Conor Joslin ’23, the student intern for the Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society, interviewed Prof. David Chu upon hearing about his retirement at the end of the current academic year.
CJ: Let’s start with a little background about your pre-Holy Cross life.
DC: I grew up in Hong Kong and came over to the United States for college. I went to a small college called Anderson College, where there were 2,000 undergraduate students. Anderson College is a liberal arts institution and I majored in accounting and business, which enabled me to study accounting and business while fulfilling all of the liberal arts requirements; so I had a very well rounded education. Then I went to graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington where I got my MBA and went on to get a PHD. I then taught at Indiana University while my wife was finishing up her medical training. After that, we decided to look around, and Holy Cross offered me a position, which I was very thankful for. My wife also got a job at what was then called the Fallon Clinic, and we moved out here. I started in the fall of 1991, and it has been a great career since.
CJ: What are your roles and responsibilities as the director of the Ciocca Center? What are the more challenging aspects of your job?
DC: Being the director of the Ciocca Center, I manage the finance and the budgeting because this Center is endowed and also supported by individual donors who have given restricted gifts. I work with my staff to figure out how much to spend on what. We start out with how much we have to spend each year, and then how to allocate the money into various Programs. There are a lot of dimensions in running this Center, such as finance, personnel, recruiting, marketing, advertising and then management of the logistics on campus.
The job is quite challenging. There is no guaranteed enrollment for the Programs, so we really have to pitch our workshops to the students and the parents, and sometimes parents are more motivated than the students are. We have to think outside the box. I have to find alumni to teach and get them excited to come to campus or hold Zoom sessions. Campus logistics comprise another set of challenges. For example, Public Safety unlocks the classroom doors, Building Facilities sets up the rooms and Conference Services provide the meals. These challenges often took me out of my comfort zone, but I’ve learned a lot about campus operations through the challenges.
CJ: Under your leadership, the three certificates were all started. Tell us how it all came to be and what kind of growth you are seeing.
DC: In the very beginning when we started in 2005, we offered only one business workshop that was held during spring break, which was a very intense five-day workshop. In addition to this one-week workshop, there were a number of business dinners that featured alumni CEOs that came back to speak about their business and how they got from their Holy Cross experience to where they are. So, all we had was one workshop and a number of dinners with Holy Cross alumni. That certainly was not a Program, but a hit and miss. Eventually, we realized that we needed to provide students with a more comprehensive systematic exposure to business in order to build their expertise, experience and knowledge. So in 2014, we introduced a set of Certificates, which required students to fulfill a number of requirements designed to help them acquire knowledge, skills, and experience in the business fields that they were interested in.
CJ: What does the Business Certificate Program add to the liberal arts education?
DC: The Business Certificate Programs allow students to learn about business by attending various workshops and doing internships that are designed to provide them with a minimum level of business literacy. Also, the internship, job shadowing and workshops are hands-on, which gives them an experiential component they can talk about. For the lliberal arts students, since they are competing with business students for jobs, they need to show their prospective employer that they have the requisite skills and experience to be a valuable employee if they are recruited and hired.
The beauty of this Program is that it allows students not to think about their major as a career builder. Instead, students should view their major as a foundational educational experience over four years that enables them to be a better educated human being throughout the rest of their lives. So, the liberal arts major is an education that provides students with life long skills. The Business Certificate Program we offer allows students to pick whatever major they are interested in, yet still have the opportunity to acquire some specific skills and experiences in business, thus enabling them to transition from Holy Cross to their jobs.
CJ: What have you enjoyed about working with students over the years?
DC: I have really enjoyed working with students because of their motivation to learn about business. I have had the privilege of working with students from all different majors. We have had majors in the humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and math/natural sciences sign up for the business certificates. The beauty of this mix is that students bring their various educational perspectives into the workshops. For example, studio-art majors are very creative; they look at a problem during a workshop from a creative standpoint and can come up with solutions that a pure business major who is strictly trained in spreadsheets, will not be able to see. On the other hand, you may have physics or math majors who are trained in linear thinking, and they approach problem solving from a mathematical standpoint. Blending them all together in a team has been a wonderful experience.
