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Stepping Up...Celebrating those who make a difference to the School of Management

Championing the School of Management

Corporate Champions enjoyed a thank you reception with students, faculty and the dean. Ezra Staley, Corporate Champions founder, is pictured at far right. (Photo: David Frasier)

The brainchild of a current MBA student is serving to further strengthen the ties between the School of Management and the Western New York business community.

The “Corporate Champions” program matches teams of MBA students with representatives from various Western New York companies, who serve as liaisons to the teams throughout a number of learning opportunities during their first semester.

Ezra Staley, JD/MBA ’09, came up with the Corporate Champions idea in a brainstorming session during MBA Advantage, the professional development program that runs throughout the MBA experience. He had noticed that many of his classmates had difficulty relating to alumni during networking events. “After I received a great lead at an event where I noticed that many of my classmates were not connecting with the alumni, I thought, there are probably a million opportunities in this room,” Staley says. “We just need to find a way to bring students and these businesses closer together.”

Also, as a Buffalo native, Staley saw that some classmates were unfamiliar with local companies beyond the “big names” such as M&T or National Fuel, and were therefore missing opportunities.

The two Citi student teams visited the company’s Buffalo headquarters together. (Photo: Andrew Widjaja)

Jaimie Falzarano, assistant director of full-time graduate programs, worked with Staley to help launch the program. “The Corporate Champions program helps our students remember why they’re here in the first place,” she says. “The first semester can seem like it's all books. This program can be a reminder about the ultimate reason they’re getting an MBA—to get a job, or to get a better job than what they had.”

Staley also credits Cynthia Shore, assistant dean of corporate and community relations, and John Shellum, assistant dean of alumni relations, for giving him much-needed guidance and support throughout the process of shaping the program.

The Graduate Programs Office helped recruit companies, along with the representatives who became the Corporate Champions for each MBA team. The program was officially launched in fall 2008, and consisted of four key components—MBA Advantage, an organizational analysis project, shadow day and a thank you reception.

Members of the PCA student team (from left), Jill Pitzonka, Matt Bertrand, Andy Talbot, Pu He and Justin Voty, make their presentation. (Photo: Tom Wolf)

The Corporate Champion representatives met their teams and participated in team-building activities during the first week of MBA Advantage. “That gave the students the opportunity to meet the professionals, and because everyone was new, people were less nervous,” Staley says.

As part of the MBA organizational behavior (OB) class, each team analyzed an issue provided by the company and offered solutions based on the concepts they learned in class. “The Corporate Champions program provided a setting for our student teams to apply their knowledge of organizational behavior,” says Jo Zubek, assistant professor of organization and human resources. “Several teams, in their class presentations, talked about how much they learned by seeing OB theories and concepts in action in a real organization.”

The Corporate Champions companies hosted shadow days that gave their teams the opportunity to visit their workplaces to learn more about the companies and gain perspective on the business world. The Rich Products team got the extra bonus of sampling the company’s dessert products. “We were excited for the opportunity to meet these students, as they are potential future associates for Rich’s, as well as the chance to showcase why Rich’s is a great place to work in Buffalo,” says Erika M. Marabella, JD/MBA ’04, associate corporate counsel at the company.

Finally, the students hosted a thank you reception for the Corporate Champions that also served as an excellent networking opportunity for the students and companies. The students had become more familiar with their own companies as well as the other Corporate Champions, so the opportunity for contacts and connections was much greater than at earlier networking events.

Rich Products MBA teams were treated to a tour of the facility and product taste-testing, with Jake Brach (left) as their host. (Photo: David Frasier)

Feedback about the program from the students and companies has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The Corporate Champions program is a definite asset to the MBA program,” says first-year MBA Christopher Bodkin, a member of the IBM group. “The best part for me was simply the opportunity to work with another corporation. Although I have many years of work experience, most of those years have been spent with relatively few organizations. It is invaluable to experience as many corporate cultures and industries as possible.”

First-year MBA Jill Pitzonka was very positive about her experience with her Corporate Champion, The PCA Group. “They really opened their doors to us and were very receptive,” she says. “Everything in the program tied in so well together. It was great to apply what we are learning to real-life situations.”

“I loved interacting with the students,” says Corporate Champion Sarah Gilson, human resources generalist at New Era Cap Company. “Team New Era was such a great group of bright individuals. I also really enjoyed the networking events and meeting with other UB MBAs as well.”

Team New Era students (clockwise from left): Swapnil Kachare, Drew Hermann, Yalim Sarpel, Monisha Wadhwa and Christina Marinucci. (Photo: Tom Wolf)

Gilson also was impressed with her team’s organizational analysis project. “The students came up with great ideas…very fresh and innovative,” she says. “I definitely see the company using some of their concepts.”

The Corporate Champions program is a quintessential “win-win-win” situation for everyone involved. Students win through their exposure to the business world; companies win by getting a recruiting advantage with these highly talented students; and, ultimately, the School of Management wins through an improved experience for our students and an increased connection to the local business community.

Staley says he is thrilled with how well the program turned out for everyone involved. “This is really business at its best—seeing a need and finding a way to fulfill it,” Staley says. “There was a need for students to become more involved in business and the community, and we’ve helped accomplish that.”

Thank you to all the companies that took part in the inaugural Corporate Champions program.

The School of Management salutes you for “Stepping Up.”

  • Citi (two teams)
  • Tom Cogan, MBA ’98
  • Greg Mosicki
  • Delaware North
  • John Kist ’90
  • Dopkins & Company
  • Michael Condino ’90
  • Flynn & Friends
  • Marc Adler, MBA ’82
  • Hodgson Russ
  • Sujata Yalamanchili, ’88, MBA ’89
  • IBM (five teams)
  • Erin O’Brien, MBA ’00
  • Darold Conklin, MBA ’99
  • Doug Brown
  • Mike Zimmer ’82, MBA ’83
  • Jeff Raugh ’95
  • KPMG (two teams)
  • Dale McKim ’96
  • Mike Braunstein
  • Lumsden & McCormick
  • Eileen Connor-Costilow, MBA ’03
  • M&T Bank
  • Andrew Smith
  • Murak & Associates
  • Gerry Murak, CEL ’91, EMBA ’96
  • National Fuel
  • Valerie Zimmerman ’04, MBA ’07
  • New Era Cap Company
  • Sarah Gilson
  • North Forest Development
  • Bill Hamilton ’68
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • Andrew Peer ’06
  • Rich Products (two teams)
  • Karen Pfeifer
  • Erika Marabella, JD/MBA ’04
  • The PCA Group
  • Michael Olfano ’92, MBA ’94
  • Unifrax (two teams)
  • Paul Viola
  • Chris Robinson, EMBA ’98