Santander Bank’s $50K Supports WCU’s First-Generation Students and Entrepreneurship

Santander Bank

WEST CHESTER, PA — In a difficult year for everyone, Santander Bank has made things easier for West Chester University‘s first-generation students by providing $50,000 for several programs that give the students real-world business experience while bolstering local commerce.

WCU juniors and seniors who are among the first in their families to attend college are eligible for three-credit Santander internships that, this year, supported the Chester County’s Covid-19 response as well as local startups, small businesses, and non-profits. Students completed their internships in the summer or fall of 2020.

Pattie Diggin directs WCU’s Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center and is administering the Santander programs, which align with the University’s entrepreneurship programming and education.

“Thanks to Santander’s generosity, we are able to match first-generation students eager to put their classroom knowledge into action with small businesses that have need of their skills,” said Diggin. “Students have an opportunity to learn what is needed to start and develop a new business or venture.”

“Santander believes that education can be transformational for future generations, as well as the future of our communities and economies,” said Seth Goodall, Executive Director, Corporate Social Responsibility at Santander Bank. “We are proud of our partnership with West Chester University. Together, we enable collaboration between first generation college students and small local businesses during a time when innovation and technical assistance are critical. We look forward to seeing the success of these students and businesses for years to come.”

All of the Santander internships supported business in Chester County. For example, these three first-generation WCU students demonstrate the local and regional impact: Ruth Agbokah (West Chester, PA), Gabriella Velazquez (East Stroudsburg, PA), and Eduardo Franco (Kennett Square, PA).

Ruth Agbokah

Senior marketing major Ruth Agbokah completed a Santander marketing internship this fall with the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID). She completed several marketing projects and was included in virtual board and committee meetings.

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One of her projects was updating Google business profiles for local businesses. Agbokah contacted the companies’ owners and discussed with them how and what information to update. Talking with entrepreneurs and business owners helped her improve her communication skills, she noted, admitting that she is quite shy.

To assist retailers during the pandemic-related closure of Gay Street, she used skills from her business GIS minor to develop a map of parking locations. She found her marketing coursework essential to creating materials and flyers for Halloween promotions and Small Business Saturday, for which she helped design a shopping bag.

“Small business is the foundation of our town,” said Agbokah. “I grew up in West Chester and want to give back to my community.”

Agbokah also worked with the West Chester Public Library to promote a “storybook tour” that took children and their adults on a walk through West Chester’s uptown in September. Families were encouraged to read a story together by following a map to the 14 retail locations where individual pages from the picture book were displayed in the window. Foot traffic to those businesses increased and feedback from families was positive. West Chester Borough Mayor Dianne Herrin also supported the Story Walk.

“This internship was the first time I was able to apply what I learn in my marketing courses to a real world situation. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity.”

Agbokah says she walked her hometown and saw it in a different light, thanks to her experience behind the scenes with the BID.

Gabriella Velazquez

As the undergraduate assistant for the University’s Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center, Gabriella Velazquez says she already has “strong ties to entrepreneurship.”

This fall, Velazquez conducted census outreach in Coatesville as an intern with entrepreneur Chaya Scott, a community leader in Coatesville and owner of Chaya Scott Consulting, LLC. Her role was to conduct research into the reasons why certain people did or did not complete the U.S. Census; compile and present the results; create marketing plans to encourage completion of the census by specific populations; and execute some of those strategies.

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In addition to contacting Coatesville community organizations such as the library, churches, and the local League of Women Voters, she reached out to her WCU peers through student organization leaders, although the virtual environment “made it difficult to directly connect with some people.”

A senior marketing major, Velazquez found her classwork in “marketing research and particularly relevant. The social media pages I created on behalf of the Coatesville census initiative gained 200 followers.”

Velazquez volunteers with SCORE, is president of the campus chapter of the American Marketing Association, and is on track to enter WCU’s MBA program after graduation in May. She appreciates the value of “corporations that exhibit a strong commitment to serve the community – like Santander.”

Eduardo Franco

At the beginning of his internship with RestoreChesterCounty.org, the Chester County commissioners’ online resource to assist the community in the pandemic reopening process, Eduardo Franco was putting in 20 to 30 hours a week creating the Spanish-language version of the site’s pages and documents. His supervisor, Ernie Holling, who leads the Covid-19 Business Task Force and is executive director of the Chester County Association of Township Officials, noted, “We had to ensure when we built it bilingually that everything was idiomatically correct for the Chester County population.”

And it had to be done in only eight days.

Holling said Franco delivered, providing accurate translations of CDC and Pennsylvania health guidelines, toolkits for both businesses/organizations and residents, plus toolkits for 21 community sectors including construction, nonprofits, real estate, and transportation. Franco collaborated via Zoom and phone with an intern from Villanova on the initial work and on subsequent updates.

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“I enjoyed being able to contribute to local businesses’ success and know that my impact is beneficial,” Franco said.

An accounting/marketing double major due to graduate in May 2021, Franco interned from mid-May to the end of August. Like many students, he had work experience in retail, restaurants, landscaping, and the like, not in an office. That made the shift to a completely virtual environment for both school and the internship “jarring,” he said, and his collaborative experience on the Covid-19 Business Task Force all the more valuable for the connections it offered.

“I really appreciate getting hands-on experience with successful business leaders and learning from their inspiration in a team setting,” he said. “I learned more about business strategies: formulating ideas and implementing them and using caution before executing them.”

Education, Entrepreneurship, and Employment

In addition to the internships, Santander’s funding also makes it possible for WCU to provide first-generation students scholarships and funding for a fellowship program, a business plan competition, and micro-grants.

An initiative of Santander Bank, Santander Universities supports universities and students around the world to prosper, focusing on education, entrepreneurship, and employment.

Additional details about the Santander programs and other student opportunities are available at the Cottrell Center website.

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