EPIC Spotlight: Brian McCaster

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“You have to ask yourself, ‘What do I want to learn from this?’”

When Brian McCaster was in high school, he spent 11 months in Paraguay as an exchange student. The experience opened his eyes to issues beyond his central Arkansas home near Conway, especially when Paraguayans would ask him questions about the United States’ government and economics.

This past summer, Brian returned to South America, this time to Brazil in the Study Abroad program sponsored by the Sam M. Walton College of Business. He and other students, through the guidance of Walton College economics professor Andrew Horowitz, met with business experts, including those with supply chain management and logistics backgrounds.

Brian plans to graduate in May 2012 with a degree in international business management and a minor in Spanish. He says his classes have been challenging but in a good way.

“Whenever you take those classes, you have to be focused,” Brian says. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What do I want to learn from this?’”

Though this background would make him suited for a career in international business, Brian says it has prepared him for something else: working with high school students and college freshmen. He already has experience in the area. For the past three years, Brian has served as a resident assistant at Maple Hill South dormitory, lending an ear to new students as they adjust to their independence.

Brian says he had planned to enroll in graduate school immediately after earning his bachelor’s degree. A phone call changed everything. A recruiter with Teach for America, a program where leaders commit two years to teaching children in low-income communities across the country, asked Brian to join the organization.

Brian was reluctant at first. “But I got on the phone with this guy, and everything made sense,” he says.

Brian says the program will help him test his strengths before he moves on to graduate school later.

Reaching out to the community’s needs is also Brian’s passion. He has participated with Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), an international nonprofit organization that has a Walton College chapter. His involvement has included replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in low-income housing and working with older people in various capacities from teaching them how to use the Internet to helping build a community garden at the Fayetteville Senior Activity and Wellness Center.

Raised by his grandparents, Brian says his business classes have made him think about his grandfather, who owned a concrete business before retiring. Growing up, he says, he never thought about all of the business decisions his grandfather surely made. Brian says his experience at Walton College gives him a newfound respect for the business and the man, and he now looks to him as a crucial source of guidance.

Brian also seeks guidance at Walton College. Naturally curious, he sometimes visits different professors during their office hours to find out their passions and motivations.

“You can learn something from anybody,” Brian says. “No matter who it is, you can learn something.”

EPIC Spotlight: Brad Audrain

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“I had great experiences with Walton College, and I’m proud I was able to graduate there.”

This past New Year’s Eve, revelers in downtown Fayetteville greeted 2012 with a new taxi cab service available – one with a minimal carbon footprint. Green Cab Co. made its debut by offering safe rides for those who had a little too much fun or simply wanted a safe ride home.

Several months later, the black hybrid automobiles can be seen all over Northwest Arkansas, and the company’s co-owner, Brad Audrain, says he is already making plans to expand.

“We try to use every new innovation and less energy than any other cab companies here or anywhere else in the country,” he says.

But driving cars with a lesser carbon footprint isn’t all the company does to stay green, Audrain says. It uses iPhone card swipe devices for credit transactions and offers electronic receipts via email, though drivers will provide paper receipts when asked, he says. Passengers are also not allowed to smoke in the vehicles.

A graduate of the Sam M. Walton College of Business in 2006, Audrain says he still refers to his textbooks when it comes to managing the dozen or so dispatchers and drivers who make up the business. They also come in handy when working with independent contractors, he says.

Though he grew up in Memphis, Audrain says one of the primary reasons he chose to attend the University of Arkansas was because it was his family’s alma mater.

“With parents, grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of my family having attended the U of A before me, it was the obvious choice,” he says. “I was a huge Razorback fan since the day I was born.”

He says he selected a business management major because it is a broad field that can be applied to any facet of his professional life. He wouldn’t know, until years later, how he would apply that knowledge, he says.

“I had great experiences with Walton College, and I’m proud I was able to graduate there,” he says.

He confesses, however, that he wishes he had paid more attention to his studies as an undergraduate and advises new and prospective businesses to not dismiss any subjects being taught in the classroom.

