Pamplin alumni seek work that allows them to change the world

An undergraduate class in Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business helped alumni Ryan Lee, Gina Xenakis, and Jessica Forrester find careers they love at nonprofit organizations. The class, Marketing, Society, and the Public Interest, is taught by Marketing Professor Julie Ozanne.

“It was a great class for getting us thinking about what we wanted to do with our lives and careers,” said Lee, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in management. He now provides fundraising support and marathon training for runners at New York Road Runners, known best for organizing the New York City Marathon each fall.


Children race as part of the New York Road Runners youth program. The New York Road Runners youth programs promote exercise and nutrition, Pamplin alumnus Ryan Lee says, “but our main goal is to transfer values learned from running, such as goal setting, discipline, and perseverance, into everyday life.”

“Neither of us had ever even considered how practical it was to apply what we learned in our business classes to socially relevant careers,” said Xenakis, who earned marketing degrees in 2007 and 2009. She joined Teach for America and now teaches sixth-graders at South Bronx Academy for Applied Media. She and Lee, who are engaged, said the class changed their career trajectories.

Forrester, a 2009 graduate with a degree in marketing who works on Web strategy and outreach at Alliance for a Healthier Generation in Washington, D.C., said Ozanne’s class taught her a lot about how businesses and nonprofits work together and about consumer behavior in general.

Alliance seeks to eliminate childhood obesity and promote healthier lifestyles among young people. “We provide guidance and resources for young people who serve as leaders in the movement. … It’s my job to make sure our website has fresh content that is consistent with our branding and goals, and that we are using the Web to increase access to our programs and provide support wherever possible,” Forrester said.

She wanted a job she could get excited about -- creative work that meant more than just a paycheck. “I’m afflicted by something my Dad calls “Save-the-World-Syndrome.”


Adam Lilienthal meets a young resident of Limuru, Kenya. Adam Lilienthal meets a young resident of Limuru, Kenya.

Like Forrester, Adam Lilienthal, who earned his degree in accounting and information systems in 2006, said he felt driven to find fulfilling work. He said he enjoyed his job leading business software implementation at GE’s global plants and thought highly of the company, but he wanted more than what his day-to-day work could provide. Inspired by the initiatives of Bill Gates and social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus and encouraged by his own volunteer efforts as a student, Lilienthal dreamed more and more about working full time for a nonprofit.

When a volunteer opportunity opened up at TechnoServe, which works to alleviate poverty in developing countries through entrepreneurship, Lilienthal obtained a four-month leave of absence from GE. He moved to Kenya to design and develop a management reporting structure for a dairy-farming venture and advise local teams on industry best practices and project management techniques. At the end of the assignment, he accepted a full-time job as manager of systems integration at TechnoServe’s Washington, D.C., office.

Many people assume “that having a career with a social focus means you can’t have a traditional career path in business and management,” Lilienthal said. Many organizations -- for-profit and nonprofit, large and small -- “do great work to save lives all around the world” and need people with business and other skills, he said.

Lee said he counts seeing Team for Kids runners (who run to raise funds for youth fitness programs) cross the finish line at the New York City Marathon among the more fulfilling moments of his job. “Runners have collapsed on me crying and thanking me for being there for them. Our runners do a lot for the kids in our programs, and when they finish the race, they realize how much they’ve also done for themselves.”


Ryan Lee and Gina Xenakis Ryan Lee and Gina Xenakis say the Marketing, Society, and the Public Interest course at Virginia Tech "was a great class for getting us thinking about what we wanted to do with our lives and careers."

Xenakis said her parents, in addition to Ozanne and other Pamplin professors, have had strong influences on her career choice. Her parents opened her eyes to social injustices and encouraged her to get involved in volunteer work. Asked how she would advise young people about choosing a career with a socially relevant focus, Xenakis responded by quoting Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

  • For more information on this topic, contact Sookhan Ho at (540) 231-5071.

About the class

Marketing, Society, and the Public Interest explores the impact and influence of marketing on society from both macro and micro (strategic firm) perspectives. Its five objects are:

  • To understand the relevance of stakeholders in marketing decisions and competing social interests
  • To develop a thorough understanding of how social issues are embedded in the socio-historical, political/legal, ethical, and strategic contexts
  • To identify and explore resolutions of social contradictions and tensions
  • To sharpen analytical and communication (oral and written) skills
  • To develop students’ ability to support and defend a position

Read more about Pamplin’s marketing faculty research on consumer wellbeing.

Others in action

  •     Jeff Allison poses with children in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua
    Jeff Allison took his finance degree to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, where he worked on community development projects with indigenous Miskito Indians.
  •     Pamplin alumna Erica Robertson has been working in Nyamata, Rwanda, since May 2010.
    Erica Robertson is using her degrees in accounting and information systems and career and technical education to lead an orphanage school in Nyamata, Rwanda.
  •     Chris Ramos
    Pamplin student Chris Ramos is already working as a Federal Service Student Ambassador.

Plus, read full stories from Pamplin magazine about how Ryan Lee and Gina Xenakis, Adam Lilienthal, and Jessica Forrester have used their business education and skills to forge professional lives and make a difference in other people’s lives.

Related links

Read about other Pamplin alumni who have chosen careers in the nonprofit or government sector or have worked to raise funds for charitable programs:

Share this


Spotlight Archive

Look through previous Spotlight stories

Access the archives