EPIC Spotlight: Ethan Spiva

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Ethan Spiva thought he might become a physician’s assistant. It seemed like a natural choice since his mother is an occupational therapist and his father works in pharmaceutical sales.

When he became a freshman at the University of Arkansas, he took some science classes. His second semester in college, he tried out entry-level courses in the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

The connection was there, in a way it never was with the medical profession. He changed his major from “undeclared” to both accounting and finance. With his love for math, this made perfect sense, he says. “I’m very attentive and like having everything in order,” he says.

Now Ethan has immersed himself in the Walton College experience. He says the George W. Edwards Jr. Career Center has been extremely helpful in planning his next move: finding a job when he graduates. He says the center’s staff helped him refine his resume to give it a business focus instead of a general one.

“College isn’t just about your grades anymore,” he says. “It’s about building your resume.”

Ethan is building his resume this summer with an accounting internship at Koch Industries Inc. in Wichita, Kan. He credits the Career Center staff with helping him secure that, too. He says they coached him on how to give an effective telephone interview, which led to his in-person interview with Koch Industries, a company that specializes in energy.

Ethan says he’s keeping an open mind about what he might do after graduation, though he hopes to go into sales, preferably in Cincinnati, Ohio, which he says is a business hub for many major corporations. He says he hasn’t ruled out continuing his education with an Integrated Master of Accountancy (IMAcc) degree and is studying to take the Graduate Management Admissions Test, which one must pass before attending a graduate school in business.

Whatever he decides to do, Ethan is looking forward to the relationships he builds once he begins a career. “The business world isn’t just sitting in cubicles,” he says.

Ethan, of Springfield, Mo., says he was familiar with Fayetteville, having visited an uncle who once worked in Northwest Arkansas. He says the landscape, along with the town’s “strong football atmosphere,” was one of the many things that lured him to the University of Arkansas.

Ethan is active as a Walton College Ambassador, where his duties include giving tours to prospective business students. He is also a member of the university chapter of Students Acquiring Knowledge through Enterprise (S.A.K.E.) and the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, where he will serve as president for 2012. In addition, he tutors for Business Foundations students. Ethan has also served in various roles, including treasurer, for the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. His spare time is spent hanging out with his friends, visiting Dickson Street and watching football games.

Yet, right now his mind is focused on his future, he says. “At Walton College, there are so many opportunities,” he says.

EPIC Spotlight: Ernst Wittenschläger

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Each day, as Ernst Wittenschläger drives to his office, he passes by the local state university where his exams are proctored. He lives in Newmarket, N.H. He goes to school at the University of Arkansas.

When Ernst was offered a chance to transfer to the New Hampshire school, he did some research. Continuing his monthly 3,000 mile roundtrip commute to Fayetteville was more affordable – even when figuring in his flight, hotel and car rental, he says.

Plus, the Sam M. Walton College of Business is ranked higher. This is what lured him to the school in the first place, he says.

“When I considered the entire package, Walton College was the best deal going, hands down,” he says.

As a student of Walton College’s Managerial Master’s of Business Administration program, which meets one Saturday a month, Ernst will complete the program at the end of the summer following nearly two years of hopping on a plane and trekking across country.

He says it all began two years ago when he lived in Joplin, Mo., and was working for TAMKO Building Products Inc. He and his colleagues were looking for a college in the region where they could further their business education. They soon realized Walton College had the most to offer.

Just a few weeks into his first year at the college, Ernst moved to New England to pursue a better opportunity. “I’ve been commuting for nearly the entire program. I’ve even flown in for class from Europe a few times,” he says.

He says he appreciates the flexible curriculum, which allows for substituting certain electives in place of other classes. In particular, it enabled him to take Advanced Corporate Finance, taught by Tomas Jandik, a challenge he says he enjoyed. “It was very, very hard,” he says. “It was the best.”

Ernst grew up in both Germany and Richmond, Va., with a German father and an American mother. His bachelor’s degree, which he earned at the United States Naval Academy, was in political science with a minor in systems engineering, he says. Upon graduation, he served in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer. During the Iraq War, he and his boarding team inspected merchant ships for weapons, drugs and any other items that could be a threat.

When he left active duty, he discovered that his management and leadership skills acquired in the Navy were attractive to employers but he wasn’t sure he was fully prepared.

“I was simply clueless to the business world outside of the military,” he says. “I would hear the words ‘sales and marketing,’ ‘supply chain,’ ‘finance,’ but I had no idea what they really meant.” He would soon find out.

Ernst was hired to work as a territory manager in supply chain operations for Wolsely PLC, which manufactures plumbing and building products, in Newport News, Va. His supply chain experience coupled with his knowledge of German led to his promotion to manager of corporate supply chain. He was relocated to Zurich, Switzerland, where he managed the European supply chain operations. When the company closed the Zurich office, Ernst took a position with TAMKO and moved back to the United States.

