Is Austin the Right College Town for You?

Is Austin the Right College Town for You?

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Austin is a hub for talent and innovation, and it’s one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities. In other words, it’s a smart place to go to college.

Students at St. Edward’s have an added advantage: The university has built partnerships with some of Austin’s biggest names in business and its most respected nonprofits. Here are seven ways the university and the city are connected ─ and how these connections make a real difference for students.

1. Austin entrepreneurs offer feedback on students’ business ideas at a series of entrepreneurship workshops and competitions.

The experience:

At 3 Day Startup, a weekend workshop held in September, students bring an idea for a business ─ or join a team to brainstorm. They build out their business idea and survey potential customers to get experience with the process of starting a company. A panel of Austin entrepreneurs and business professionals provide feedback.

Students can bring ideas they created in 3 Day Startup to iChallenge on the Hilltop: Ideas for Innovation, a pitch competition in which contestants give a two-minute elevator speech about their business idea. The top finishers move on to the iChallenge on the Hilltop: Business Plan Competition, where competitors give 10-minute presentations on their market research, revenue model and other aspects of their business. Competitors are matched with mentors from the Austin startup scene who coach them through the process.

The added edge:

Finance major Ty Markee ’20 won the Business Plan Competition his sophomore year with an idea his group came up with in 3 Day Startup: an app that gamifies pickup sports as a way of encouraging people to get active. The most important feedback his team got from the Austin entrepreneurs who judged the competition was about the importance of customer validation. “My freshman year, they said, ‘You have a great idea, but how do you know people are even on board?’ So this year we’ve made it a priority to do market research and survey people, because seeing what their thoughts are does a great job shaping our product,” he said.

2. At the annual Dell Medical School MESH Mentorship Day, medical students advise undergraduates at St. Edward’s, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, about how to become stronger candidates for medical school.

The experience:

The program is conducted largely by Dell Med students in the organization Making Equity Standard in Healthcare, or MESH. Many are first-generation college students or come from underrepresented backgrounds themselves.

The Saturday program includes a tour of the school, information about the medical school’s distinctive curriculum and its work with the Austin community, and a Q&A with students. Other sessions focused on what admission committees are looking for, how to finance a medical education, and a day in the life of a Dell Medical student. The St. Edward’s students also got to practice Multiple Mini Interviews, a method of interviewing that’s becoming more popular at medical schools because it helps assess communication and critical thinking skills.

The added edge:

Gabriella Becerra ’21, a Biology major, appreciated the program’s student-to-student design. “When the medical student was giving my small group a tour, he was laughing and telling stories about his classes,” she said. “I also got to ask questions I would have been too intimidated to ask in front of faculty or administration. The experience solidified my path to medical school and made me feel more comfortable trying to achieve it.”

3. The Bill Munday School of Business partners with Univision Austin to give students access to POSiBLE ATX, a one-day bilingual entrepreneurship event.

The experience:

The 2018 event was held at Austin’s beautiful new Central Library and began with a talk by Austin Mayor Steve Adler. Throughout the day, successful Hispanic entrepreneurs talked about what had helped them grow their business. The packed schedule included sessions about accessing capital, creating a search-friendly website, turning a hobby into a business, and marketing to Hispanic consumers.

The added edge:

Guadalupe Gamino ’20, a Finance major, was one of three students who represented St. Edward’s. She particularly enjoyed the panel of Latina women in business, who explained how they’d found mentors and how they’d addressed their biggest challenges.

One moment stood out: Alma Gutierrez of Exacta Bookkeeping and Tax Services explained that when she was launching her business, she expected her main clients to be construction workers. She wanted to talk with them about her idea, but each time she drove to a site, she would stay in her car, intimidated by the all-male crews. Eventually she decided she had to get out of her comfort zone and talk to them. “That was eye-opening to me,” Gamino says. “As a Finance major, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations and work through them ─ for instance, I’m aware that my field can be male-dominated, and I need to make sure I speak up and have my say.”

4. Graduating seniors in Social Work complete intensive field internships at social justice-focused organizations where they develop their professional skills and get a taste of their future career.

