In Their Own Words: Our Fellows Share the VFA Story [VIDEO]

What’s it Really Like to be a VFA Fellow?

Everyone enjoys a good story, but what makes a good story great is when you can hear it directly from the source. That’s exactly why we created our newest video to showcase the dynamic environments our fellows are living and working in, and how the fellowship experience has helped them launch their careers as entrepreneurs.

Like what you see?  Dive deeper into what our fellows are doing on the job, consider submitting an application for an upcoming deadline and share with others that are interested in learning how to become successful entrepreneurs.

Fellow Spotlight: Zoe Chaves, Brown University

Zoe Chaves

 

Name: Zoe Frances Chavesimages

Hometown: New York City

University: Brown University ’13

Company: Splitwise

Major: Architectural Studies

 

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

I first looked into VFA when a Brown professor that I respect very much, Barbara Tannenbaum, made a plug for it in class. VFA’s big picture goal of catalyzing growth in distressed urban economies immediately resonated with me. I also liked the idea of being surrounded by a cohort of young, energetic, idealistic people as I transitioned out of college- I think having a Fellow family will remove some of the vulnerability inherent to relocating to a new city and starting a new chapter.

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

I was waking up from a nap. Needless to say I went from groggy to ecstatic when I heard the news! Then I knocked over the cup of water on my nightstand with my happy gesticulating.

Now that you’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

VFA demands that Fellows start adding value to their partner companies on Day 1. It’s an organization that believes in the power of young people and holds my generation to a high standard. I’m really excited to be challenged to contribute, and about the 5-week training camp that VFA will use to help me step up!

If you had to live one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose?

New York City. Specifically Washington Heights, which is the neighborhood in Manhattan where I grew up.

Best thing about Brown: My friends.

Favorite BookA Passage to India by E.M. Forster.

Favorite childhood TV show: Doug!

Favorite meal: Anything my mom makes! Last Christmas she made me a binder of all the recipes she cooked for me growing up. It was the best present I’ve ever received, but somehow the dishes don’t taste as good when I make them.

Favorite holiday: Christmas. Specifically I love all the music associated with Christmas- I start listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas CD in September!

Best class you’ve ever taken: Parks and Designed Landscapes in Urban America, offered by the Urban Studies department at Brown. It taught me that parks aren’t just beautiful patches of grass for recreating- they’re tools for promoting health, equality, collective identity and community in our cities. And I got to pitch 2 park plans of my own! I also really enjoyed taking the public speaking course Persuasive Communication, and believe I’ll be leveraging those skills a lot as a Fellow.

Favorite movie quote: I rarely remember direct quotes from movies. I do occasionally like to jokingly tell my friends “you can’t sit with us!!!” (from that fine film, Mean Girls).

Favorite thing to do on Sunday: Go out to brunch.

Favorite entrepreneur: Rebecca Onie, co-founder and CEO of Health Leads. The Health Leads model is so innovative and powerful, and Onie has the skills, drive and team behind her to take it all the way. I worked for the Health Leads Providence site for 4 years and feel that it gave me the abilities and attitude I need to innovate and add value at my VFA partner company.

Favorite cereal: I like to make granola. I add coconut flakes and sliced almonds.

Most worn article of clothing: My Brown University sweatpants.

Favorite sports team: I played IM Volleyball for 2 years at Brown with a bunch of my friends. We were called ‘The Ponies’. That’s the only sports team I can name…

Best trip you’ve ever been on: In Fall 2011 I went to Brazil, South Africa and Vietnam through the International Honors Program. Our team of 33 investigated urban planning and governance across those three developing nations. My favorite part was that we lived with a home stay family in each location- I was incredibly blessed everywhere I went, staying with such interesting, welcoming and intelligent people. Those relationships added so much value to that trip, and my understanding of myself in relation to the global community.

