Competition, finishing among the top 17 colleges and universities. (Semifinalists and finalists were listed in alphabetical order within each category without a specific ranking.) Southern was the only institution of higher learning in Connecticut to reach this level — and joined Providence College as one of only two in all of New England.

The competition — open to AMA’s 370 collegiate chapters — challenged teams to develop a comprehensive marketing plan for e-commerce giant eBay. Southern’s chapter tackled the assignment admirably. “The students were thrilled. They deserve a lot of credit for finishing in a group that included representatives from some very prestigious schools,” says Randye Spina, assistant professor of marketing and SUMA’s faculty adviser. SUMA also received the AMA’s award for outstanding chapter planning.

Looking forward, the group hopes to build on its success under the leadership of Jennifer Bucci, incoming SUMA president. Among the organization’s greatest challenges — obtaining funding to attend the AMA’s international conference. “They are going to make finals,” says Rotella, who is seeking a position with a marketing agency. “I am not going to be a part of it. But I will be watching from the outside. It’s going to be amazing.”

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Passing the Torch
More on graduating senior Julia Rotella, ’17, including a few of her tips for current and future Owls.

Self-Motivated: As a sophomore, Rotella launched her own company, JR Marketing. She’s created websites, logos, brochures, social media posts, and more for numerous clients, including the Monroe Youth Commission, the Monroe Economic Development Commission, Alcohol and Drug Awareness of Monroe (ADAM), and others.

Scholarship support: In addition to the Presidential Scholarship, Rotella received the Eleanor Jensen Endowed Scholarship and the Anthony Verlezza Endowed Scholarship.

Advice to Honors College students: “Push through it. At times, the work load is very strenuous. But if you are in the Honors College, it’s because you can handle it.”

One recent honor: Southern’s Scholastic Achievement and Leadership Award in Marketing in May 2017

Real-world experience: Rotella had marketing internships with TeamDigital Promotions; GoECart, a provider of on-demand ecommerce solutions; Talking Finger, a social media marketing agency; and ASSA Abloy, an international company offering a complete range of door-opening products, solutions, and services.

On building relationships: “Talk to your professors. If I had a question about a paper or an assignment, I’d meet during their office hours. . . . Having those conversations helped me a lot.”

Get involved: “College is what you make it. If you are motivated . . . a go-getter who is going to make things happen, then you are going to enjoy your experience. I enjoyed my years at Southern because of SUMA Marketing.”

Haitian native Rey Alabre, ’09, is living the American dream — in the spotlight as one of the top franchise owners in the nation.

Rey Alabre, alumni, school of business

Husband and wife Nathalie and Rey Alabre, ’09, receive the H&R Block National Franchisee of the Year award.

Growing up in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Reynold “Rey” Alabre, ’09, was surrounded by inspiration. “My mother was a single parent, raising my sister and me in poor conditions,” says Alabre. “But she always had a business mindset. She did everything she could as far as businesses to help support us. Selling clothes, shoes, candies.” Eventually, the hardworking mom began traveling to the Dominican Republic — located next to Haiti on the island of Hispaniola — to buy items less expensively and earn a greater profit.

Her determination left a lasting impression on Alabre, who today runs a successful H&R Block franchise in Bridgeport, Conn. In October, H&R Block, the global tax services provider, named Alabre the National Franchisee of the Year, recognizing him for excellence in the one to two store category among more than 1,500 franchisees considered for the honor.

The achievement is particularly sweet for Alabre, who crossed the ocean and numerous hurdles on the way to success. “My first day in the U.S. , it wasn’t that great,” says Alabre, who flew to the U.S. alongside his sister in winter 2002. It was the first time Alabre saw snow, and he was wearing a thin T-shirt, comfortable attire in his island homeland. He expected to be met at the airport by his father, who he hadn’t seen in about 15 years. But there were complications. Alabre’s father hadn’t yet told his wife in the U.S. that the teens were coming and didn’t travel to meet them — and so the two waited alone at the airport. Neither spoke English. Eventually, they fell asleep. Alabre was 18.