CJ: What has been your experience working with alumni?
DC: Alumni are the backbone of our Program; the value we offer in these workshops is that they are all taught by alumni. Firstly, the alumni bring their actual work experience and cutting edge knowledge of the field into the workshop. The students are getting first hand knowledge from people who are at the cutting edge of their respective business fields. Secondly, the alumni love Holy Cross. This is my sixteenth year running this Program, and I keep pinching myself because I just cannot believe how blessed I am to see these alumni so ready to respond and come to Holy Cross at their own expense. Sometimes, I will bring them out to lunch, or we pay for their air fare, but other than that, they come because they love giving back to Holy Cross and the community. These are high level people, CEOs, CFOs, and Senior VPs and they take the time out of their busy schedule to come. Also, even younger alumni who are only a few years out, bring a very current perspective of how they got their job, which is very helpful for students. These alumni are all coming back eager to help our students get into the field and prosper just like they did. Without the alumni, we do not have a Program; the Ciocca Center depends on them.
CJ: Tell us about Art Ciocca ‘59 who endowed the Ciocca Center.
DC: Art Ciocca ‘59 was one of the most successful businessmen to come out of Holy Cross. He dressed modestly and hated to see his name all over the place. In fact, the first workshop we did in 2005 was because he endowed it, so we splashed his name all over the Rehm Library. When Art saw this, he immediately asked me to take it all down because he did not want to see his name splashed all over the place. It was not about him. Art Ciocca was a very humble and successful alumni and he really embodied Holy Cross values – he was a man with and for others. Art has endowed and given so much money to help disadvantaged students in the country. It has been my blessing and privilege to have worked with Art; he really cared about the Program and the progress we were making. Art passed away in December 2021 and I miss him very much.
CJ: What do you hope to see as the future of this Program?
DC: I really would like to see this Program move onto the next level and continue to be a blessing to students who are interested in business careers. Certainly, we would like to tighten up the Program where we have more students completing it as opposed to students signing up and not finishing it. We have had over 60 students from each recent graduating class complete the certificate, but we actually have over 100 from each class that signed up for the Program. So, we would like to see the other 40 students finish it and take advantage of the opportunity. I would like to recruit a new generation of alumni to come back and teach. When we first started in 2005, the alumni who came back graduated in the 70s or 80s, and as we go into this Program, we are getting alumni from the 90s, the early 2000s and even alumni from a few years out, who have a lot of current experience in the job market.
CJ: What will you miss the most about Holy Cross?
DC: I am going to miss the generosity of Holy Cross. Holy Cross has been a very generous employer. I am going to miss my colleagues; we all have got along very well. The administration has been very supportive. I mean it has been 31 years, I would not have stayed this long if it was not as good as it is. I am very thankful for Holy Cross, and I wish them the best in the future and moving forward to become even more prominent in the world than it is already today.
CJ: Do you have any retirement plans?
I do not have any retirement plans. It’s not like I am retiring from Holy Cross because I am taking another position somewhere else. In fact, a few years back, I asked a CFO who had just retired from a major multinational corporation who was teaching a workshop here: “What are some of the indicators that it is time to go”? He did not give me any specific answer, he just said: “You will know in your gut”. At that time, I didn’t quite understand his response, but he was absolutely correct. I did know in my gut that it is time to go, and it is a good time to go. The Center is in good shape, so what better time to hand it over to the next person when it is in good shape as opposed to otherwise. I am going to stay around in the area, and take it easy for a year and just look for other opportunities to engage my community and do something different.
CJ: Do you have any last words of wisdom for the Holy Cross community?
DC: Stay the course, you are doing a great job. Support the Ciocca Center and support the students who are interested in business careers. Business is a powerful engine of the economy and adds value to society. Business is also a good force in society, and Holy Cross is graduating students into the business world to do good.