Favorite historical figure: Siddhartha Guatama.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of:  I did a lot of different things at Brown- I studied architecture, I worked at a hospital, and I did research on health disparities in Providence. I’m proud that I can look back on all that and see something cohesive emerge. Thematically I’ve really made a commitment to urban issues and solutions, but what truly unites it all is that I pursued exactly what I wanted with passion and drive. I used to get anxious over the interview question ‘tell me about yourself’ because I would feel like such a spaz, but now I’m able to see and own the big picture of what I’ve been interested in and have accomplished so far in my life.

Fellow Spotlight: Mike Wilner, Washington & Lee University

Mike Wilner

 

Name:  Mike Wilner

Hometown: Baltimore, MD

University:  Washington & Lee University ’13

Major: Math & Business

 

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

Like many people, I was headed down the path to investment banking. The summer going into my senior year, I had an internship with a prestigious NYC bank. A few weeks in, I remember asking myself, “What am I ACTUALLY doing?” When the answer was, “underwriting municipal bonds”, I knew something had gone wrong. I realized that I desperately wanted to build something be more than grease in the wheels. I was lucky to be told about VFA from a friend; when I did my research, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do.

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

I was actually doing homework in the math building. I remember knowing that I’d find out soon, and when I saw that I was getting a call from a NY phone number, I knew I was going to get some sort of news. Fortunately, it was Andrew, and he delivered the good kind. I stopped doing homework, left my books, jogged down to my house and celebrated with my friends. When I talked to Andrew, I kept a level head and thanked him, saying I’d have to think about it. However, in less than an hour I had formally accepted the offer.

Now that you’’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

I’m excited to meet some awesome, likeminded people and to learn by doing. This whole startup thing can be tricky to navigate, so I’m also really looking forward to diving in and figuring out how to start something myself. During my time as a Fellow, I’d like to help build something great with my matched VFA company and maybe hatch an idea of my own with a fellow Fellow.

If you had to live one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose?  

The thought of being in just one place for the rest of my life makes me uneasy; I’m a bit of a nomad. So, I think ‘a car’ would be the best answer.

Best thing about Washington & Lee: 

The small student body size may deter some, but I think it’s W&L’s greatest attribute. My largest class size was probably 30, and I’ve had four classes with under 10 students. I know all of my professors personally, and the academic culture and honor system foster independence and accountability. The social scene is pretty fun, too.

Favorite BookRework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Favorite childhood TV show: The Cosby Show

Favorite meal: Baby Back Ribs with baked beans and corn pudding…or Maryland crabs.

Favorite holiday: 4th of July

Best class you’’ve ever taken: Number Theory. It challenged me to think about numbers in a completely different way, and I had to create my own Theorem, which turned out to have very little application. Looking back, it was a bit of an entrepreneurial process—coming up with a concept I was curious about and attacking the problem from different angles until I found something that worked.

Favorite thing to do on Sunday:  Drive around with friends

Favorite movie quote: “SAY WHAT AGAIN!!!”

Favorite entrepreneur: Ben Milne, Dennis Crowley, Jack Dorsey, Aaron Patzer to name a few

Favorite cereal: Chocolate Rice Krispies with chocolate milk

Most worn article of clothing: My worn out Air Max’s

Favorite sports team: Baltimore Ravens

Best trip you’ve ever been on: At W&L, we have a 4 week trimester in the spring. My junior year, I spent those 4 weeks in Galway, Ireland with a bunch of my best friends. After our time in Galway was up, we went to London, Paris, and Amsterdam for two days each. I slept for a week upon my return.

Favorite historical figure: Sam Cooke, the King of Soul.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of: Whatever my next one is.

 

Fellow Spotlight: Katherine Catlin, Gonzaga University

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Name:  Katherine (Kate) Catlin

Hometown: Redmond, WA

University:  Gonzaga University   ’13

Major: Economics

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

I’ve been active in social and environmental causes since Junior High, and always thought I was going into the public sector or NGO work. Spending a semester in Nicaragua with the Social Entrepreneurship Corps changed everything. I saw how business and the private sector could transform communities, providing a necessary good or service while maintaining financial self-sustainability and empowering people through jobs. As soon as I heard about the VFA opportunity I knew I had to apply. What better way to learn entrepreneurship than doing it?