“I had spent so much time in supply chain, I really didn’t know much about the other parts of a business enterprise outside of the supply chain,” he says. “I had a strong desire to have a more holistic understanding of the entire end-to-end business, especially the finance end of the business.”

He says Walton College has helped him meet those goals, even if he had to travel 3,000 miles each month to do it.

EPIC Spotlight: Eric Ableitner

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Eric Ableitner hasn’t graduated yet, but he already has several job offers to choose from. “Right now I’m going back to several companies, to see more about what they offer,” explained Eric, who is majoring in international business. One of the jobs he’s considering would involve traveling abroad to improve the international development of a company, working in distribution, repair, transportation, and replenishment.

Overseas travel is not new to Eric, who has studied abroad in Germany and Brazil. On his first trip, he worked in a German day spa and learned the language. Eric returned to Germany a year later to work in the transportation logistics department of Norgren, a pneumatics company. Because his family is originally from Germany, Eric took advantage of this opportunity to learn more about his culture and heritage.

The following summer, Eric spend several weeks in Brazil, touring companies and learning about how Brazilian businesses are affected by the economics and infrastructure of the country.

Eric also got valuable work experience through an internship at Walmart. As a Walmart intern, Eric completed a project that established the most efficient and effective ways to distribute different products through Walmart facilities. He also worked as a replenishment manager, making sure that Walmart stores kept enough stock on the shelves to meet customer demand.

On campus, Eric is active in many extracurricular activities, including Leadership Walton, the German academic honor society, and the University of Arkansas Career Center’s Professional Development Institute. In 2009, he won the University of Arkansas’ Logistics Mock Case Competition, and went on to compete in an actual case competition at the University of North Florida. In addition to his classes and extracurricular activities, Eric also finds time for community service, volunteering for food drives and helping to organize a golf tournament to benefit the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter.

One of the things Eric appreciates most about his experience at the Walton College is the opportunity to learn from professors and classmates. “Every class I took was phenomenal,” he said. “The U of A has helped me increase my capacity to think.”

EPIC Spotlight: Elijah Garcia

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Each year, Elijah Garcia and his family would load up the car and travel from his hometown of Santa Fe, N.M., to visit relatives in Northwest Arkansas. It was one of the few times he would ever get to travel, but he always enjoyed his visits. “There’s a lot of stuff to do in the area and a lot of opportunities here,” he says.

Now it’s time to pursue those opportunities. Like many University of Arkansas students nearing graduation, he’s interviewing for jobs – some of his contacts were made at a career fair held on campus. While he says he’s keeping his options open, should he end up staying in Northwest Arkansas, it would be fine with him.

A senior retail and marketing major at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Elijah has spent the past year working as a management trainee intern at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Fayetteville. He says his duties include serving as a middleman between insurance adjusters and the managers of rental vehicles in northern Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. When Enterprise sponsored a competition among the region’s interns, Elijah came in second with his presentation and won first place overall, earning a scholarship.

Elijah says his decision to attend the University of Arkansas was an easy one. With family in the area, he knew the transition to the next stage in his life would go smoothly. When he learned more about Walton College, it was practically a no-brainer. “That Walton College is highly respected and highly ranked made my choice a little bit easier,” he says.

He paid a visit to the campus before enrolling, and the first thing that impressed him was the buildings with the latest technology, especially Willard J. Walker Hall, which, on the third floor, features a stock market ticker that can be viewed from the second and fourth floors. Then, he met the professors, whom he calls “topnotch.” It all felt right.

One aspect he’s taken advantage of as a college student is traveling. Elijah, who has a Spanish and economics minor, studied abroad for five weeks in Puebla, Mexico, visited New York and, most recently, New Orleans on an AMA trip. He is also a Silas Hunt Scholar and served as a mentor his sophomore year.

Elijah is active with the American Marketing Association’s student chapter where he serves as vice president of fundraising. He says the experience has been invaluable in getting a taste of the corporate world. The group has been researching with Walton College’s supply chain department a “scan and go” app where Walmart and Sam’s Club customers can scan their purchase items with their smartphones before paying at a self-checkout station, he says.

There are also group activities in his Walton College classes, which he says has enhanced his communication skills. “A lot of the group work has really led to my maturity as a professional as well as a person,” he says.

When he’s not in the classroom, Elijah can be found on the campus’s athletic fields, participating in intramural sports. His flag football team recently won the men’s championship. Now, with his college career about to come to an end, there will be new opportunities to champion.

EPIC Spotlight: Dylan Breeding

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Nobody offered him scholarships. Nobody recruited him. But Dylan Breeding knew he had to try for a spot on the Arkansas Razorback football team.

A talented punter, Dylan dreamed of playing college football. Ideally, it would have been for the University of Alabama, located near his hometown of Hoover, Ala. But when there was no opening for a punter on the Alabama Crimson Tide football team, he began looking elsewhere.