“The stuff you don’t think matters, it’s there for a reason,” he says. “The professors and administrators know what they are doing, and you’re there for a reason.”

Following graduation, Audrain enrolled in law school with plans to become a lawyer. He earned a law degree, and even practiced for a year. But, he says, the legal profession was never for him.

A new career opportunity came through a conversation he had with Sarah Sparks Diebold, whom he shares Green Cab Co.’s co-owner title, along with Matt Powell. He says Diebold was looking at some ideas for a niche business in Northwest Arkansas, and the two explored ways to make a difference in the community. When they discovered an environmentally friendly cab company in Madison, Wisc., Audrain researched the idea and Powell joined forces. After “five or six” months of planning, Green Cab Co. secured an office in downtown Fayetteville in November with a fleet of four Toyota Priuses in place New Year’s Eve, Audrain says.

Now, the cabs run routes all over the area, including to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill. He says his customers are of all ages, whether it be professionals doing business in the area, people stranded due to auto troubles and, of course, the late-night visitors on Dickson Street. “It’s everyone from across the board,” he says.

As for Green Cab Co.’s future, Audrain says he would like to increase his fleet and, perhaps, expand into other college towns in the mid-South. He says Green Cab will continue to use either hybrid autos, like the Prius, or electric cars once they become more mainstream. He says this fits in with Fayetteville’s personality.

“They like to keep things funky around here, and so do we,” he says.

EPIC Spotlight: Blake Strode

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“Everyone we met and spoke with was so friendly and welcoming, and it was such a warm community.”

Hotels. Travel. Spreadsheets. Numbers. As a professional tennis player, Blake Strode often draws on knowledge gained as a student at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

“It helps to make sense of everything,” Strode says of his business degree. “I definitely use things I learned all the time.”

Since graduating from the University of Arkansas in 2009, Strode, now living in Cary, N.C., has pursued his lifelong dream of playing professional tennis.

And succeeding.

In the past two years, Strode has won successive U.S. Open National Playoffs and continues to get accepted to “bigger and bigger” tournaments, he says. This can complicate things a little. During his senior year, Strode was accepted to Harvard Law School. “I’ve deferred for three years since then,” he says. “It’s a year-by-year kind of thing – an ongoing question. But I’m going to go.”

Growing up in St. Louis, Strode says he “fell in love” with the University of Arkansas campus while visiting. “Everyone we met and spoke with was so friendly and welcoming, and it was such a warm community.”

Though he didn’t follow Arkansas sports, he got caught up in the school spirit in Fayetteville. “You could tell that everyone loved, breathed the Razorbacks,” he says.

When he arrived for student orientation, he planned on majoring in industrial engineering. By day’s end, however, he realized a combined major of Spanish and international economics would be more practical and would also be beneficial for studying abroad. Still, playing tennis was also his goal, he says. “I wouldn’t have done anything that didn’t make sense to me,” he says.

As a student, Strode maintained a 3.98 grade point average. While a senior with the University of Arkansas men’s tennis team, he was ranked the nation’s 13th best singles player in an Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll and won the fifth most single victories in Arkansas history.

He has come a long way from being the 12-year-old who won a contest for the best essay about tennis legend Arthur Ashe. Sponsored by the National Junior Tennis and Learning network, Strode’s prize was a visit to the U.S. Open. Years later, when Strode played in a tournament sponsored by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, a similar Arthur Ashe contest for students occurred. This time, Strode met the students and got to read their essays and look at their Ashe-inspired art.

When he’s not competing in tournaments, Strode says he practices tennis at least four hours a day and works out during the rest, making his athletic career a full-time job.

Whatever path his life takes, he says he knows that Walton College provided a solid educational background. “I had a lot of good professors,” he says.

Yet, his tennis career keeps building, and he says he wants to see where it will take him for now.

“I’m just playing as many tournaments as I can,” he says.

EPIC Spotlight: Bethany Haefner

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“I have been learning so much, and I wouldn’t trade the amazing experiences that I have had throughout the MBA program for anything.”

For Bethany Haefner, life really is like a box of chocolates – especially around Valentines Day when she, along with her coworkers at The Hershey Co., explore which ones will be in the highest demand for the romantic holiday.