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

Biking. I almost swerved into traffic.

Now that you’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

I’m most excited about the connections and networks to be made. First with my fellow VFA colleagues, who are all creative go-getters ready to create the next Google/Kickstarter/sliced bread. Next, with mentors and investors that could be the support I need to launch my own business within the next five years.

If you had to live one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose?  Seattle. I’ve been lucky to travel a lot and see some beautiful things, but there’s no place like home.

Best thing about Goganza University:  The Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program

Favorite Book: Anything Shakespeare or Herman Hesse.

Favorite childhood TV show: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Favorite meal: Grilled pacific NW salmon

Favorite holiday: Christmas

Best class you’ve ever taken: Economics of Microfinance

Favorite thing to do on Sunday:  Long bike rides up mountains and down rivers.

Favorite entrepreneur: Greg Van Kirk and George Glickley of Community Enterprise Solutions, the inventors of the empowering “MicroConsignment” model.

Favorite cereal: McCann’s Steel Cut Oats with peanut butter.

Most worn article of clothing: Under Armour Leggings. I love to be active and outdoors whenever possible!

Favorite sports team: Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball

Best trip you’ve ever been on: Kayaking down the Rio San Juan between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Sunset on that river can’t be described in words.

Favorite historical figure: Kate Mardsen- one of the toughest and most compassionate women in history. Marsen journeyed 2,000 miles across Siberia in the late 19th century searching for medicine to aid people afflicted with Hansen’s disease.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of: Biking from Seattle to Washington, DC in 2009. This was the most intense physical challenge of my life. Yet more importantly, I conversed with people from all walks of life, witnessed the disparity of economic conditions across our nation and changed my perspective on just about everything.

 

Fellow Spotlight: Kwaku Osei, Virginia Commonwealth University

Kwaku Osei

 

Name:  Kwaku Osei

Hometown: Alexandria, VA

University: Virginia Commonwealth University  ’11

Major: Marketing

 

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

The mission and vision of VFA so finely aligned with my identity and what I wish of myself in the future that a few years ago I would have paid for this opportunity, so it became an easy decision for me to go ahead and apply when I found out about it.

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

I was hanging out with a good friend, relaxing.

Now that you’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

Too many things to list, but ultimately to further utilize my entrepreneurial potential and bolster my network. I’m hoping to leave a mark and further cement this fellowship as the premier training ground for future business creators as well as helping to establish it as a great symbol of an American revival story. Making great friends along the way is a major bonus!

If you had to live one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose? Heaven :)

Best thing about Virginia Commonwealth University:  The abundance of time to explore, learn, and develop.

Favorite Book: Fiction: 100 years of Solitude, Invisible Man Non-Fiction: Think and Grow Rich & the Master Key System.

Favorite childhood TV show: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and of course good ol’ Dragon Ball Z!

Favorite meal: BBQ (Ribs, Beef Brisket, sauce haha) and great cheesesteaks

Favorite holiday: My Birthday

Best class you’ve ever taken: MGMT 491 (The CEO Class) – it was a special invitation-only class for 10 seniors where every week we met with leading CEOs from some of the most forward thinking companies of various industries and sectors. We got to ask them whatever we wanted and through this process got to learn a lot about the professional as well as personal lives of some of America’s brightest business leaders.

Favorite movie: “Jackie Chan’s Police Story, V for Vendetta, Lucky Number Slevin

Favorite thing to do on Sunday: Relax, Meditate, Read, etc.

Favorite entrepreneur: Andrew Carnegie, Reginald Lewis, Richard Branson, Elon Musk

Favorite sports team: Washington Redskins for football and my VCU Rams for Basketball!

Best trip you’ve ever been on: Too many to single out one!

Favorite historical figure: Jesus Christ, Siddhartha, Alexander the Great, Marcus Garvey

Accomplishment you’re most proud of: My accomplishments in the future!

