Radford commencement speakers reflect on the impact of their education

Radford University’s spring 2024 commencement speakers represent leadership, service and philanthropy in the region and beyond. External affairs manager at Appalachian Power Co., Amanda Cox, MBA ’21, delivered the keynote address during the graduate hooding ceremony on May 3, and president and owner of E.C. Pace Co. Inc., Mark Pace ’92, delivered the keynote address at the undergraduate ceremony on May 4.

Learn more about their career successes and alumni involvements.

Following commencement, Cox and Pace were each asked the following five questions. Each response provides a reflection on their student experiences at Radford and how their degrees have impacted their careers. They also shared invaluable advice for current students and recent graduates. Learn more about these outstanding alumni:

Amanda Cox, MBA ’21

1. What does it mean to you to have earned a graduate degree, in addition to an undergraduate degree, as a first-generation college student?

My dad has passed away, but it was really important to him, and my mom as well who has always been my cheerleader. My dad never had this kind of opportunity, so he really pushed me. He didn’t live to see me get this degree, but it is something that was important to him. Being first-gen, I am very happy and proud of myself, but also, I know my parents always wanted better for me. I know my mom is proud, but I think my dad would be very proud too

2. How has earning an MBA at Radford impacted your career?

It has allowed me to think about different aspects of my company that I might be able to expand in the future. It also made me think about the fact that I could choose to start my own business one day. I can brand myself, innovate, and apply the tools I learned in class to business. The MBA classes expanded my idea of what I thought would be possible for me.

3. Do you have a favorite memory or professor from your MBA program?

Dr. (Abhay) Kaushik was my favorite professor. His classes were very challenging, but no matter what, he never hesitated to get on a Zoom call with me anytime I had a problem. We were in the pandemic at the time, so we couldn’t be face-to-face and that’s how I learn best; I struggled with that. For someone like me who learns best in a smaller class with a lot of one-on-one time, his willingness to help made a big difference to me. He made sure his students were succeeding. He always made sure that I figured it out in the end, and that’s something I will never forget.

4. What do you wish you would’ve known prior to starting your MBA?

I was always scared to figure out that work-life balance. I was a working professional, married with kids. I always felt that door was shut. I really didn’t think I would be able to do it, but I was blown away by the support I received. It wasn’t just faculty support, but also from classmates. Once I had taken a couple classes and realized how accessible the faculty were, I knew I could make this work. I knew I could do it. It seems really daunting to consider an advanced degree, especially later in life, but at Radford, they bend over backwards to make it possible.

5. What career advice do you have for current students and recent graduates?

I believe that authenticity is very important. Being honest and having integrity, no matter what you’re doing, is crucial, as is treating people with kindness, whether it’s in a business situation or personal relationship. Whether you treated the well or poorly, they’ll remember it forever. Also, I think some people tend to get on one career track and forget to consider all the doors their degree can open. My advice is to not get stuck in one lane. Your degree will allow you to take many paths. You’ve done the work; be ready to conquer anything. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that you don’t want to be doing something you don’t love. You don’t want to wake up every day and dread going to work, where you will spend a huge amount of your time. That work-life balance is important, and you should be happy in both.

Mark Pace ’92

1. How did your business degree help prepare you for your career?

In business management, I don’t think there was a single course that didn’t apply to what I’m doing now. I didn’t like accounting, and I still don’t like accounting – that’s why I have good accountants around me – but I have to understand it. Another one I didn’t think I would use is law. In any business, you deal with legal matters. I have reflected back on my law classes a lot more that I thought I would. I didn’t think it would pertain to me, especially in construction, but it does.

2. Did you have any favorite classes or professors?

Brack Smith. He’s retired now, but he was a management professor. One of the things that sticks out when I reflect back – and I still use this principle today – is the “Hot Stove” principle. When someone does something – let’s say it’s something unsafe in construction or completely against the rules – the way you treat them should be the same as you would anyone else in company, whether it’s a vice president or a laborer. When you touch a hot stove, it burns you the same no matter who you are. When you’re in management, you have to make sure you treat everyone equally. You can’t play favorites, and I tell people that all the time. I don’t care if they have been here for 30 years – they should be treated the same as someone who has been here for one year.

3. What are your favorite memories from your time at Radford?

I really enjoyed the higher-level business management classes. They were small, and the professors knew me. Maybe it was because I talked too much, or maybe it was because they really cared and they got to know their students. For me, the professor-student ratio was important. I wouldn’t have done well at a bigger school; I would not have been as engaged. Also, the fountain – the centerpiece of Radford University. Our fraternity donated that in honor of our fraternity brother who passed away from cancer.

The Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers have established a long history of giving back to the Radford community through volunteer leadership and contributions to scholarships, as well as the Chip Perkins Memorial Fountain.

4. What career advice do you have for current students and recent graduates?

I cannot recommend enough to intern during the summertime. If students would do internships during their freshman or sophomore year, not only would it help them tailor their major, but as they get into their junior and senior year, it would also help them have a better understanding of their classes. They already understand real-world applications. And this goes without saying: it will also further their careers and make getting a job easier. They’ll already have experience. Look for those internships – they’re out there.

5. How have you seen Radford grow, and what excites you most about the future of the university?

I am impressed by how many first-generation students graduate from Radford. For me, college wasn’t an option – it was a given. My parents went, my grandparents went. That makes you lose touch with the fact that so many people don’t go to college. To see Radford continually graduate more and more first-generation college students is huge. I think the close faculty-student ratio is a big part of that. The growth of first-generation students is important to me, and it’s important to the Commonwealth of Virginia.