Sometimes her job confuses people, she says.

“I’ve actually gotten some funny comments about it,” she says. “People often ask me if I actually help make the chocolate!”

Not quite. Bethany is a category consultant at Hershey’s Bentonville office, where she works on the Walmart account, selling chocolate chips, Hershey’s syrup, baking cocoa and other products, including Hershey’s Valentine’s Day candies. She
monitors real-time business activities, interprets data and creates immediate action plans to address issues as well as take advantage of opportunities. Since January, she has worked there full time while pursuing an MBA with emphases in entrepreneurship and supply chain, which she’ll earn in May at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Twice a week, Bethany takes a break from her job and drives more than 20 miles each way to the University of Arkansas to attend class.

Bethany is a familiar face at Walton College. It’s where she earned her bachelor’s degree with a major in marketing and a minor in accounting. She’s also no stranger to the Walton name. Having grown up in Bentonville, where Sam Walton called home, she already knew the Walmart founder’s significance, she says. Many of her classmates were children of Walmart employees who worked at the world’s largest retailer’s home office. Walmart is referenced in many of her college business classes, she says.

But proximity wasn’t the main reason why she chose to attend Walton College.

“I ended up going to the University of Arkansas because of the great business school and everything associated it with,” she says. “I also felt like it was beneficial to stay with University of Arkansas’ MBA program because I knew that I wanted to stay in retailing.”

As for Hershey’s, Bethany interned there as an undergraduate, which led to a graduate assistantship while she worked toward a master’s degree.

“I have always wanted to get my MBA,” she says. “Not only that, but I think that it is an important degree to have, especially to be competitive in today’s industry. That’s what encouraged me to move forward.”

Before Hershey’s, she interned as an undergraduate at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., which enhanced her experiences going into Walton College’s master’s program, she says. In turn, she says her yearlong entrepreneurship class under the direction of Carol Reeves has been extremely beneficial to her career at Hershey. “She helps train us how to look at the world in a different way – from the viewpoint of an entrepreneur,” Bethany says.

In Reeves’ class, Bethany is part of a five-member team that has created a business plan, in partnership with Unilever, that involves a shelf-planning, cloud-based software. The team, SpatiaLink Solutions, has taken the plan to collegiate entrepreneurship competitions, finishing second overall in the graduate team competition and winning the elevator pitch competition at the 2012 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup for Arkansas in April. They also won the “Gone in 60 Seconds” competition in Fort Smith and the top prize at the Brown-Forman Cardinal Challenge at the University of Louisville.

As a graduate student, she went to India over the Christmas break through the University of Arkansas’ Study Abroad program, where she learned about aspects of the country from its culture to how business works there.

She’s also planning for her wedding in May, to Zac Freeman, who is in the MBA program at John Brown University in Siloam Springs.

While her schedule is a busy one, Bethany says she doesn’t mind. “This has been a very busy semester, but I have been busy with things that I am passionate about,” she says. “I have been learning so much, and I wouldn’t trade the amazing experiences that I have had throughout the MBA program for anything.”

EPIC Spotlight: Ben Rector

“I've just been really fortunate to do something that I love.”
“I’ve just been really fortunate to do something that I love.”

A lot has happened since Ben Rector performed concerts downstairs from the cafeteria of the Pomfret Hall dormitory. As an undergraduate, Rector was juggling two worlds: that as a marketing student at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and the other as an up-and-coming musician with weekend gigs.

“I tried to stack all my classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and leave Thursday night or Friday morning,” he says. “That was an interesting double life.”

In between hitting the books, Rector was always finding ways to make some pocket change through performing, and even managed to release a music album his freshman year. In 2006, he won the grand prize in the pop category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for his song “Conversation.”

By his senior year, the singer-songwriter whose diverse music talent ranges from folk to pop had released three full-length albums, performed about 200 gigs and was engaged to be married. He also made another big decision about life after graduation: moving to “Music City U.S.A.” – also known as Nashville, Tenn.

