Alumni Impact

One night, 100 alumni — big impact

By Matthew Biddle

On a chilly December evening in Buffalo, 100 School of Management alumni gathered at the Foundry Suites to reconnect, network — and make a powerful impact on their alma mater by raising $10,000 in one night.

Before arriving, the alumni voted for their favorite from a list of 15 ongoing School of Management programs. At the event, representatives for the top three — LeaderCORE™, cybersecurity competitions and the Social Impact Fellows program — would pitch live, and the initiative that earned the most votes would collect all of the money to support operations or move it to the next level.

First, Chris Maugans, BS ’10, JD/MBA ’14, stepped up to the mic and made a passionate case for LeaderCORE, a personal and professional development program for full-time MBAs that focuses on the core competencies the business community has identified for effective performance and successful leadership in business.

Aaron Fiebelkorn, BS ’15, MBA ’17, spoke on the importance of cybersecurity and the skills he gained through UB’s student-driven cybersecurity initiative and competition — which landed him a position at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Finally, second-year MBA student Cheyenne Ketter-Franklin, BS ’17, teamed up with Colleen Kristich, a Master of Social Work student, to share how the Social Impact Fellows program affected them and the local community. They were inaugural participants in the fellowship, which pairs an MBA and MSW student for an eight-week internship at a mission-driven organization.

“The program completely reframed what I can do with my degrees,” Ketter-Franklin told the alumni assembled. “I realized my passion and drive for social innovation, and I want to use my marketing and business skills with an organization that has a social mission to make a tangible change in Western New York.”

The alumni in the audience weighed what they’d heard and cast their votes.

Sneha Gupta, MBA ’15, assistant brand manager at the Mentholatum Co., had registered for the event as soon as she saw LeaderCORE on the ballot.

“In LeaderCORE, you focus on soft skills and learn how you think through problems,” she says. “A big part of my job is ensuring people on different teams work well together, and I couldn’t have done it without LeaderCORE. Every day, it contributes a little bit more.”

Sean Butler, BS ’16, was one of more than a dozen alumni who work at Solidifi who attended the event. He cast his vote for the cybersecurity initiative.

“Particularly with everything going on in the world right now, cybersecurity is somewhere we, as a country, may be lagging behind,” says Butler, junior regional manager at Solidifi. “If I’m able to invest in the nation’s cybersecurity defense capabilities, on top of promoting UB, I’m happy to do so.”

Meanwhile, Terri Zelasko, MBA ’12, considered each pitch carefully. As an inaugural LeaderCORE graduate, she said the program made a huge difference in her career. In her last role, at Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), she saw how her business skills could help advance the nonprofit’s mission and empower a community — a key takeaway for the Social Impact Fellows. And now, having moved into banking, she’s acutely aware of the profound need to safeguard consumer data with effective cybersecurity measures.

“The competition was a neat, interactive way to keep us connected with what’s going on and what’s new at the School of Management,” says Zelasko, treasury strategic projects analyst at M&T Bank. “It’s a fun way to give back.”

In the end, the Social Impact Fellows program won in a close vote — to an uproar of cheers throughout the room. The School of Management Alumni Association generously sponsored the “100 Alumni Who Care” event, ensuring the entire $10,000 will go toward stipends for the summer 2018 cohort of Social Impact Fellows.

For Zelasko, the event was another way to stay connected to a community that’s made a considerable impact on her, both personally and professionally.

“When I made my career change, I felt the UB community with me every step of the way,” she says. “At M&T, I found so many alumni there I connected with and felt like I had such an edge because of my UB connections.”