From Villanova Magazine, Winter 2013
Before she started the college rounds, Erika Rech knew she wanted to attend a prestigious business school. Sure, it was a “must” for a career in finance. But Erika’s motivation was more than professional. Atop her list of priorities was an item that few teens ever have to address: How do I grow the nonprofit organization I’ve co-founded?
And atop her list of schools was one that could empower her to answer that question: the Villanova School of Business. Besides being a top-ranked school, VSB enjoyed the seal of approval of a higher authority—Erika’s parents, who worked on Wall Street and raved about the caliber of Villanova hires.
On a gray, soggy day, the Middletown, N.J., native visited campus. By tour’s end, her head and heart agreed: This was the one. If she loved Villanova in the rain, Erika figured, she certainly would love it in the sunshine.
What she didn’t figure on was how much Villanova would exceed her expectations. The University not only has delivered a transformative education but has nurtured the junior Finance and Accounting major’s instincts as a compassionate go-getter and built her capacity to ignite change. “When I came to Villanova, I didn’t realize how much it would offer in terms of inspiration and personal growth.”
Villanova has enabled Erika to advance a project she started at 15, after she received news no child wants to hear: her mother had stage 3 breast cancer. Six months later, one of her aunts learned she had stage 2. As Erika and her cousin Mike Ruane became involved in fundraisers that support cancer research, they couldn’t help wondering what was being done to assist breast cancer patients facing financial hardship. Erika and Mike caught the look in each other’s eyes. What are we waiting for?
However, when Erika called a lawyer to find out how to get 501(c)(3) status for a foundation that would provide crisis intervention, she heard a pause on the other end of the phone. “How old are you?”
Because they were minors, Erika and Mike appointed a board of directors to oversee the charity now known as Breast Intentions. They worked to get the nonprofit off the ground, waiting for the day when they could legally share in the leadership of the cause that had become their passion.
Power building at Villanova
Heading up a nonprofit is no easy job, but Erika’s Villanova education has proved to be invaluable in helping her to grow into that role. Courses in financial management and reporting, competitive effectiveness and corporate responsibility have given her the skills to manage funds, develop marketing campaigns and solicit grants and donations.
“My classes have opened up a new world to me,” Erika says. “I’ve applied in real time the accounting principles, marketing tools and managerial techniques I’ve learned, which has helped us to grow the charity and operate it more efficiently.”
The outcomes have been impressive. Breast Intentions now has chapters in five states and has raised more than $750,000. Recently, Erika and Mike launched the Pink Pact Initiative to educate high schoolers about breast health.
A seize-the-day thinker, Erika credits Villanova with giving her the freedom to map out her future— and a plethora of avenues by which to do it. In her first two years, she studied for a summer in Italy; interned at Tullett Prebon; traveled to Silicon Valley; and managed investments for the Villanova Equity Society. Because the University has both challenged and equipped her to pursue her dreams, Erika has become more confident in her ability to think independently and create positive change.
“What I love about Villanova is that it never puts you into a mold,” she says. “You have the opportunity to do what you want to do, be who you want to be and take the path you want to take. No one forces you to achieve your goals. You have to make it happen.”
Pitch of a lifetime
Erika and Mike have received a slew of awards and been featured in national publications. In May, Erika was selected as the New York Yankees’ 2012 Honorary Bat Girl, a contest sponsored by Major League Baseball’s Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer initiative. On Mother’s Day, she took the mound and threw the ceremonial first pitch. “I’m the worst baseball player ever, but I got it over the plate!”
The die-hard fan met Jeter, Cano, Swisher and others, visited the dugout and accepted a pink Louisville Slugger bat. The highlight, however, was having her mom join her on the field.
The demands of being a full-time student and charity co-president could daunt the most resolute soul, but Villanova helps Erika to stay the course and envision possibilities for growing the foundation.
“The Augustinian principles have inspired me to persevere, especially when I feel overwhelmed,” she says. “They’ve taught me that my troubles are only a nuisance compared to those of other people. Villanova’s efforts to open students’ eyes to the importance of truth, unity and love have greatly impacted my work with the charity.”