No Matter the Path, Holy Cross Students Thrive

Students find endless ways to combine their academic passions with hands-on experience
March 25th, 2019 by 

Students sit around a large table while one stands at a blackboard at the front of the room
Paul Wiley '20 leads a meeting with his company, Wilox, which was started at Holy Cross. Photo by Avanell Brock

College can often feel like a linear journey — take a few classes, decide on a major, join a club or two, fulfill your requirements and graduate in four years. For many, though, that path is much less precise. Interested in chemistry but have a knack for entrepreneurship? You can do both, and even get support from professors in creating a new, cool product. With countless opportunities at their fingertips, Holy Cross students explore winding paths that lead them in the right direction every time.

Paul Wiley ’20

Paul Wiley stands in a chemistry lab

Paul is a chemistry major who is pursuing a certificate in business fundamentals and is in the Health Professions Advising Program. As a first-year student, he won the annual Shark Tank competition put on by the Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics and Society. He continued his relationship with the Ciocca Center and is now developing his own product and building a company from the ground up.

You’re majoring in chemistry, but you’re also in the business certificate program and heavily involved with the Ciocca Center. How does your major connect with this track and the Ciocca Center?
In chemistry, we need to keep things clean — glassware for experiments, and such. I’m not a clean freak, but I was sitting in the science library and I realized the tables were disgusting — I wiped one, and the cloth was black. So, I used my chemistry background to say, “How can I make something that kills bacteria and viruses over an extended period of time, not just once?” The Ciocca Center helped translate the idea of this technology into the business.

What impact has the Ciocca Center — and all of the programs within it — had on your time at Holy Cross? What has it been like having the support of professors and programs while developing a product for sale?
It’s been phenomenal. One of the reasons I came to Holy Cross is because I have a hearing problem, and I kind of needed that one-on-one attention. And that’s what I get through the Ciocca Center. The Center’s job is translation — saying, “It’s cool that you have an idea, but does anyone care? Is anyone going to buy it? Is there a need for it?” That’s where they come in — helping us present, make pitches, giving us critique and then offering those connections to different alumni.

You’ve been working closely with other student-entrepreneurs in the HC Launch Incubator. What impact has this collaboration had on your own development as an entrepreneur?
One of the things I enjoy most about Holy Cross is working with students who have their own ideas, solving problems and working together as a team. Collectively, students on our team represent five different majors. These diverse and unique perspectives, combined with each person’s distinct background, enable us to effectively and creatively approach the different facets of problem-solving. It’s nice to see students that identify a problem anywhere — at Holy Cross or out in the world — and actually come up with a solution for it, and actually do something with it.

Zhiran “Karen” Xu ’19

Zhiran

Karen is a music and computer science double major who, combining her majors, conducted independent summer research coding music for a silent film. An international student from China, Karen also spent a semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland and sings in both the College Choir and Chamber Singers on campus.

Music and computer science seem like an unlikely pairing. From your experience as a double major, how do you think they work well together?
I think both of them have potential of surpassing subject boundaries. People had used music as a powerful tool to protest, pray, heal; the same could be done with computer science. Both challenge me to build something on the ground of nothing, and I master whatever I create, with minimal constraints due to the semantics of the musical or programming language. It also allows me to examine commonalities of the two subjects, such as computer music and music technology through taking classes such as Coding Music.

What impact did your summer research project have on you, both personally and in your academic career? What was it like working independently on such a major project and under the mentorship of a professor?
Prior to Holy Cross, I never expected that it was possible for professors and students to engage on such a level. It was comforting to know that I didn’t have to have all the pieces I needed to carry out a project — that I could learn different techniques along the way and experiment with them. I was a little overwhelmed by the degree of control I had over the project, but it was really cool to have this “intellectual brainstorm” with my professor deliberating ideas. I was really happy that I got to experience this.

Along the way, you found time to spend a semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland. How did spending time in a foreign country play into your development at Holy Cross?
It pulled me back from my commitments from Holy Cross and I was able to examine what I was doing away from the environment. The experience of spending time in a foreign country isn’t new to me, but going to a large university and having to be very proactive in terms of getting involved and knowing friends was a bit different, and was very scary at first. But it just provided such a fresh perspective. I definitely came back having a better idea about what activities I want to be involved with and people I’d like to hang out with more.

Kara Cuzzone ’19

Kara Cuzzone stands in an office

Kara, an anthropology major, spent a semester in New York City working at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen through the New York Semester Program. There, she realized she wants to work in journalism after graduation, and decided to spend an additional few months in the city for a summer internship. On campus, she interns in the Community-Based Learning office and started her own student organization, Peace of Mind.

When you were in New York City, you interned at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines. How did the experience connect with your anthropology major?
Anthropology is a lesser-known major, but the cool thing about it is that it can be applied to just about anything. The New York Semester Program has a capstone component where students are required to write a 35-page paper that connects to their internship or overall experience. I decided to connect my capstone to my major by studying the stereotypes associated with women’s magazines through an anthropological perspective. This meant reading existing scholarship on the subject, getting feedback from readers and interviewing a few of the editors that I worked with in order to better understand how they viewed Cosmopolitan and Seventeen.

What impact did the New York Semester Program have on you and your plans for the future?
Going into the program, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in journalism, but I wasn’t totally sure. I had also never lived in a city, and wasn’t certain I’d like it. After the almost five-month long program, that all changed. Interning for Cosmopolitan and Seventeen exposed me to the world of women’s media and gave me a taste of what my future could look like. Not only that, but I loved living in the city so much that I decided to stay for the summer and pursue another internship to get some experience on the digital side of the editorial world.

You stayed in New York City through the summer in another internship, and received funding from the Career Development Center to do so. Why was this internship experience important to you?
After spending the spring interning on the print side of Cosmopolitan and Seventeen, I was eager to see how a career in the world of digital media might be different. With that in mind, I landed at Byrdie.com, a beauty and wellness site. The internship was a great opportunity to experience the day-to-day at a website. I researched products, wrote articles and even got to conduct a celebrity interview. By the end of the summer, I felt like I had a lot of experience under my belt, and clarity that this was what I wanted to do after graduation.

Learn more about experiential learning opportunities through the J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World or the liberal arts approach to the study of business through the Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society.

Photos by Avanell Brock

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