Ahead of the Game
By Tracy Seipel
Ross Urbina ’21 has always been in a hurry, from his first TED Talk at age 17 to publishing a book this past year.
Ross Urbina ’21 is many things at Santa Clara University: a student leader, an author, a TEDx speaker, and a promising young consultant on his way to bigger things.
He also doesn't wait around for life to happen.
While most of his fellow senior class will graduate in June, the finance major and business analytics/management information systems minor wrapped up his final college courses last month.
That’s given the 21-year-old much-needed time to work on projects and interests—like the ones at SCU that helped him land a series of internships over the last four years in managing, finance and consulting.
From Bronco Student Services, where he helped increase revenue by 29 percent, to Varian Medical Systems, where he helped automate parts of the company’s exposure forecast by creating a predictive Excel model, Urbina attributes his interest in business and helping others to a city leadership program for teens he enrolled in during his senior year at San Dieguito High School Academy.
“That kind of opened my eyes,” he recalls.
It also inspired him to think about how to get businesses and organizations to seek critical input from teens—or risk missed opportunities. “If our society focused on helping youth find their passions,” he explained in a 2017 TEDx talk, “we would be better equipped to create a rewarding future.”
Urbina recently talked to us about how his Santa Clara experience helped him become more grounded and confident, and provided him with more clarity about his future.
You recently published a book, “Take Advantage of Your Youth: Accelerate Growth Now to Create Future Success,” something you’ve been working on for four years, about a subject close to your heart. How did that journey begin?
I got the idea in my senior year of high school when I got really interested in personal development books, but I noticed that all of them were geared towards adults. For example, they often referenced your husband or wife, or your full-time job, assuming that the reader was an adult.
I thought young adults could learn and get value from the books, but I wanted to write one specifically for that audience, based on what I learned over these four years of college that I wish I knew when I was a freshman in high school. It’s never too early to start our growth journey, and this book tries to encourage young adults to start theirs.
Why should they read this book?
The book focuses on many topics important to a young person’s personal growth, including discovering interests, finding mentors, taking responsibility for your life, learning from failure, adopting positive habits, and many others. Hopefully these topics will accelerate their own growth.
The topic I’m probably most passionate about is to help students with the career discernment journey, which covers the first two chapters. As young people, we’re expected to know exactly what we want to do for a career, but are rarely ever shown how to explore potential paths and generally aren’t given the necessary tools or resources. I think that's a huge problem because there's so many people that are anxious about what they’ll do with their lives.
The reality is that we have to start exploring our interests at a young age in order to discover what truly excites us. Otherwise, we may end up in something we dislike or hate. The two chapters allocated for this part can serve as a roadmap for young people to start the exploration process.
Can you walk us through the roadmap you mentioned in those two chapters?
I have a four-step formula for how to discover those interests, the first one being just simple online research like, “What does a consultant do?” The second step is to have informational interviews; the third step is to have an experience, like an internship. And the fourth step is to continue with that journey.
You’ve embraced internships in consulting and hope to continue on that career path. What excites you about the field?
Consulting excites me because of all the potential problems you can solve in various industries and fields, with many of them being completely new to me.
Throughout my internships in consulting, I’ve had so many moments of having no idea what was going on, but those moments are vital for growth. Additionally, many consulting firms are focusing more on helping their clients improve their technological abilities, and I’m very interested in increasing efficiency and helping clients extract more value and insights from their data.
Which SCU faculty members have played the biggest roles in your professional development at Santa Clara?
The first one would be Sean O’Keefe. I took his course “Foundations of Leadership” my freshman year. He taught me how to conduct informational interviews, which has been the biggest influencer of my career discernment journey. I took him again my junior year for a business communications class. He taught some of the same concepts about informational interviews, but he also taught students how to improve their writing, negotiate an offer, deliver a great business presentation, and other vital skills for business.
He also has a Career Launch academy program that partners with different universities, including Santa Clara. His program teaches people how to do informational interviews and how to build solid connections that can lead to solid relationships, which can lead to internships and full-time jobs. He also wrote a book called “Launch Your Career” which will be released on May 18.
Another favorite class was “Conscientious Capitalism” which I took last quarter with Chip Adams and Bill Mains. The course brought in successful business leaders from all walks of life to talk about topics ranging from leadership, diversity and inclusion, problem-solving, and much more. We also did multiple case studies where we were taught to think critically and debate with each other.
My favorite part involved the leadership development teams, small groups of four to five students led by a facilitator. Tanya Monsef, who teaches in the business school, was my leader, and she facilitated conversations that made us reflect on our own lives to recognize our strengths/weaknesses, establish our priorities, and much more. Those are critical parts of our lives that often go unaddressed because of the busy-ness of life, so she helped us open up on those topics and reflect to better ourselves. Tanya also pushed me to fully dive into a startup idea I’ve had for a while, and helped me realize that I’m interested in the education technology industry. Instead of telling me those things, she asked me thought-provoking questions that led me to come to that conclusion on my own.
You’ve been involved in a number of campus clubs over the years. Which ones were your favorite, and why?
Santa Clara Consulting has been one of my favorite clubs. It’s a pro-bono organization that consults real companies, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. I joined my sophomore year and have served as the project manager and the VP of external relations. It enabled me to get real consulting experience while in college and piqued my interest in consulting even more.
I’m also creating a startup called Seek, which is a platform that helps students with the career exploration process. We were accepted into the Bronco Venture Accelerator prep school through the Ciocca Center. The program provides support to startups, including small group discussions and guest speakers who share information and stories related to all parts of startups, such as product development, talking to users, pitching, etc. It’s helped the trajectory of the startup by allowing us to learn from professionals and bounce off our ideas with the mentors in the prep school.
What else will you remember most about your time at Santa Clara?
I’ll remember the dorm life the most. I lived in Dunne both my freshman and sophomore year, and I really enjoyed my time there. I was able to meet a lot of my good friends and enjoyed the overall positive culture our dorm had. The courtyard outside of Dunne was also a fun place to play games like Spikeball or volleyball, or just to hang out on the grass. While I’m excited to start my post-grad life, I’m very happy to have created great memories at Santa Clara.