The experience:

Students spend 430 hours at their placement organizations ─ which translates to 15 to 20 hours per week for an entire academic year. Graduates of accredited Social Work programs that require such intensive field internships are able to skip one of the field placements in accelerated Master of Social Work programs.

Students have interned at agencies including the Travis County Sheriff’s Office Victim Services Unit, the Girls Empowerment Network, Family Eldercare, the UT School of Law immigration law clinic, and LifeWorks, an agency that serves runaway and homeless youth and young people aging out of foster care.

The added edge:

Social Work major Makita Johnson ’20 is interning at LifeWorks’ program for pregnant and parenting youth experiencing homelessness. It’s a good fit for Johnson, who was a young parent herself and who plans to work with men and women who are young parents or exiting the foster care system. Her internship is giving her experience in case management and home visits, and she plans to lead an independent living skills class. “I’m very excited about putting into action the things I’ve learned at St. Edward’s,” she says.

5.  The Bill Munday School of Business and the School of Natural Sciences provide seats for seven students at Capital Factory each semester, giving them access to some of the city’s top entrepreneurs, investors and startup resources.

The added edge:

Finance majors Ty Markee ’20 and Isabella Medford ’20 have two of the seats, and both have taken advantage of Capital Factory’s almost nightly events. Medford gravitates toward speakers who detail the trial-and-error of the startup process and offer advice from their experience ─ including May Samali, a tech entrepreneur who spoke about being a woman in the startup world.

Markee attends the monthly roundup, a networking event where startups give quick elevator pitches about what they do and what they need. “The other night, a couple of companies said, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a CTO or somebody to partner with,’ and they had the whole room to help them connect with people they know,” he says. “It was so cool to see a community of people bent toward helping each other, and not thinking everybody is a competitor.”

Markee and his roommate recently attended a networking event at Capital Factory, where among the entrepreneurs they met were several St. Edward’s alumni. At one point he turned to his friend with a realization: Dude, there aren’t any other students here. “St. Edward’s probably has one of the better entrepreneurship programs in part because we’re in a city that’s really exploding as a startup culture,” he says, “but also because St. Edward’s values business and giving students a chance to see what it looks like in the real world.”

6. Every summer, a group of St. Edward’s students is funded by H-E-B grocery and Enterprise Rent-A-Car to complete paid internships at local nonprofits.

The added edge:

Communication major Makenna Martanovic ’19 served as a marketing and communications intern for Latinitas. The organization offers camps and after-school programs for Latina girls, helping them build skills and confidence by creating media like a digital magazine. The mission appealed to Martanovic ─ and she knew she’d learn skills for her future career in public relations.

Martanovic sent the nonprofit’s e-newsletter and helped create media plans for its new programs, focusing on social media.

The most important thing she learned: “How crucial networking is for the communication profession, especially in nonprofit environments! A majority of the supplies and money needed for after school and summer programs for these girls were given by donors that support Latinitas. The CEO, Laura Donnelly, works hard to keep those relationships.”

7. Education students from St. Edward’s lead programs for kids in Breakthrough Central Texas, which supports students from low-income families who will be the first in their families to graduate from college.

The experience:

In Fall 2018, students enrolled in the introductory-level Schooling, Education and Society course led workshops for Breakthrough’s middle-school students on three Saturdays (one each month). Held on the St. Edward’s campus, the workshops focused on helping the young students become better readers and writers. As part of their Schooling, Education and Society class, the St. Edward’s students trained with Breakthrough teachers before each session to ensure they were prepared to lead the eight-hour workshops.

The work last fall culminated in a final project: a Living Newspaper, which is a theatrical production about current issues. The program also connected the middle-schoolers with college students who’d been in their shoes.

“The purpose of this project was to allow St. Edward’s students to experience working with middle-school students in the Breakthrough program ─ many of whom are also first-generation students ─ and serve as role models for them,” explains Associate Professor of Special Education Leslie Loughmiller, who teaches Schooling, Education and Society.

By Robyn Ross