Justice Theodros doesn’t waste time. During the first semester of her freshman year at the Robinson College of Business, she secured an internship at the Capital City Club. She constantly overheard a fellow intern raving about a career development initiative at Robinson, where both women were pursuing undergraduate degrees. Her colleague particularly gushed over the one-on-one attention from influential mentors and general opening of professional doors. Coincidentally, Theodros soon was invited to apply to the program. She joins this fall.
The program is the Eric J. Joiner Achievement Academy (JAA). Undergraduate business majors who make the cut proceed as a cohort over the course of three years. In addition to a required class, activities include hands-on assignments, internships, case competitions, and corporate site visits. This summer, before her official start date, Theodros opted to compete in a Shark Tank-style business simulation.
During phase one, student teams conceived unique product ideas and presented them to a panel of judges comprising Mia Dantas, vice president of mortgage analytics at Truist; Eric Joiner, the academy’s namesake as well as vice chairman and co-founder of AJC International; Denish Shah, Barbara and Elmer Sunday Professor of Marketing at Robinson; and Dexter Warrior, principal and chief operating officer at T. Dallas Smith & Company. Because Theodros’ group won, their product—a phone case containing pepper spray—is currently being tweaked by everyone as part of phase two.
Participants were split into functions mirroring an actual organization such as marketing, sales, and finance. Theodros is serving as CEO. Fleshing out the target demographic, building a social media strategy, and developing a budget were challenging, but the biggest obstacle has involved communication.
“Since I’m new to the program, I don’t know my classmates,” Theodros said. “We all have different schedules and have had to figure out what forms of contact work best, like video calls, text messages, and emails.”
One of Theodros’ teammates is rising senior Jalyn Brooks. Since Brooks aspires to be an entrepreneur, the business simulation exercise has been super applicable. She cites a dining etiquette session with Erica Qualls-Battey, general manager of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, as her most meaningful JAA experience thus far.
“We had a conversation over a five-course meal,” Brooks said. “She grew up in California and took a huge leap of faith by moving here. She has so much positive energy and an amazing personality.”
What really sets the academy apart is the personal investment from Eric Joiner. Earlier this year, Joiner compiled a recommended reading list based on endorsements from his professional network, and purchased every JAA member the book of their choice. Brooks selected Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Rising junior Carlos Ojeda picked Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?.
“Eric got to know me on a personal level,” Ojeda said. “His motto—‘Be All You Can Be’—resonates with me because I come from a low-income, single-parent household.”
Throughout his childhood, Ojeda’s mother worked nights and weekends. When he begged her to stay home, Ojeda’s mother claimed that if he earned As, she would get paid more. In high school, he finally realized she had lovingly tricked him into trying harder so he would have more options and, ultimately, a better life.
“My father isn’t in the picture,” Ojeda said. “Eric has become a father figure to me. He tells us he believes in us, and that’s the best gift a parent can give.”
In the 1960s, Joiner earned B.B.A. and MBA degrees from what was then called the Georgia State College of Business Administration. He attended class at night while also working full-time and providing for his family. He claims he could not have finished without persistent morale boosts and mentoring from marketing professor David Schwartz, who also wrote best-selling self-help book The Magic of Thinking Big.
“Dr. Schwartz helped me raise my expectations and develop a passion to ‘Be all you can be,’” Joiner said. “Since then, I have wanted to motivate young people from diverse backgrounds and limited financial resources.”
In addition to an individual mentoring session with Joiner, JAA participants receive ongoing support from Ed Baker, Robinson’s expert in residence. During Ojeda’s academy orientation, Baker asked the entire cohort to email him with their availability for one-on-one meetings. Because Ojeda was the first to get in touch, Baker treated him to lunch.
“One of Ed’s favorite mantras is ‘Keep Cooking,’” Ojeda said. “He means that even if you achieve a big accomplishment, you always should be looking for the next gig.”
For example, Ojeda recently completed the Summer Leadership Academy at accounting firm Carr Riggs & Ingram (CRI). But Ojeda didn’t rest on his laurels. Upon landing the opportunity at CRI, he immediately scouted internship options for this fall and even spring 2021. One might say Ojeda—and all his JAA peers, for that matter—have taken Ed Baker’s advice to heart. They never stop cooking.
“Justice, Jalyn, and Carlos are just a few of the ‘stars of tomorrow’ coming out of JAA,” Joiner said.
Learn More about the Eric J. Joiner Achievement Academy