Today he shares the story matter-of-factly, smiling when he recounts the high point of that day. “A limo driver at the airport heard my sister and I speaking Creole. He asked us where we were from and our names,” Alabre says. The driver coincidentally knew another Alabre — the teens’ half-sister Angelina — and he drove them to her home.

Despite this inauspicious start, Alabre swiftly found his way. He attended Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Conn., rapidly learning English. “I’m a poet, so I picked it up quickly by writing,” he says. He also loved music, but at the urging of family and friends decided to study computer science at the University of Bridgeport. Later realizing the computer science field wasn’t a good fit, he transferred to Southern to major in business administration. When he took an accounting class, he knew he’d found his calling.

Life wasn’t easy. Alabre was homeless at one point, living in his car for several weeks. But he persevered. He worked full time while attending school, holding posts as a security guard and as a factory worker. (While still a student, he applied to work at H&R Block but was turned down.)

At a Southern professor’s recommendation, he began volunteering with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free tax help to people with low incomes, disabilities, and limited English. The following year, VITA asked him to manage the site where he volunteered. When others outside of the VITA program began asking Alabre to complete their taxes, he took the leap and started a business. “I was a junior then,” he says. “One of my instructors at Southern told me exactly what to do — step by step. I rented an office space in Bridgeport for very, very little. In the beginning, it was just me . . . But then we needed to move to a bigger office.”

Eventually he partnered with H&R Block. “It is a very good relationship,” says Alabre. “They are very supportive of what I am doing in the community.” Which is quite a lot. Building on experience gained volunteering in college, Alabre supports numerous community organizations, from the Connecticut Food Bank to the Bridgeport Public Library. He also has launched his own foundation, Mind is Power, a nonprofit committed to expanding educational opportunities.

Business continues to thrive as well. The H&R Block National Franchisee of the Year award caps off a string of honors for Alabre, who also received a Mission: Possible Award from the Bridgeport Regional Business Council and was a finalist in the Celebrating Diversity in Business competition run by Business Journals.

About seven years ago, he also became a U.S. citizen. “That was one of my proudest moments,” he says. “There is no way I could accomplish all that I have in Haiti. I moved to the U.S. for hope — for a better life — and I have found that.”

 

 

Meesha Ann Daley

Meesha Ann Daley has always found joy in fashion.  “I was born into it,” says the Jamaican native who is enrolled in Southern’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. “My uncle is a tailor. Growing up, I was constantly in his sewing room, going through his scrap box for fabric to make doll clothes.”

Modeling and pageants held allure as well. A passageway in the family’s home became an impromptu runway for the young Daley, who practiced walking with books balanced on her head. She also spent hours happily watching pageants with her mother —  “a petite, gorgeous woman,” she says.

“The expectation was for me to be a contestant someday. Unfortunately, I was not the size you are ‘supposed to be’ in these competitions,” she says with a smile.

Growing up, Daley unsuccessfully tried a slew of diets.  “At home I was a social butterfly. I felt beautiful, loved and supported. At school I was the reserved child in the corner. I was teased constantly about my weight,” she says.

Shying away from social gatherings, Daley focused on her school work — and teachers gradually noticed the quiet girl in the back of the room who received top marks. “For some kids, it’s soccer. For me, it was school work. I had found my strength. Then came the revolution,” says Daley. She became a peer counselor and the prefect of her class, and went on to graduate valedictorian of Pembroke Hall High School in Kingston, completing her studies at the age of 15. After furthering her education at a second high school, she was accepted at the University of Technology (UTech) in Jamaica. “It’s famous in the U.S. for our athletes — Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell,” says Daley.

At UTech, she majored in accounting and minored in banking and financial services. For the first time, Daley also was free to choose her school clothes, a significant turning point for the fashion-focused young woman. “Jamaica has a very strict school system. We wore uniforms. My uncle made every single one, from the time I was 2 years old to 18.”

