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By Leila Ugincius

The Estes family is steeped in VCU tradition, but William’s journey to VCU was far from traditional. After graduating high school, he attended Marshall University earning a degree in history while competing for the men’s track & field team and holding multiple executive positions in his fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi.  Seeking adventure and a highly creative environment, he then attended the New England Culinary Institute. His training launched a hospitality career that, he said, “allowed me to see and do amazing things with wonderful people from all over the world.”

His work took him to luxury hotels and resorts, fine-dining establishments and upscale private country clubs that catered to the rich and famous. But after about a decade in the industry, the lack of work-life balance left Estes feeling burned out. He hoped to pivot to a field that embraced his experience and skills, but without a formal business degree, he found his path blocked.

For his next step, the native Richmonder needed to look no farther than Virginia Commonwealth University. Estes graduates this spring with a business management degree from the School of Business.

“I have a number of family members and friends that are alumni of the school,” he said, and they “spoke highly of their experiences while at VCU that helped them be successful in their careers.”

In fact, Estes is the fifth member of his family to attend VCU.

His father started the “RAMily” tradition in 1983 with a master’s degree in accounting. His mother earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1999. His older sister is a three-time Ram, with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and nursing in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and a master’s in nursing in 2000. (She plans to return in fall 2023 to pursue a Ph.D.) Finally, Estes has a cousin who earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in early and elementary education in 2011.

“They attended VCU because of the quality of programs offered, convenience, reputation of the school and the extensive network VCU offers,” he said.

As a nontraditional student, Estes noted that he is “a bit older” than most classmates with whom he will graduate in May. But he said they and the greater VCU community had a huge impact, allowing him time for self-reflection, academic growth and skill development — and building lasting relationships and happy memories. 

“Every professor I had at VCU had a helping hand in my ‘career reinvention’ by challenging me to be bold and pursue my dreams,” Estes said. “Alexander McKay [Creativity & Ideation], Jay Markiewicz [Leadership & Entrepreneurship] and Raymond Riha [Managerial Skills Development] all had a profound impact on me because they challenged me to grow on an academic, personal and professional level that I did not expect. Many epiphanies were had that helped me recognize skills that needed sharpening while learning and developing new ones.”

Estes considers being a part of the VCU RAMily an honor and privilege.

“My experiences at VCU have helped change my perspective” of seeing obstacles to the plethora of opportunities before me,” Estes said. “This in turn has allowed me to evolve to begin the next stage in my life.”

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