Major in Anything...Succeed in Business

Enthusiastic alumni in the business sector mentor students and fuel the success of the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies

By Debra Steilen



At first, the first year student from New York City was thinking of majoring in psychology, then he turned his attention to economics. Later on, he considered political science. Finally, Gabe Fernandez admitted to himself that he had no clue what he wanted to do with his life. That is, until he was a junior and sat down with David Chu, associate professor of accounting and director of entrepreneurial studies and prebusiness adviser.

“We talked about the success I was having outside campus working part time for Vector Marketing,” Fernandez recalls. “Professor Chu pointed out that a sales career is not just about finance or economics; it’s about using written and verbal skills to connect with people. We decided business might be a good fit. Being able to see myself in such a role was something new and exciting to me.”

Today, Fernandez—who graduated in 2012 with a double major in philosophy and religious studies—works as an account executive with Enterprise Fleet Management in San Francisco. It was the prebusiness program at Holy Cross that changed his mindset, he says, along with that conversation with Chu. Fernandez also praises the Holy Cross executive leader workshop he attended as an undergrad. Students were paired up in teams, then asked to create a company out of nothing, he recalls. “It was the first time in my life I realized that in order to be successful you had to [go beyond] your own thoughts,” he says. “You really need to depend upon the ideas of other people.

“I had to sacrifice spring break,” he says. “But I did not regret it one bit.”

There are scores of former and current Crusaders just like Fernandez. Not only do they have the tools of a rigorous liberal arts education, commitment to lifelong learning and ability to network with alumni, but they have another weapon in their arsenal: COES. Formed in 2005, the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies (COES) is the prebusiness program at the College. It is named for Arthur A. Ciocca ’59, former CEO and owner of The Wine Group, who provided major funding for the program.

“Eighty-seven percent of Holy Cross graduates work in business roles,” points out Catherine Cote ’18, based on a recent search of the alumni database. Cote, a psychology major from Hopkinton, Mass., has taken part in multiple COES offerings, including the Women in Business Conference last November. “That’s an interesting statistic since Holy Cross doesn’t have a business major or a business college.”

The statistic makes perfect sense to Chu, who says students often come to Holy Cross wanting to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher; they don’t really understand what business is. “They think business is about suits, briefcases and working in skyscrapers. I broaden their perspective from a narrow vocational focus on one profession to an understanding that business is very broad and in the fabric of every opportunity they can imagine.”

Marios Dardas ’16 will graduate this spring with a major in computer science, then join J.P. Morgan in the New York City area as a technical analyst. The Worcester native also credits Chu and COES with influencing his perspective on business. “COES shaped me into a different kind of person,” he recalls. “I listened to alumni who told us stories about what they did when challenged ethically. They talked about trade-offs and the implications of their decisions. I learned there are many different ways to do business and tackle issues in this world.”

Chu (pictured) has been with COES since the beginning, helping students figure out which classes and internships will take them where they want to go. “My job is also to help students understand how to articulate who they are and why they should be hired— and increase their chances of getting that first job out of Holy Cross,” he says. “Once they get that first job, they’re off to the races.”

COES began as a weeklong spring break workshop in 2005. Nearly 20 students attended that first executive in residence program, which also drew Arthur Ciocca himself as an observer. “I was impressed when he described a capitalistic market guided by moral principles as the best way to run an economy and benefit society,” Chu recalls about their first meeting. “That’s his passion. I share it.”

After meeting Ciocca, Chu (who was already the prebusiness adviser) agreed to head up the entrepreneurial program that bears the donor’s name. For its first nine years, COES existed as a collection of workshops and networking opportunities— in no particular order, Chu says. As helpful as COES was, however, it needed fine-tuning to keep up with the times. So in 2014, Chu met with Margaret Freije, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, to strategize how to improve the program. “The first point Dean Freije made was that we need more structure to help guide students through this program,” Chu says. “She said they need to know which one to do first and why.”

As a result of that change, today’s COES Professional Program is a co-curricular program, not a degree or a major, and is structured around five key milestones that lead to a Certificate of Readiness. The milestones— business workshops, an internship, completion of three recommended Holy Cross courses, student club involvement and an advanced Excel workshop—enable Holy Cross students to connect their education and experience to the workplace.

“Students can stick to their major while increasing their business literacy,” Chu emphasizes. “Plus there’s a certificate they can add to their resume and make a focal point as one of their achievements at Holy Cross.”