That was in 2010. Rector and his wife, University of Arkansas graduate Hillary Swanton Rector, have since watched his career flourish. His 2011 album, “Something Like This,” peaked at No. 15 on Billboard magazine’s Top Rock Albums and fared even better at No. 11 in each category for the magazine’s Top Digital Albums and Independent Albums. His music has been featured on television shows from “ESPN SportsCenter” to ABC’s “Modern Family.”

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In high school, Rector filled much of his time writing songs, playing the guitar and singing. “It felt really natural for me, and it was something I really enjoyed,” he says. But there was the matter of college. His older sister had attended the University of Arkansas, which wasn’t far from his Tulsa, Okla., home. He says he already liked Fayetteville from visiting here. When the university offered him a scholarship, it was hard to refuse, he says.

As for a major, he decided marketing would provide a good foundation to just about any career he pursued. When it was apparent that having a music career was essentially launching a business, he began applying things he learned from his business classes. Now, Rector says he plays an active role in finding new and creative ways to market his songs and concerts. “Obviously, the huge part of making music is, hopefully, that people will know you are making music and want to buy it or want to come to shows,” he says. He says he found good mentors in Dr. Molly Rapert, marketing associate professor who already knew his sister, and Mark Risk, a real estate instructor with the finance department who encouraged Rector with his aspirations in music. Rector, in fact, did a commercial real estate internship in Dallas as a student. “I spent a lot of time at the W-C-O-B,” he says.

After a tour this spring, there’s no time for rest. Rector says he’ll release a new album followed by another tour, possibly in the fall at the earliest. And he doesn’t mind at all. “Things have grown quicker than I thought they would,” he says. “I’ve just been really fortunate to do something that I love.”

(Posted May 2013)

EPIC Spotlight: Audrey Davidson

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The 10-key calculator with a small, paper roll fascinated Audrey Davidson as a child. She watched her mother, a real estate accountant, punch the buttons, causing the calculator to print out numbers as the spool turned. Sometimes, Audrey punched the buttons herself, pretending she was grown up. Add her father to the equation, the chief financial officer of his engineering firm, and it almost seemed inevitable.

Audrey was an accountant in the making.

Several years later, while a high school junior in Webb City, Mo., Audrey took an accounting class. She enjoyed it so much, a year later she became her accounting teacher’s assistant. These experiences stayed with her as she began looking for a college to attend. One university made quite an impression, especially since it is near major corporations with a global impact. “The business school is so well known,” she says. There was also the lure of the Integrated Master of Accountancy (IMAcc) program, a five-year plan that enables students to become certified public accountants.

Her choice: the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.

Now a senior, Audrey has a summer accounting internship lined up at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Springdale location. The corporation, with headquarters in London, offers various accounting services globally. She says networking through the University of Arkansas chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an honorary organization for finance honor students and professionals, led to the internship. When she graduates from the IMAcc program and gets her CPA, she says she hopes to return to PricewaterhouseCoopers as a staff accountant.

Audrey says her experiences at Walton College have convinced her she’s on the right path. “All of those classes just instilled in me that I want to do accounting more,” she says.

Her education has also involved traveling globally. During summer break in 2010, she visited Spain where she took classes and lived in a home where nobody spoke English. She says this provided an excellent opportunity to practice her Spanish-speaking skills.

Last summer, she traveled to Belize with a business team from the Walton College where she took an active role in the community by creating a brochure for the city of Dangriga, as well as a cookbook of traditional Belizean foods for a nonprofit women’s cooperative. Audrey and the team also put some muscle work into building a public park, often in very hot conditions.

“We built it mainly out of tires and material we found around town,” she says. “The kids and people of all ages loved it.”

As a Walton College student, Audrey is secretary for Beta Alpha Psi, with duties that include reporting membership information to the association’s national headquarters, and serves as a Walton College Student Ambassador, where she gives tours to prospective business students. She is also a student representative for Becker Professional Education, which conducts CPA exam reviews, and does promotional work such as hanging posters and sending out e-mails on the corporation’s behalf. In addition, Audrey is a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

Away from the university, Audrey has volunteered with the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association, which represents abused and neglected children in the courtroom and elsewhere.

