From Wabash to ESTEEM

Author: Gene Stowe

Wabash College: Ryan Gross and Alex WimberWabash College: Ryan Gross and Alex Wimber

Alex Wimber, an undergraduate rhetoric major with biology and film minors, and Ryan Gross, a biology major with a passion for entrepreneurship, brought a multidimensional perspective to ESTEEM – Gross calls it “Fuzzy” in contrast to the typical “Techie” – from Wabash College, a 900-student liberal arts institution in Indiana with no engineering or business school. They’re taking away the tools and network to thrive in the dynamic 21st-century workplace and world.

“As a rhetoric major, I understand how to communicate questions that are objective,” Wimber says. “I know how to analyze what people are saying to me. It’s a cool experience because I get to add the technology component to my humanities background. Some of us are taking on projects we’ve had no experience in before. That’s another value of not having a hardcore science or engineering background. I didn’t really want to do another biology project. You’ve got to learn something new.”

Wimber is working on virtual reality for the first time for his capstone thesis, an industry project with John Duzansky and Mike Vitek’s UpClose 360 and ESTEEM classmate Kerry Egan, to provide college campus tours and a website. “I still have to learn the technology,” he says, adding that he also focuses on product validation, selecting targets, developing a storyboard for the tour, and meeting with high school students and guidance counselors.  

Wimber, who was aiming for ESTEEM since his sophomore year, focused on Wabash’s Democracy Fellows leadership program, where he worked with focus groups to solve local problems like child care, and Center for Innovation, Business & Entrepreneurship, devoting a year working on branding and design for the initiatives.

“I thought entrepreneurship would be awesome,” he says. “You build a skill set to create things that help people and help yourself. You immerse yourself in a world. You have to keep your peripherals open to find problems. Those problems turn into opportunities that you can make better.”

Gross took one course on entrepreneurship at Wabash, then immersed himself in books and online articles outside of his classroom learning. He resonated with the values and creative vision when ESTEEM alum Chris Broecker told him about the program, a choice confirmed by an internship at Zimmer Biomet. Wabash’s focus on critical thinking, especially a senior colloquium discussing ethical and moral issues, prepared him for the presentation and communication rigor of ESTEEM.

“Having been put in that situation where you have to think critically about what you’re reading, about the perspective of the author, those are invaluable lessons,” he says. “If you can think deep beyond surface level stuff, you can learn anything.”

For his capstone project, Gross is working with San Francisco-based CFO Plans to develop a strategy for developing the back office of a startup as it grows, such as when to hire an internal or third-party accountant. His advisor is Notre Dame alum Brian Flynn of Founder Partners.

“It’s one of those doors that wouldn’t have opened if I hadn’t come to ESTEEM program,” he says. “Coming from a small school such as Wabash, the opportunities at Notre Dame, and especially what the ESTEEM program presents to its students – the doors that are open around the world, that transparency to the Notre Dame alumni base -- shows you what it takes to get to a leadership position in a company or start a company.”

Wimber, who attended his first career fair and gets a quick 95-percent response rate to questions for Notre Dame alumni on LinkedIn, agrees that the environment provides a boost for entrepreneurial success. “I’ve had the opportunity to speak to people from SpaceX, from Microsoft, the entertainment industry, and they’re very responsive,” he says. “There’s a lot of synergy. You’re around a lot of extremely talented people, extremely motivated people, and you get to share these experiences with 43 other classmates and the faculty and staff. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Wimber and Gross, who did not know each other well as undergraduates, will visit their alma mater to encourage students to consider ESTEEM in the future. “We’re going to go back and recruit from Wabash,” Wimber says. “It’ll be nice to have somebody to drive down there with.”