Celebrating 25 years of Vasey Academy: A reflection on corporate mentorship & scholarship
The Vasey Academy at the Trulaske College of Business recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, marking a quarter-century of enriching the lives of students from underrepresented groups. Established in 1997, the Vasey Academy is the college's oldest Program of Distinction, providing corporate mentorship and exposure to executives, career coaching and scholarship opportunities.
Vasey Academy Scholars have access to a variety of resources to assist them with their academic goals and career readiness, including a seminar course to build networking strategies, financial literacy, exposure to corporate executives and public speaking skills through experiential learning. Since its inception, the Vasey Academy has enriched over 900 students with opportunities to develop their careers and achieve their academic goals.
The Vasey Academy was established with a gift from Roger Vasey, BS BA '58, and his wife, Sandy, demonstrating their commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of minority students. It was designed as a selective program, offering members a seminar course, mentorship by corporate executives, and a one-time $1,000 scholarship.
For more insight into the Vasey Academy and its impact, we spoke with three individuals involved with the program in various capacities. Professor Daryl Smith, BS BA '83, who served as the program director from 2013-2018, provided his perspective on the importance of mentorship in the program. Alexis Butler, BS BA ’12, shared her personal experiences as a member of the program and how it helped shape her career path. Mike Weiss, M Acc ’97, a Vasey Academy Advisory Board member, discussed the importance of the Vasey Academy mission and his involvement in supporting its growth over the years.
Alexis Butler, BS BA ‘12
Senior Program Manager
Corporation for Supportive Housing
Kansas City, Missouri
How did you discover the Vasey Academy, and what attracted you to the program?
My first touch point with the Vasey Academy was during my time as an undergraduate looking to change my major. I came to Mizzou as a political science major and quickly realized that was not my path. So, I visited Trulaske and looked at the programs and offerings. At the time, I was also connected to Marvin Burns, MS ’06, the director of the Vasey Academy. Marvin explained that not only could the program support a potential transition into the business school, but it could also help me understand the various concentrations and other resources that the school had to offer.
I came to Trulaske and quickly connected with students studying all types of business, which gave me insight into what I could get from the business school, and that solidified my joining the Vasey Academy and studying marketing.
Reflecting on my transition to the business school as someone who was looking for what that ideal metric could be for myself, it was through the Vasey Academy that I immediately felt a sense of community, not only through classmates and other participants in the program but also through the career and academic advisors.
I had immediate access to people who deeply cared about my success and, in some regards, really walked hand-in-hand with me as it related to not only my business school education, but getting the most out of my time at the University of Missouri. I am deeply grateful for the Vasey Academy and the network it has given me throughout my career at Mizzou and beyond.
What are you doing now?
I currently work in the nonprofit sector as a consultant for a national housing organization focused on eradicating homelessness and increasing affordable housing production across the U.S. Coming to the business school was a tension point of mine, as I've always wanted to work in the civic sector, but I was unsure if a business education was the best approach to creating that pathway for myself.
As someone who is now on the other side, with an undergraduate degree from Mizzou and currently a Neubauer Civic Scholar MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I do advocate for business school education, especially in the undergraduate realm. It's given me a firm understanding of how businesses operate and how to interact with stakeholders, which in my context happens to be government officials and local advocacy organizations.
But regardless of the context in which you work, the foundations of a business school education remain highly relevant, so my education gave me an understanding of how to make an impact within the organization and have lasting, sustainable change as it relates to my work.
What’s something you cherish about your time with the Vasey Academy?
One component of the Vasey Academy I cherish was the opportunity to engage with the Regional Business Council in St. Louis. We were able to travel from Columbia to St. Louis and engage with business leaders in the area. I remember that during our travels, there was an opportunity to participate in a formal lecture engagement and be involved in the social aspects, which was a chance to network with local executives. I was able to learn what jobs could come from being a business student, and I also learned more about various career pathways that the executives took in their careers, which helped to shape and inform my own journey in a way.
Through Vasey Academy and a Trulaske mentoring program, I remember being paired with an executive who led accounting operations for a casino in the area. It was incredibly impactful to have that direct access and to speak with that executive, hear their story and hear how I can potentially shape my career pathway.
What advice do you have for current Trulaske business students?
It is critical when we're thinking about career growth and development that we look to build relationships with not only those who are a bit further along in their careers than we may be, but also with our peers.
Through peer-to-peer relationships that I've built at Mizzou, I received some of the richest opportunities related to my career and civic involvement at large. The Mizzou alumni base in my hometown of Kansas City, Mo., gave me a chance to engage socially and professionally after being away for some time, and has been such a rich touchpoint.
Build relationships where you are, remember that every relationship is valuable and invest both horizontally and vertically.
Daryl Smith, BS BA '83
Associate Teaching Professor
Trulaske College of Business
How did you become involved with the Vasey Academy?
I have known of the Vasey Academy for over 20 years. When I decided to join the Davenport Society and support the Trulaske College of Business, I was very clear about where I wanted my money to go. I wanted to support students in the Vasey Academy.