Fellow Spotlight: Jake L’Ecuyer, Benzinga

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Hometown: Troy, Michigan

University: Michigan State University ‘11

City: DetroitBenzingaLogo1

Senior Analyst, Benzinga

What initially attracted you to Venture for America?

It was a “safer” way to get involved with a startup. Every startup I had worked with always offered me about 10 bucks an hour, and thats not a living. VFA guaranteed a wage and benefits while offering training, but allowed me to work at a startup like I wanted. Giving me a strong network of peers and a brand add to my resume was pretty important too, as the startup I joined may not succeed (as many do not). So it was almost like a 2 year insurance policy for working at a startup.

 What is the best part of being a VFA Fellow?

Having the startup job, but a national brand backing me. It’s essentially the best of both worlds. The network is awesome too.

What does Benzinga do? 

Our goal is to level the playing field between the institutional and retail (every day) investor. We do this with the 3 pillars of our company:

1. Benzinga- Our front facing media brand, where we have full length articles about the markets.

2. BenzingaPro- Our real-time news feed that covers financial markets and provides data on their movements and fundamentals.

3. Marketfy- A marketplace for financial products ranging from books, to training courses, to traders that you can subscribe to and learn to trade their strategies from. The key to marketfy is tracking software that validates every trade made by our mavens (the expert traders), which proves their entries and exits in the market are actually possible, and gives more transparency to their methods for the users.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

I work primarily on the Benzinga news desk as a market analyst. So I arrive at 7am and start analyzing market news, write a few stories for Benzinga.com, help our upper level clients understand why certain stocks, commodities, and futures are moving, and cover things like press conferences and conference calls. I also go on Tide Traders, a stock market internet radio show every day at 11:30am to give a news update. Finally, I go on Stocks and Jocks, a Chicago AM radio show to talk stocks and sports every Tuesday morning with CNBC’s Jon Najarian and ‘The Chief’.  Starting in the near future, we will also have a bi-weekly spot on Chinese national TV to cover the US stock market, which I will appear on once a week. That covers my duties on the desk, but I also run our internship recruitment and full time recruitment, and act as a contributing editor for Benzinga.com.

What’s your favorite thing about Detroit? 

Probably the huge opportunity here. Detroit was at one time such a powerhouse, but is a husk of what it used to be. What many see as a dangerous and failed city, I see as a fantastic opportunity. There is no one saying “you can’t do that” here, if you’re doing something productive or providing value, you get encouragement and support. It’s a city of doers, and I love that. Creative ideas quickly gain support in Detroit as our city scrambles for a solution to its economic woes.

What do you hope to accomplish in your time with VFA?

I want to feel like I have enough knowledge to build a company. So I want the relationships needed, some solid experience, and an understanding of how to build up a customer base and business model. Hopefully by the time the Fellowship is over I will feel comfortable enough to launch something on my own, as my dream is to be completely self sufficient and not have a need for a job or be tied to one location.

 

Fellow Spotlight: Mehves Tangun, Brown University

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Name:  Mehves Ofelya Tangun

Hometown: Istanbul, Turkey

University: Brown University ’13

Major: Engineering & Economics

 

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

After taking my first entrepreneurship class at Brown University I realized that I really enjoyed drafting business plans and pitching to investors. My entrepreneurship professor Danny Warshay introduced me to VFA. With his advice I decided to apply.

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

It was during my spring break when I was in Istanbul, Turkey, suffering from a horrible jetlag. So I was up at 3 am checking my emails in my bed when I received the email from Andrew Yang. At that moment, all it said was: “Let the celebrations begin”. It was a memorable week!

Now that you’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

I am very excited to be thrown out of my element and out of my comfort zone so that I could push myself in every project I undertake. As Andrew Yang said: “People spend money and time educating the market for consulting and finance. The theory is you must become a baller before you come back and change the world”. Even though we laugh to this statement, which is said with a touch of sarcasm by Yang; I would like to be trained for the startup sector and I believe Venture for America is the right place for it. So far this is all I want to accomplish- gaining knowledge and experience after a “baller” training.