Her college experiences will have a lasting impression when she begins her career, she says.

“The opportunities that we have here as students are endless,” she says.

EPIC Spotlight: Ashley Jancuska

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One might suspect that a Walton College Honors student would aspire to be an accountant, an investment analyst or an economist — but a physician?

Ashley Jancuska knew in high school that she was passionate about both business and medicine. The Walton Honors Program did not force her to choose between them – it equipped her for both.

“One day, I hope to use the knowledge that I have acquired in my Walton College classes to open and successfully manage a private medical practice,” she said.

“The Walton Honors Program fosters a feeling of camaraderie and community,” Ashley said. “Beginning with the freshmen core and continuing through my four years here, the small honors sections have provided me the opportunity to truly get to know my classmates on a personal level. Additionally, these sections allowed me to also get to know my professors.

“I enjoyed the challenge that honors classes provided as we explored topics in more detail. For example, the honors colloquium classes offered in my junior and senior year gave me an opportunity to study topics which are not traditionally covered in the normal business curriculum, like technical analysis and data mining. With the guidance of our professors, we are able to apply our knowledge to solve current business problems.”

Here at the university she is involved in Walton College’s alumni network and her sorority, Kappa Delta. She also volunteers in the Fayetteville community through Habitat for Humanity and the Northwest Arkansas Free Health Center. She served as a co-project leader in Students In Free Enterprise, where she was responsible for identifying the needs of students at the Fayetteville Adult Education Center and developing a program to address those needs.

Ashley also has studied abroad twice while at the University of Arkansas. She studied international business and e-commerce in Greece and global consumerism in Italy. As a member of the Walton Honors Program, she had access to “a number of grant and scholarship opportunities available to help defray the costs of studying abroad,” she said. Ashley said these grants and scholarships allowed her to “engage in international learning experiences and gain insight into other cultures.”

After completing her undergraduate degree, Ashley plans to attend medical school where she is interested in pursuing either primary care or sports medicine. She is excited to combine her business and science knowledge to effectively communicate and manage both administrative and clinical staff. Ashley is grateful to the “top-notch faculty, supportive advisors and abundant resources” that the Walton Honors Program provides to assist her in continuing her success.

EPIC Spotlight: Ashleigh Toatley

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Over a four-year span, senior Ashleigh Toatley has gone from being unsure of what field to get into to becoming a leader in her department.
“From a young age, I knew I wanted to major in business, but I wasn’t sure of which specific field,” Toatley said. “Entering into college my objective was to major in a field that was growing and in demand. When I met with Barbara Lofton my freshman year, she told me about this major (called) Transportation and Logistics.”

Since deciding upon her focus, Toatley has plunged headfirst into the world of Transportation and Logistics through her courses in Walton College and extracurricular activities. She is a member of Women in Logistics and has worked with the Supply Chain Management Research Center, which led to her involvement in the University of Arkansas’ Operation Stimulus team.

While working at the Supply Chain Management Research Center in 2008, Toatley organized a research project outlining how interstate commerce trucking regulations vary from state to state across the 48 lower states.

“Through working with Dr. Terry Tremwel, I learned the importance of staying current about what is going on today in the transportation industry as technology and regulations are always changing,” Toatley said. “And though this was the hardest project I’ve ever worked on in my life, it was the most rewarding.”
Toatley made a great impression on the faculty at the research center during her time there.

“We certainly believe that Ashleigh is a talented student leader, but she also excels in research and presentation skills,” said Jim Crowell, director of the Supply Chain Management Research Center. “She displays attention to details and persistence in quality research.”

Crowell and his colleagues were so enthusiastic about Toatley’s performance on the project that they invited her to present her research at a General Electric Conference in Greenville, South Carolina, in front of 200 presidents and vice presidents of major trucking companies.

“It was great to see people interested in what I found so fascinating,” Toatley said.

In addition to being invited to the conference in Greenville, Toatley was also appointed to Walton College’s Operation Stimulus team as a junior. Operation Stimulus is a five-member undergraduate debate team that competes in a national conference in Denver against representatives from 13 other schools with top Transportation and Logistics programs. In the competition, teams are presented with a problem and must use analysis, qualitative and quantitative models, and research to develop the most practical solution.

