Southwire Sustainable Business Honors Program Celebrates First Graduate

Jul 20, 2016

About the Southwire Sustainable Business Honors Program

In 2013, the Southwire Sustainable Business Honors Program (SSBHP) was created as a unique opportunity for students attending the University of West Georgia (UWG). The first cohort of students began their journey in fall of 2013. This year, the SSBHP celebrates the first cohort as Blair Fox becomes the first to graduate from the program with a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) and a certificate in sustainable business, in addition to her Bachelor’s of Business Administration (BBA).

In 2010, Stu Thorn, past president and CEO of Southwire, and Faye McIntyre, dean of the Richards College of Business and Sewell chair of private enterprise, began to discuss the development of a program that would integrate education with hands-on experience. After countless conversations among multiple parties, several drafts of the program proposal and Southwire’s pledge of $1.1 million for program development, the largest donation in the Richards College history, the program was signed into agreement in February of 2013.

According to Melanie Hildebrandt, director of the SSBHP, the program was developed for several reasons.

“Thorn wanted to expand Southwire’s educational partnerships to include something for students in higher education,” said Hildebrandt. “He also wanted to help UWG become a ‘destination university’, and he and Dr. McIntyre believed the uniqueness of the program and the opportunities it provides students would attract them to UWG and the Richards College of Business. Thorn had a vision that Southwire and UWG would educate and train students in the tenets of sustainability so that those students could become business leaders and incorporate those ideas into companies’ operations.”

The Experience

The SSBHP is broken into a four-year curriculum based on Southwire’s sustainability tenets and incorporates experiential and extracurricular components. The one of a kind program is designed to allow students to complete a BBA in Economics, Finance, Management, MIS, Marketing, Accounting or Real Estate, an MBA and a certification of sustainability in only four years. By partnering with Southwire, students learn traditional business practices through Southwire’s sustainability principles of Building Worth, Growing Green, Living Well, Giving Back and Doing Right.

According to Dr. McIntyre, the program is intended to give students a unique experience. Students are challenged in the classroom while they complete internships with Southwire senior leadership.

“Students not only benefit from knowledge in the classroom, but also from one-on-one mentoring with corporate executives and unique internship opportunities,” said McIntyre. “Each year, the curriculum includes at least one applied component, and students engage in projects with Southwire personnel at senior levels.”

Projects the SSBHP students have been tasked with include volunteering with Project GIFT®, creating a fundraising campaign that raised $2,000 in scholarship funds for a West Georgia Tech student, the Bike Share program and creating a business and strategic plan for specific products and business units within Southwire. The students recently began a plan to incorporate water fountains into the GreenBelt.

Student Spotlight: The First Graduating Class

Blair Fox, Southwire intern and graduate student at UWG, will make history on July 30 as the first to complete the SSBHP.  Upon entering the program in 2013 as a sophomore, Fox was excited to accept the challenge of completing two degrees in only four years.

“The classes are very compact, so time management became the most challenging aspect,” said Fox. “I took a full load of classes every semester, including summers, while participating in group projects and interning for Southwire.”

For Fox, it is important for businesses to partner with institutions to not only prepare students to become business leaders, but also to impact the community.

“It’s important especially with local companies because that is what drives the community,” said Fox. “It is vital to help students understand that you don’t have to go to big cities to get great experience. The involvement of learning in a classroom and then being able to apply it to the workforce allows students to understand the processes companies go through.”

According to McIntyre, Fox is a one of a kind student, dedicated to furthering her education.

“Blair is extremely bright and very motivated!” said McIntyre. “In addition to her studies and work at Southwire, she works as a graduate assistant in the Richards College of Business. She completes all tasks quickly and accurately, and she is proactive in identifying ways to improve the operations of the office.”

Mandy Baeumel, senior director of talent development and co-director of SSBHP, has also witnessed Fox’s commitment.

“Blair has been committed to this program since day one,” said Baeumel. “She has been involved not only in the program, but she is devoted to her internship and Project GIFT®. In doing so, she has been able to network and build relationships with mentors and coaches which has affected her in a positive way. I am very proud of her.”

On August 1, Fox will begin her career at Southwire in the Construction Systems and Solutions Group as a commercial specialist.

While Fox becomes the first to complete the program, there are two students who will take a different path to success. Jared Ervin graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in Economics, completed his certification in sustainable business and received a job offer from a company in Atlanta. Ethan Brown also completed his Bachelor’s degree and certification in sustainable business and received an offer to complete his MBA in France.

According to Baeumel, Southwire considers both Ervin and Brown’s opportunities a success.

“The SSBHP is about preparing students to become business leaders,” said Baeumel. “Jared received an offer from two companies upon graduation with his BBA. It was the best fit for him, and we are incredibly excited to see him succeed. We are still in contact with Ethan about a possible internship while he is abroad. We consider both of them a success in regards to the SSBHP.”

The Future of SSBHP

The SSBHP has continued to grow since it began in 2013. Now with three active cohorts of students and Cohort 4 joining this August, Southwire and UWG continue to strengthen their partnership and look forward to expanding the program and learning from our students.

“We have been able to understand how students learn, and alter our approach,” said Baeumel. “Southwire will continue to be committed to this program because it is the right thing to do. Teaching students the importance of managing the triple bottom line will help them thrive in business, and that’s our ultimate goal.”

For more information about the SSBHP, cohorts and projects they have participated in, employees may visit