If you had to live one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose? Barcelona (minus the crisis)

Best thing about Brown:  You are the master of your time!

Favorite Book: The Unbearable Lightness of Being- Milan Kundera

Favorite childhood TV show: Rocko’s Modern Life and The Smurffs

Favorite meal: Dinner

Favorite holiday: Thanksgiving- even though I was introduced to it very recently, I cannot get over the food!

Best class you’ve ever taken: Entrepreneurship and Innovation by Danny Warshay

Favorite movie quote: “Do not be afraid to let go or forget… Because in reality, all that matters never leaves us…” –Mine Vaganti (Loose Cannons)

Favorite thing to do on Sunday: Sunday BRUNCH!

Favorite entrepreneur: Wolfgang Puck or Mario Batali (Going back and forth between the two)

Favorite cereal: Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Most worn article of clothing: Beige Scarf

Favorite sports team: The Celtics

Best trip you’ve ever been on: To the region of Cotes du Provence for wine tasting.

Favorite historical figure: Ataturk- The Great Turkish Leader who brought Democracy to Turkey

Accomplishment you’re most proud of: Opening a bakery from scratch in a small town called Chepkanga in Kenya.

Fellow Spotlight: Brian Bosché, Bizdom

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Name: Brian Bosché

Hometown: Newport Beach, California and Bozeman, Montana

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University: Dartmouth College ‘12

City: Detroit

Recruitment & Development,  Bizdom

 

What initially attracted you to Venture for America?

I was creating a proposal for a Center of Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College for one of my Public Policy classes, and was interested in what opportunities were available for students in startups after graduation.  After seeing dozens of flyers on campus, I went to the Venture for America info session with Andrew Yang, and was hooked by his vision.

 What is the best part of being a VFA Fellow?

Access. Being a VFA Fellow means I have direct access to leaders in my community, successful entrepreneurs in the VFA mentorship network, and a strong peer community of Fellows around the country.

What does Bizdom do? 

Bizdom is a startup accelerator that helps entrepreneurs launch, fund and grow innovative, web and tech-based startups. As a community organization, we also organize and support entrepreneurship events and trainings in Detroit.  Bizdom is a nonprofit that was founded by Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and general partner of Detroit Venture Partners.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

Recruitment and Development.  I recruit startups into Bizdom and then vet the candidate pools for each program session (3 per year).  I work with the companies individually on anything they have a need for, including pitch practice, social media, customer service, sales, business development, and mentor outreach.  I also help plan community and entrepreneurship events in Detroit.

What’s your favorite thing about Detroit? 

The potential.  Detroit has had some rough years, and still needs a lot of work, but there are so many people excited to help rebuild the city.  It is amazing being a part of the transformation.  That, combined with Detroit’s rich cultural past, a few successful sports teams, and the label of “Most Miserable City in America”, makes this city a very interesting  and cool place to be.

What do you hope to accomplish in your time with VFA?

Personally, I want to build a broad skill set that will allow me to build a successful company.  For Detroit, I want to build the entrepreneurship community and attract amazing startups and teams to the city.  As a part of VFA, I want to build Startup Effect into a sustainable organization that helps students build entrepreneurship skills and empowers them to be successful.

 

Fellow Spotlight: Astrid Schanz-Garbassi, Middlebury College

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Name:  Astrid Schanz-Garbassi

Hometown: Larchmont, NY

University: Middlebury College ’13

Major: Physics

 

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

In January 2012 I invited myself to VFA’s New York offices. The (then much smaller) team graciously accommodated the intrusion and enthusiastically shared what they were working on. Their passion for the program was totally contagious and I knew I had to get in on it. Also, they were offering a continued education, a chance to make an impact on a cool young company and an off the beaten path city, a new friend group, and to pay me for all of this. Yes, please!