When Daley signed on to a program that permitted students to work in the U.S. during the summer, her uncle made her work clothes as well. Staying with extended family in New York City from May to August, she held a variety of jobs, often simultaneously. She worked as a junior auditor at a law firm, babysat, and took shifts at McDonald’s and Old Navy. Then it was back to UTech to finish up to eight classes a semester.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, Daley moved to the U.S. permanently, with a five-year plan that included starting a business and earning a graduate degree. When an early attempt to run an online clothing store was unsuccessful, she put that dream on hold and decided to earn a master’s degree. Prompted by an advertisement, she came to Southern’s graduate student open house, and met Samuel K. Andoh, now dean of the School of Business.  “He helped me throughout the whole process, even though a person at his level could easily have passed me on to an assistant,” says Daley. “Others say the same. He really cares.”

A modeling career also has become a reality for Daley, who entered her first modeling competition — Full Figured Fierce — after being inspired by the organization’s message of “empowerment, self-love and positive body image.” She won the online competition and has gone on to additional modeling work, most recently gracing the cover of the September issue of Queen Size Magazine. The photo shoot, which focused on “clothes college students need in their closets,” took place on Southern’s campus. Daley suggested the site. After modeling for the publication several times, she was asked to serve as its fashion editor.

She says she’ll always be drawn to fashion and plans to revisit her dream of opening an online clothing store. But another issue has become a driving force as well. Working with classmate Asa Cort, Daley hopes to launch #trustfund, a seminar covering financial topics for young people and their families.  “This seminar not only will cover money management, but also the important role education plays in developing financial stability,” says Daley.

She notes that the goal of the project meshes closely with her work as a plus-size model — furthering her commitment to self-empowerment. “In my eyes, we need not associate the concept of beauty with a size, color or shape. That is the industry I want to help build . . . the industry I am moving toward.”

 

School of Business students

It was a simple suggestion that grabbed the attention of Modern Plastics President Bing Carbone: If he hired someone for just six hours a week to update social media accounts, brand recognition would rise and marketing costs would drop.

That nugget of advice – backed by solid market research – came not from a high-priced consultant, but from a group of five business-minded students at Southern Connecticut State University.

The hiring recommendation was part of a larger social media campaign to help the Shelton-based plastics distributor increase profits and boost sales of two older products, Plexiglas acrylic and COVESTRO MAKROLON® Polycarbonate. The proposal netted the students a $1,000 prize from the company.

“Wow, I’m blown away,” said Carbone after listening to the students’ pitch at the School of Business during the week of final exams. “I’ve been to other presentations and have been thoroughly disappointed. Here, I can’t say enough.”

The presentation was the culmination of a semester-long project aimed at giving students a real-life experience in the business world, says Robert Forbus, associate professor of marketing and assistant to the dean of the School of Business. The project was part of a marketing class he taught during the fall semester.

School of Business students

Forbus divided the class into six teams, asking each to research ways Modern Plastics could tap back into the Plexiglas and polycarbonate market. The company shifted its focus away from those products over the years, favoring the larger profit margins of high-end engineering and medical grade plastics, but other companies have found them profitable. Forbus then gave the teams 10 minutes each to pitch their ideas.

“Ideally, what they’ll leave this class with is a new skill that’s very much in demand in the workplace,” Forbus says. “Plus, they’ll have a deliverable – this plan – that they can actually show to a hiring manager.”

The winning team suggested numerous ways the company could increase sales by stepping up its online presence – using blogs, targeted ads, discounts and promotions and more frequent and engaging Facebook posts.

Carbone said just as he had hoped, the students approached the problem with fresh ideas and a youthful perspective.

While he intends to use some recommendations from each team’s presentation, he said the winners stood out by offering something he could implement immediately. Carbone said he’s thinking about offering the new social media position to a Southern student as an internship.

“I thought they hit it right on the nose with things I ought to be doing,” Carbone said. “I feel that I could implement their ideas tomorrow.”

School of Business student

The university-business partnership began after Carbone approached Judite Vamvakides, SCSU director of annual and leadership giving. Carbone’s two daughters attend Southern, and he said he wanted to give something back.

Vamvakides arranged for Forbus and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Durnin to tour the plastics company, and during their conversations, the contest was born.

Members of the winning group said the experience was nerve-wracking, especially since they had to start more than three weeks before the deadline after being told their first plan wouldn’t work.

“We initially wanted to do something with 3-D printing, but they didn’t have the manufacturing ability, so we had to start from scratch,” said senior Charlie Dunn.