“(Operation Stimulus) is a great experience because you are among some of the greatest schools in the nation, like Ohio State and Michigan State,” Toatley said. “It’s a great feeling to know that you are representing the University of Arkansas, and you want to apply everything you’ve learned to the case you’re given. It’s also great to work as a team with other classmates because so many minds working together can create extremely creative solutions to problems.”

Toatley will lead the 2010 Operation Stimulus team in the upcoming conference on January 28-30.

Throughout her college experience, Toatley said that Walton College’s faculty has been an asset to her development.

“Having faculty who care about your college career and have great advice to give during challenging situations is the best aspect of the Walton College and the U of A,” Toatley said. “It’s true that you’re not `just a number’ at the U of A. Everything that I’ve learned in the classroom has allowed me to hold conversations with executive professionals in (Transportation and Logistics).”

Toatley has applied her knowledge of the field outside of Walton College. She worked for Tyson Foods for about a year and a half, interning in both the Transportation and Marketing departments.

“It was a great experience (interning in both departments) because I was able to see them operate on a day-to-day basis within such a large corporation,” Toatley said.

Toatley recently accepted an internship at J.B. Hunt, which she said she is looking forward to because it will allow her to continue to apply what she learned in the classroom in the workforce.

After graduation, Toatley said she hopes to join a growing and large corporation, or perhaps to apply to the University of Arkansas’ MBA program.

“So far, I’ve had the opportunity to interview with great companies in Somers, New York, and Omaha, Nebraska,” Toatley said. “Although it has become challenging to manage school, traveling, and work I have enjoyed every minute of the journey as I prepare for the big transition from school to the workforce.”

EPIC Spotlight: Andrew Caldwell

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When Andrew Caldwell first arrived in Korea, he was the only English-speaking person in his community.

“For the first month, I couldn’t talk to anybody,” he says.

Weeks earlier, he had graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general studies at Harding University in Searcy, but his career focus was a bit hazy, he says. The idea of going into the medical profession, which once appealed to him, had waned. A fan of “Saturday Night Live,” Andrew and a buddy considered writing comedy routines, moving to Los Angeles and trying to break into show business. Andrew’s father quickly discouraged him of the notion.

And now he was teaching English as a second language in Andong, Gyeongasangbuk-Do, South Korea, located three hours by bus east of Seoul.

The area was unlike anything he had experienced. Residents adhered to the principles of Confucianism, which originated from ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. Andrew learned that elders were to be treated with great respect and knew to bow deeper for older people who held authority.

“There’s a sense of honor that we don’t have here,” he says.

Through a different culture, Andrew began to fully appreciate the value of an education. Though he had been overseas before when he studied in Italy for two semesters as an undergraduate, his Korean experiences were different, he says.

“I learned so much about myself – about how I truly want to be,” he says.

During his two years in Korea, Andrew took a computer programming course. He liked it. When he moved back to his hometown of Little Rock, he worked at a couple of local restaurants and prepared for his Graduate Management Admissions Test

He was going to graduate school. As he applied to several universities, he says he discovered something. “The more I learned about the University of Arkansas, the more I liked it,” he says. Andrew met with the Walton College’s Graduate School of Business staff, and those meetings went well, he says. Affordability also played a role. “The University of Arkansas is such a better deal for what you’re getting,” he says.

Shortly after enrolling and attending his classes, he says he knew he made the right decision. “I loved the smaller class sizes,” he says, adding that he has found his professors to be accessible and attentive. Andrew says he is focusing on finance and business management and hopes to work in either field after graduation.

While Andrew pursues his master’s degree, he is interning at TracFone Wireless, a prepaid mobile phone provider, as a member of the company’s replenishment team in its Bentonville office. He says he analyzes data from Walmart’s retail link database and tracks inventory supply.

Andrew says he’s happy with his choice. He has already developed a camaraderie with his fellow students.

“Everyone wants to see each other succeed,” he says. “That’s been really fun.”