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

I was alone in my office at my last job. To this day I wonder how many people saw (and judged) my solo celebration dance through the windows…

Now that you’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

Every single person I’ve met through VFA, whether a Fellow, founder, or year-round staffer, is incredible. I’m excited to continue to meet mind-blowing individuals and to be able to call them mentors and friends. I hope to learn voraciously and love every day at work … and to become a diehard fan of all teams in whichever city I land in. Sorry NY.

Best thing about Middlebury College:  Everything. But specifically being surrounded by mountains, eating unrestricted quantities of (local!) ice cream in the dining halls, and the fact that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, when the song “Like a Prayer” comes on you have to take your shirt off (a true Middlebury tradition).

Favorite Book: Pillars of the Earth. Stop reading this and go read that!

Favorite childhood TV show: Wild Thornberrys. Apparently they made a movie!? If you have any interest in (or can be bribed into) seeing it with me, please call ASAP.

Favorite meal: Anything you can eat with chopsticks.

Favorite holiday: Pi day!

Best class you’ve ever taken: “Education in America.” Professor Affolter, you are an amazing and inspiring human being. Your final project prompt, “design your own school,” was the best assignment I’ve ever had the pleasure to pour time into!

Favorite movie quote:  Every line in “Airplane!” Is that a cop out? Okay, for real: “People call those imperfections, but no, that’s the good stuff.” –Goodwill Hunting

Favorite thing to do on Sunday: Round up some good friends and take off for an extraordinarily long and arduous hike. Then retreat, with the same good friends, to extraordinarily comfortable chairs to nurse our aching legs (and some delicious hot drinks).

Favorite entrepreneur: Andrew Yang.

Favorite cereal: Honey Bunches of Oats with “real” bananas and vanilla almond milk, eaten from a grimy camping bowl before a long bike ride.

Most worn article of clothing: My running shoes.

Favorite sports team: Purple Haze—the recreational basketball team I played on in High School with all of my (rather short) best friends. Undefeated four years in a row! Take that, Pink Ladies.

Best trip you’ve ever been on: The bike tour I led around the coast of Nova Scotia with Stephen Coles, the best “co” I could ever ask for (hey Scoles, miss you!). 1,000 miles, 20 amazing high schoolers, very heavy panniers and countless jars of Nutella added up to six of the best weeks of my life.

Favorite historical figure: Gertrude Stein

Accomplishment you’re most proud of: Relationships I’ve made (and kept) along “the way.”

Fellow Spotlight: Adam Joseph, University of Virginia

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Name:  Adam Joseph

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

University: University of Virginia ’13

Major: Global Development Studies

 

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

Coming out of school, I wanted to pursue a unique opportunity that would give me solid skills in the business world while surrounding myself with bright, motivated individuals. Venture for America fit that model perfectly, and also seemed like a great opportunity to become involved in the startup world while mitigating a lot of the risk.

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

I was actually on my way to a football game, surrounded by 30 fraternity brothers, when Andrew called.  We lost the football game, but it was a great night.

Now that you’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

I’m most excited to start working and having an impact in whichever city I end up in.  I’m also really looking forward to Training Camp this summer, so I can get to know the other Fellows and explore Providence.

If you had to live one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose?

Somewhere that has baseball, so probably San Francisco.

Best thing about University of Virginia:  Being surrounded by my friends all the time.

Favorite Book: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Favorite childhood TV show: Keenan and Kel.

Favorite meal: My mom’s pasta Bolognese.

Favorite holiday: Halloween.

Best class you’ve ever taken: Design Themes of Great Cities

Favorite movie quote: “An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.”

Favorite thing to do on Sunday: Eat and sleep.

Favorite entrepreneur: Muhammad Yunus.

Favorite cereal: Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Most worn article of clothing: Black ‘Electric’ tee-shirt

Favorite sports team: San Francisco Giants

Best trip you’ve ever been on: Cozamel, Mexico with my family for Christmas last year.

Favorite historical figure: Has to be Thomas Jefferson.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of: Winning money the first time I gambled at a casino.