Junior Chanelle Clarke said the presentation helped her overcome her fear of public speaking. “I was really shy and nervous about the whole process, but my teammates really encouraged me to go out there and kill it,” she said.

Senior Brielle Grestini said the most valuable lesson was learning how to work together as a team. Other winning team members were seniors Ashley Tomanio and Melanie Sivo.

Durnin said the students’ role in the project should give them an edge in job interviews, and she commended Forbus and Carbone for providing the opportunity. “This is a real focus of what we do in this school,” Durnin said. “We want students to feel as if when they leave here, they have the skill set they need to succeed.”

Regional Water Authority agrreement

Pictured (left to right) are: Ellen Durnin, dean of the SCSU School of Business; Larry Bingaman, president and CEO of the Regional Water Authority; and SCSU President Mary A. Papazian.

With nearly one-third of the workforce at the region’s utility companies eligible to retire within five years, Southern and Gateway Community College are developing a pipeline to provide highly qualified individuals to fill those anticipated openings.

In collaboration with the Regional Water Authority, the two schools have created a pathway for students to receive the education necessary to fill those projected managerial and technological job openings. Gateway is developing a certificate and an associate degree in public utility management. SCSU is creating a specialization in public utility management within the Bachelor of Science degree program in business administration – a program that may be the first of its kind in the country.

“I know of no other bachelor’s degree program in the United States that focuses specifically on public utility management,” said Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, an association of the largest publicly-owned drinking water utilities in the United States. “This unique program should fill a void in the development of future water utility leaders.”

The specialization, offered by SCSU, will include 30 credits that focus on management of public utilities, such as water, gas, electric and wastewater. New courses in crisis/risk management, green energy and environmental sustainability, and workforce safety and industry regulatory codes will be part of the program. It also will include existing courses – such as in business communications, business law, public utility/governmental accounting, and business continuity planning – which will have sections tailored to focus on elements of utility management.

Many students are likely to begin at Gateway, attain an associate degree, and transfer to SCSU in their third year to complete their B.S. degree program with the specialization. But existing and incoming students at SCSU may opt to start their program at SCSU.

The pathway was approved Dec. 3 by the state Board of Regents for Higher Education.

“We are very excited to be able to offer this new program, which will start next fall,” said Ellen Durnin, dean of the SCSU School of Business. “At Southern, one of our commitments is to meet the needs of the state workforce. This is exactly the type of program that will accomplish that goal. At the same time, it will provide our students with skills necessary for a career in that field.”

Durnin said internships at various utility companies in Connecticut will be offered to SCSU students, as part of the new collaboration.

“This is an exciting program that benefits the utilities, SCSU and Gateway, as well as the students,” said Larry Bingaman,” president and CEO of the Regional Water Authority (RWA). “The utilities gain a pool of qualified candidates to assume management and technical positions; SCSU and Gateway have a new curriculum that meets the needs of local utilities; and the students gain new career opportunities.”

Bingaman said that in the case of the RWA, half of its employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years. And more than a third are eligible to retire now. But this “graying of the workforce” trend is not unique to the RWA or public utilities in the region. Officials point to similar concerns throughout New England and in other parts of the nation. An aging workforce — combined with changes in regulations, technology and the push toward “greener energy” sources — pose new challenges for the utility industry.

Durnin said the RWA approached SCSU and Gateway two years ago with the idea of establishing this type of program. Subsequently, representatives of other utility companies supported the concept. “The utilities demonstrated a serious need for this type of training because of the demographic trends and anticipated retirements,” Durnin said. “They have employees who want to be trained to fill these soon-to-be openings, and we have the faculty who can provide this specialized education.”

In addition, existing and traditional-age SCSU students may wish to pursue public utility management as a career.

The departments facing the most pressing hiring needs in the public utility field include customer service, field operations, employee relations, information technology, purchasing, and finance and quality assurance, according to an industry study conducted by SCSU and Gateway. The average salaries range between $55,600 and $75,833, depending upon an applicant’s level of experience and educational background.

For further information, contact Richard Bassett, chairman of the SCSU Management and Management Information Systems Department, at bassettr3@southernct.edu.