By Mary Grace Richardson, Co-editor
Having had Aram Chavez teach one of her classes while she was a student, Arian Shirakhoon (MBA ’16) sought his mentorship as she figured out what her next step after graduation would be. She knew she had an entrepreneurial spirit, but she didn’t know quite where to put that energy. While exploring career options and interviewing this past fall, though, she decided to come up with a project that mattered to her and brought Thunderbirds together: Thunder Camp.
“As a recent alum, you have such an intense relationship with people here at Thunderbird, and all of a sudden, it’s gone,” she described. “In the blink of an eye, you graduate, and it’s done. Not only is Thunder Camp a way to keep those relationships alive for students and alumni, but it’s also a way to put yourself in an environment that’s not just a classroom. It’s just fun to meet other people.”
With her experience working in entertainment and tourism programming as a Disney Cruise Line host, she collaborated with Chavez to plan a getaway weekend for Thunderbird students and alumni at Camp Tontozona during the most recent Thanksgiving break.
Chavez, who graduated in 2008 from the Executive MBA program, considered his time at Thunderbird a life-changing experience and so has also dedicated his time and resources to keeping Thunderbirds connected. While he had always been involved in the funding and financing of small businesses and startups his entire career, his time at Thunderbird made him realize even more the opportunities out there, and not just in the U.S. Before he started the program he understood the importance of global impact, but it wasn’t until he got here that he really understood “the Mystique.”
Chavez’s role in Thunder Camp isn’t his first venture in helping brand the school. Wanting to give back and keep the network strong, Chavez previously launched the initiative to create the Thunderbird license plate as he knew seeing T-birds drive around town would give students and alumni pride and connect those who might not have met otherwise. Chavez has also worked to solidify the Thunderbird network by recruiting, mentoring, developing curriculum, and guest speaking in classes and orientations on campus. Investing in people stands to be his core philosophy.
Currently, Chavez is a full-time faculty member at ASU, teaching entrepreneurship and finance at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “Finance and entrepreneurship are always assumed to be in the business school, but entrepreneurship and business aren’t the same thing – not even close,” Chavez explained. “One is about history and Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and the other is about how we vertically integrate, how we outsource, what’s my cash flow now. It’s crisis every day, and engineers need to prepare for that too… They’re the ones who make things, so we teach them how to make business around their innovation. I think the same about Thunderbirds too.”
Griffin Gosnell (MAGAM ’18) wanted to attend the first Thunder Camp for networking opportunities since so many speak to the Thunderbird network as being one of the most valuable parts of the experience. “At camp, we were spending extended time together, doing team building activities where different skills and relationship skills are explored that aren’t generally possible over a quick beer at the Pub,” she said. “It was also fun being able to introduce some international classmates and alumni to s’mores and snow for the first time!”
Gosnell’s experience, as well as others who attended, was extremely positive because of how much more she got to know current classmates and alumni. She also added, “Arian was an incredible planner and had so many wonderful things planned for us from stargazing, to low ropes, to wine tasting at Señor Chavez’s cabin, to archery!”
David J. Roman (MBA ’15) who also attended Thunder Camp Beta (as they called it since Chavez and Shirakhoon were testing the idea) echoed the same enthusiasm for it: “The retreat was excellent. We stargazed, sang around the campfire with guitars, made puzzles, competed in games, and generally frolicked around the forest. It brought many classes of T-birds together in a refreshing, relaxed, and playful way.”
From the overwhelming encouraging response Shirakhoon received about the last Thunder Camp, she knew they had a good thing going, which gave her and Chavez the idea to continue Thunder Camps throughout the year. The upcoming camps will take place March 24-26 and April 21-23 in Pine, Arizona at a family-style sleeper cabin with a game room, volleyball court, and private chef all weekend.
One difference between the new camps and the past one will be the addition of Chavez’s discussions on leveraged buyouts, startups, and mergers and acquisitions. He’ll also be delving into his startup map published by the IEEE that gives step-by-step guidance to entrepreneurs who want to build a business efficiently, making it so commercialization and monetization come as quickly as possible. “Aram saw a gap in the entrepreneurship curriculum, so between his talent and curriculum and my destination management experience, I said why don’t we put both of those together for the camp?” Shirakhoon explained. “I’m excited for it. I think he inspires a lot of students and alum, and people are going to have an awesome weekend.”
The upcoming Thunder Camps are also open for spouses, siblings, friends, or partners of Thunderbirds to join. If you’re interested in being part of the upcoming Thunder Camps or have any questions about them, you can email Arian Shirakhoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.