The Razorbacks needed a punter. He contacted the coaches.

“They were really excited that I was coming,” he says. “But nothing was promised.”

In June 2009, immediately after graduating from high school, he moved to Fayetteville, enrolled in summer school and, by August, began football practice, where he was designated as a preferred walk-on, which assured him a spot on the team but no scholarship money.

Two days before the 2009 football season began, Dylan was informed he would be the starting punter. From there, it kept getting better. That season, the team went to the Liberty Bowl. The next year, it was the Sugar Bowl. Then, in January, Dylan punted in the Cotton Bowl with a win that ranked Arkansas No. 5 in the nation. (His career long, so far, happened against Louisiana State University last November with a 70-yard punt.)

As a punter, Dylan explains his role on the Razorback team succinctly.

“My goal as a punter is to give our team the best field position possible,” he says.

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He’s also working for the best position possible off the field. One way he’s doing it, he says, is by attending the Sam M. Walton College of Business, where he’s majoring in marketing. Even with training, practice and football games on the road, Dylan is in the Walton College Honors Program, which motivates him to keep at his best, he says. That means studying whenever he gets a chance, especially on Sundays. “The discipline is that I don’t sleep much,” he says.

Dylan says playing professional football is his goal, though he says he feels he needs to improve. “I would like to play football in the future, but I need to be able to fall back on a career as well,” he says. Intrigued by marketing concepts, Dylan says sports marketing would “obviously be the way to go.”

He says his first visited to the University of Arkansas was a bit of a whirlwind tour. But he says he soon learned that Walton College had a great reputation. “I liked the business college – it being so prestigious,” he says.

Since coming to the university nearly three years ago, Dylan has earned a scholarship. He also was nominated for the Brandon Burlsworth Trophy the past two seasons, which goes to an outstanding football player who began his career as a walk-on, and the Rudy Award, which honors student athletes who demonstrate exemplary character, courage, contribution and commitment as members of their team on and off the field. In January, Dylan was selected to the 2011 Southeastern Conference Fall Academic Honor Roll and the All-SEC second team for football.

Off the field, and outside of the classroom, Dylan is active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which has active Razorback members, and speaks to groups on behalf of the organization. He also plays golf.

One other thing has happened as well: confidence.

“I don’t feel as much pressure as I used to,” he says. “I just take it one punt at a time.”

Dylan says he expects to graduate this December, which leaves him a few months until the NFL draft. “I’m going to stay up here, train and hope for the best,” he says.

EPIC Spotlight: Dr. Robin L. Soster

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Robin Soster is getting used to the ribbing when people step inside her office. On the wall is a Gamecocks banner from her alma mater, the University of South Carolina.

“That’s probably my favorite thing: when people come in my office and ask me where I’m from,” she says.

Newly transplanted from South Carolina, where she has spent most of her life, the Department of Marketing assistant professor says she’s already warming up to the Gamecocks’ rival, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Also on her office wall is one of many famous hog hats worn by diehard Arkansas sports fans. Because both the Gamecocks and Razorbacks are Southeast Conference teams, she says this helps her feel like she’s not so far from her hometown. In fact, until her job interview at the University of Arkansas, she had never stepped foot in the Natural State.

There have been Arkansas connections, however. Midway through graduate school at the University of South Carolina while pursuing her marketing MBA, she found herself working for Gamecocks football Coach Lou Holtz, who once coached the Razorbacks. Through her alma mater’s FABER Entrepreneurship Center, she helped design the team’s promotional hats and T-shirts.

Soster, who teaches consumer behavior, says her academic journey into marketing stemmed from a question she asks herself when she goes shopping: Why am I buying this? Though she earned bachelor of science degrees in both management science and economics, she says the behavioral aspect intrigued her. “Marketing was just the natural fit for me,” she says.

Her ability to “practice” consumer behavior was one of the many aspects that attracted her to Northwest Arkansas. Up the road in Benton County are plenty of shopping centers and stores. She says her husband, Eric Soster, and three children love the “cool” and “funky” side of Fayetteville and get out and enjoy the Ozarks as much as possible.

Soster’s journey to academia was a winding one. Before deciding to go back to the University of South Carolina to pursue her Ph.D., she was a marketing and financial analyst for a private equity firm, worked as a computer programmer and even toyed with becoming a high school teacher until she had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. Once “bitten by the teaching bug,” she decided to go back to school, completing her degree in 2011.

As one the newest faces at Sam M. Walton College of Business, Soster says she hopes she can leave a lasting impression with her consumer behavior students. She says she challenges them to make rational decisions in the marketplace and to be the kind of managers that enable other consumers to do so as well. She says she tries to convey this message through humor (on her non-teaching days, she can be found in her office wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt) and assigning her students books business professionals are reading.

“People like seeing how irrational we humans can be,” she says. “We do not necessarily think like economists!”