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Blast from the past: A mother-daughter duo's reflection on their BCom experience, almost 20 years apart

December 06, 2023

Mother and daughter BCom graduates 20 years apart

Have you ever wondered how the student experience at Gustavson has evolved over the last 20 years? Vanessa Le, BCom ’04, and Veronica Huynh, BCom ’23, a mother-daughter duo, recently sat down with us to share their unique experiences and provide a glimpse into the evolution of business education at Gustavson.

When did you complete your Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) at UVic? 

Veronica: Earlier this year, in 2023.

Vanessa: In 2004.

"When I was a student, everyone wore ______________."

Veronica: Lululemon, TNA, cargo pants, leggings, oversized hoodies–athleisure was very in!

Vanessa: We dressed quite professionally, especially for presentations. We wore business attire – think slacks, blazers and collared shirts. 

"When I was a student, on weekends we would ______________."

Veronica: Be on the beach...and if you weren’t there then you were exploring the trails. If you weren’t outside, you might be hanging out downtown or at Felicita’s. Otherwise, you would be studying!

Vanessa: We spent most of our weekends in the basement computer lab because we didn’t have laptops. And if we weren’t working, the Commerce Students Society was famous on campus for planning great events.

Did you select a specialization during your BCom? If so, which one? 

Veronica: I specialized in Service Management. Both my mom and I came from a service background, and both transferred to Gustavson BCom in third year. I started at SAIT and my mom started at Camosun College.

Vanessa: There were four specializations, same as today, and funnily enough, Veronica and I chose the same one. I chose Hospitality Management (now Service Management). 

Who was your favourite Gustavson professor? 

Veronica: Professors Rick Cotton, Christian Van Buskirk, and Kimball Ketsa were definitely my favourite!

Vanessa: Professor Don Rowlatt was a favourite because he knew everyone’s name, and even though he scared the heck out of me, I learned so much in his finance class! Another was Professor Nami (Namsdivayam “Nami” Thiyagaratnam), who eventually became my mentor and impacted my decision to shift from hospitality to accounting. 

Do you remember the hardest course you took during your BCom? What was the most enjoyable course?

Veronica: The hardest course for me was Operations Management in third year. It was my first semester at UVic as I had transferred from SAIT, and that class was in the winter, during dinnertime, and in the middle of the pandemic so everything was online which made it tough. My mom actually helped me with some of the content as she still remembered the formulas and theories!

My favourite courses were Strategic Management with Ricardo Flores, and Leading People and Organizations with Rick Cotton...really all my 400-level courses! These classes not only transformed my thinking but also left a lasting impact on me, as I continue to apply some of the theories in my current work.

Vanessa: I remember that Global Business was a tricky course. It had three different components, with three different profs, and we were challenged to put it all together. We just tried our best to soak up all the information!

A course I really loved was Marketing with Brock Smith. The projects were fun and insightful and we actually got to market a product during our semester. I remember always looking forward to that class! Plus, I still use the concepts we learned to this day. 

Did you take part in an academic exchange term? If so, where did you go and what did you enjoy most about the experience? 

Veronica: I went to Vienna, Austria. Over my five-month exchange, I had the chance to travel to 11 countries – it was so special to meet so many people and immerse myself in a variety of cultures!

My travels and exchange courses reshaped my approach to leadership, impacting both my professional and personal life in a lot of profound ways. My exchange term was a genuinely transformative and life-altering experience!

Vanessa: Although the exchange program was one of the reasons I decided to attend Gustavson, unfortunately I couldn’t go. I had signed up for Vienna, Austria, but because of the little one (Veronica) at home, it just wasn’t feasible. When Ron was in her BCom, I told her, “Whatever you do, you have to go on exchange.” 

Did you take part in any co-op work terms? If so, which one stands out the most and why? 

Veronica: I worked for BuzzIt, a startup based in Vancouver. It was fully virtual with a small team, so I worked directly with the CEO on everything from sales to HR to marketing. I feel like I got to try it all! It was awesome to be able to contribute to a start-up and help it grow.

Vanessa: While working part-time at the Victoria Regent Hotel, I informed my supervisor about my intention to pursue a co-op work term. Surprisingly, the hotel manager offered me a role in the accounting department, completely changing my career path. Originally on the hospitality track, I embraced the opportunity, extended my co-op, and eventually pursued my CPA. 

What was your fondest memory from your undergrad experience? 

Veronica: Honestly, everything! As a transfer student, the pandemic restrictions and an exchange term gave me a unique undergrad experience. My first time on campus wasn’t until my fourth year during the final semester!

It was so beautiful to finally be on campus – from the nice students to the supportive profs. I remember towards the end of the final semester, all of my classmates could see how grateful the profs felt being able to teach us and help us grow.  It really showed the amount of respect and care they put into teaching us that I hadn’t felt before. 

Vanessa: I loved sitting on the UVic quad to do homework and group projects – with pencil and paper, of course! Another fond memory is the profs and the peer support that existed on campus. I had such a fun time during those last few years of my degree. 

Where has your BCom taken you since graduating? 

Veronica: After graduating, I renewed my previous finance co-op contract for an opportunity in the supply chain department, where I gained procurement and vendor management experience.

Recently, I transferred into the company’s legal department in contracts and compliance – an area I never expected to be in. Exploring the various departments has allowed me to analyze the business strategy and compare it with what I learned during school. Eventually, my goal is to transition into event management and consulting.

Vanessa: After graduating, I was swiftly hired at the Sheraton Hotel in Calgary as a Guest Relations Officer. Eventually, I reflected on my undergrad experience and the mentor relationships I had built, and I decided to pursue my CPA.

My undergrad experience, particularly the hospitality specialization, gave me valuable people skills— service is essential even when working with numbers as an accountant! Now I work in Calgary’s oil and gas industry with a company that specializes in gas line and power turbine repairs. My role focuses on international and indirect taxes within the tax team. 

What do you think is the biggest change and one thing that’s stayed the same about being a student at Gustavson, based on what you’ve heard from your mom/daughter?

Veronica: Even though everything is paperless, we were still required to use physical name tags during our classes! It seems that many of the classes and the program structure has remained consistent...but my mom’s degree certificate from back in the day looks fancier than mine!

Vanessa: You’re lucky, you could use Google! There was no internet to help us if a project was due the next day. Most students didn’t even have a laptop, so PowerPoint was considered very fancy. We had to save our presentations in the computer lab onto a floppy disk and for public speaking presentations, we had to use the overhead projector. 

What advice would you have given yourself looking back on your undergrad experience?  (Vanessa – what advice did you give Veronica when she started?)

Veronica: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! BCom really tests your adaptability, especially in your teams, so being able to understand what you’re good at and to see where others excel, will help to build a more well-rounded and effective team. Everyone is good at something, so help your peers to strengthen their strengths! 

Vanessa: Never stop building your network. You never know how your path might cross with someone again in the future, so don’t burn bridges, and keep the doors open...Oh, and have fun! Enjoy the campus. It passes by quickly and UVic is the best, with all the beaches and the lovely mild weather!
Sydney Hucal. Photo: Vanessa Le, left, Veronica Huynh, right.