I joined the College of Business in the fall of 2012, and I immediately got involved with the academy. I started teaching the one-credit hour course in the spring of 2013. I then directed and led the program from the spring of 2013 until the fall of 2018. And now, I am back, teaching the course again and assisting Dr. Jason McKinney, our new director of inclusion, diversity and equity, as he settles into his role. I also have the pleasure of working with Leilani Tiefenthaler as we guide this next generation of business leaders.
Roger and Sandy Vasey obviously had a tremendous impact on getting the program started and for creating the initial vision. Can you talk about their role in creating this program?
Roger and Sandy are such impressive people, and their commitment shows through the leadership and financial support they provide to the Vasey Academy. They want to make a difference and are passionate about supporting underrepresented minority students. They choose to give back in this way, offering scholarships and supporting the programming that helps ensure college success for underrepresented minority students.
Can you touch on the importance of mentorship?
Mentorship used to be more informal but has become more structured with trust agreements and objectives. When looking for a job, it is important to find someone already in that position who can provide coaching and mentorship. This can help not only with career advancement but also with personal growth. For students, having a mentor can greatly enhance their classroom experience and prepare them for life after college. Mentors can break down barriers and provide valuable coaching and advice that can be applied throughout a lifetime.
What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing education at Trulaske and/or with the Vasey Academy?
I often give the advice to embrace everything that comes with being a college student. Go for the full experience, in addition to the coursework. Is it going to be challenging? Is it going to take a lot of time? Yes. But enjoy the full experience of being a college student.
I also tell students to be well-rounded. I just spoke to an accounting class about being a specialist versus a generalist, and I advocate for being a generalist. If you are a business major and you are pursuing a minor, get a minor somewhere outside of business. If you are going to pick up a certificate, pick up a certificate that is not necessarily connected with that minor or that major, and try different things, because studies show that the generalist often succeed. Choose a variety of courses, do a lot of different things, and get involved with student organizations.
Specific to the Vasey Academy, whether it is the coursework or the experiential elements of the program, we try to give students different experiences. All of them contribute to student success and professional development, and it gets them ready for their careers.
Mike Weiss, M Acc ’97
When and how did you become involved with the Vasey Academy, and what attracted you to the program?
I have been a supporter on the sidelines since the beginning. I know that because that’s how long we have had Vasey Academy graduates working for EY. In 2016, a mutual friend approached me and said they were looking for, as every organization does, some new energy on the board, some new ideas, etc. At the same time, I sensed that our firm, EY, was ready to make a change in how we support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, the amount of effort we invest in them and their importance. It was always something at the top of the list, but it got significantly bolder and moved to the top of the priority list. And I thought, you know what? I'm going to connect these two dots by being substantially more active in Vasey and, at the same time, further this effort for EY.
I knew that it was a great organization, and I knew that it was a no-brainer to become more involved in organizations like this, have a chance to make a difference and move from the sideline into the on-field huddle.
Can you speak to Roger and Sandy Vaseys’ impact on the Vasey Academy since its establishment in 1997? How has their support and contribution helped shape the program's mission and goals in offering a unique educational experience and financial support to minority students?
Roger and Sandy were the pioneers of this program. They are the ones who, year after year, showed unbelievable commitment to not only the College of Business but the program they founded from scratch. Their vision over 30 years ago came to fruition. It has been a remarkable success ever since. There's no way I could capture how much Roger and Sandy Vasey have done for Trulaske, the Vasey Academy and thousands of students because I don't think there are enough pens and paper in the world to write it all down. They have been remarkable supporters time and time again.
How has the one-on-one mentoring aspect of the Vasey Academy, which involves business executives from companies like EY, positively impacted participating students?
The Vasey Academy is focused on supporting students who may feel a little out of place, retain them at the university, help them thrive within the Trulaske College of Business and enable their success. These students come from underrepresented groups, meaning there are not a whole lot of people that they can look to at the University and say, “Oh, you're just like me.” Because of this, they may be more hesitant to ask for help; they may have unique challenges; they may hesitate to be honest about the challenges that they're facing.
The Vasey Academy breaksdown these barriers,enabling the students’ success. All Vasey students take a course in their first year focusing on technical skills training, how to do an interview, how to network and how to develop leadership skills, etc. This course also helps identify the barriers, where the students need help and where they are struggling. They can speak freely because others in the room are in the same situation. So, it's a lot of technical and professional skills development, but also a lot of focus on breaking down those barriers and understanding the obstacles to their success, then, helping them overcome them.
Jean Whitley (BS Acc, M Acc ’17) is a fantastic success story. He is a manager in our Kansas City office. To borrow a cliché metaphor about people having to walk uphill both ways in the snow without shoes, Jean had it that bad. He overcame an enormous amount of adversity to succeed at Mizzou.
He came to the Vasey Academy and got a ton of help; he is a remarkable success story. And, of course, the underlying reason for Jean’s success is because he is a strong man, and he took the bull by the horns, and he legitimately earned his success – but he would say that the Vasey Academy was also critical in providing him with the support network and help that he needed throughout that journey.