University Innovation Fellow ceremony recognized Management student

Blake Warner is from Richmond, Virginia and is currently pursuing degrees in both Finance and Management with a minor in Leadership and Social Change. In terms of his management degree, he is pursuing the Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology (EIT) option. Blake was recently selected to participate in the Stanford University and be part of the University Innovation Fellows at Virginia Tech. After 6 weeks of intense training during this semester, he was formally initiated during a virtual ceremony on Friday, November 15.   

We recently asked Blake some questions about his Virginia Tech academic journey to date including his management major, his role in the Calhoun Discovery, part of the Honors College at Virginia Tech and the University Innovation Fellows programs.

Why did you choose Virginia Tech?  When and why did you choose MGT?

In High School I attended a mathematics and science specialty school. My family is full of engineers, so I was never really exposed to business. Going into college, I put a lot of thought into which major I wanted to pursue and realized that business was for me because I had the opportunity to be a self-starter. More specifically, I decided on the EIT option in Management because it gives me the ability to learn the skills needed to either be an intrapreneur within a larger corporation or be able to start my own venture.

I was attracted to Virginia Tech because my brother, Adam Warner, goes here and has always spoke highly of the university. After taking multiple visits to Virginia Tech, I was certainly impressed. I then received an offer to join the Calhoun Discovery Program here which I could not turn down.

Name some of the internships or experiences, if any, that you had during your Virginia Tech and/or Pamplin journey.

I spent the previous summer interning for the Virginia Tech Management department as Marketing Support. I was focused on social media data analytics and bringing fresh ideas into the department’s media. In terms of UIF, I am very excited to have the opportunity to partner with Stanford’s to be able to make an impact on the Innovation and Entrepreneurship space on campus. We are looking forward to partnering with high school students to spread awareness on the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship and the various opportunities available to them at Virginia Tech if they choose to attend.

Have there been any specific classes that have validated your major choice or have helped you in your University Innovation Fellows program to date?  

Since the University Innovation Fellows program is centered largely around Human centered design thinking, there are many classes and experiences that have aided me in my efforts for the program. I am taking Foundations of Entrepreneurship (MGT 2064) with Ron Poff, which has taught me the basics of new venture growth and idea generation. Although the UIF program is largely centered around reformation of current structures in place, there is also a large focus on idea generation and thinking of change needed on a university level.

Additionally, I took Principles of Management (MGT 3404) with Dr. Phil Thompson this semester, which had a large focus on organizational behavior and exceling in collaboration. Dr. Thompson’s lectures taught me the importance of establishing a healthy professional relationship with teammates, which is essential towards the UIF program as there is often lots of work that needs to be done in a short period of time. During the semester we had to complete an accelerated 6-week training course on design thinking, which lasted about ten hours each week, so it was important that we all exhibited organizational citizenship behavior and went past our required tasks in order to be successful.

Since the Calhoun Discovery Program is centered around transdisciplinary teamwork, I have become experienced at working with teams composed of completely different majors and backgrounds. Last year, we worked with one of our industry partners on a project where we had to focus on the development of a personal autonomous vehicle. With the help of engineers, industrial design majors, and myself, we were able to come up with a PAV that was prototyped, structurally valid, and hypothetically cost efficient. Within UIF, all four members of our cohort are in different majors, so we use everyone’s strengths to make significant progress on our change project.

Has there been a faculty member or staff member within Pamplin and/or the MGT department that has served as a mentor or source of inspiration for you during your journey? 

I appreciate all the support from the Management department. One of the things that I have realized is that within Management, everyone truly is a family. I was first introduced to Ron Poff when he was my Foundations of Business professor the first semester of freshman year. He is a true professional that cares about all and puts his heart into his work. He has served as my professor as well as my professional mentor and I know he is always there for me. Additionally, I know I have the support of all the other faculty within the department, especially the department head Dr. Gnyawali.

What advice would you provide to an incoming Pamplin freshman? 

There are a few pieces of advice I would provide to freshman. First, I would emphasize that college is what you make of it. There is great value in the professional network you can develop throughout your college years. Additionally, there is always networking that can be done and connections that can be made. The more connections you have, the more likely you are to receive the internship or opportunity that you want. Furthermore, I would emphasize the importance of time management. I have many friends who procrastinate or put things off until they must get done. While this is easy to do, there is great value in making a calendar or a to-do list and getting work done as soon as you can. Especially in a virtual environment, those who get behind are severely disadvantaged as sometimes getting behind can cause one to “drown” in work and responsibilities. Lastly, I would emphasize the importance on mental health. As a freshman especially, making sure you have someone to talk to is extremely important. Whether you utilize Cook Counseling, your professor, or a friend, talking about problems or hardships with those you trust can go along way towards fostering positive mental health.

What/who is your inspiration for leadership?  

My biggest inspiration for leadership has always been my parents. My mom is a former teacher, and she has taught me the importance of empathy and putting others first. She was also a force in my life at a young age to make sure that I took care of my responsibilities before having fun, and I have always held on to that as I have matured. My dad has been a role model for me especially in terms of hard work. Seeing him leave every morning in high school before I woke up and returning after I got home was extremely inspirational. I truly feel like he is one of the most hardworking people I know and that rubbed off on me. Additionally, he has taught me various tips and tricks that have helped me mature professionally which are invaluable.

Final comments

Although this is only my second year at Virginia Tech, I have taken a lot of classes. In terms of the management curriculum, it is so valuable. The curriculum develops my soft skills, but also makes sure to home in on technical skills. My major requirements have allowed me to get hands on experience with technical applications such as Excel and Python, which are used at many corporations.

When I started UIF, I noticed a lot of the things I had learned in my classes lined up with the training provided by the For example, in Foundations of Entrepreneurship there is a focus in the curriculum on design thinking and making sure you love the problem before approaching the solution. This was reemphasized throughout our UIF training, as we completed lots of research on the I&E space before ever touching potential problem solutions.