Ciocca Center Announces New Director: Rob Murner

By Colman Benson ’24 | October 27, 2022

CB: Welcome to Holy Cross! Let's start off with a little bit about yourself: could you highlight a few experiences from your career before joining us on the hill?

RM: I was born and raised in Michigan and studied Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan. After college, I joined the Air Force. For most of my career I was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. As an Aerospace Engineer, I was mostly focused on aircraft programs and propulsion (jet engines). I worked on so many cool programs: the V22 Tilt Rotor, and the strategic defense initiative (SDI) better known by its nickname “Star Wars.” The SDI project actually made the cover of Aviation Week! I met my wife in the military and we decided to separate from active duty. That is when I started going the business route. I wanted to build off my MBA and so I went into sales. It's a great way to move up in companies very quickly as the closer you are to the customer the more valuable you are to the company. Later, I decided I wanted to come back into a more technical field like aerospace and defense and that's where I really got the entrepreneurial bug. I knew I wanted to take an equity stake in something and I started working towards that. I finished my corporate career as a turn-around specialist, helping troubled companies get back on track.. I now spend my time focusing on things I enjoy most, like teaching here at Holy Cross and working with students in my position as Director and Entrepreneur in Residence for the Ciocca Center.

CB: What are your responsibilities as the director of the Ciocca Center?

RM: As a pilot I'm fond of the saying, “keep flying the plane.'' That means we can’t lose sight of our core business. We have to keep the great Business Certificate Programs and workshops ‘flying’ as well as continuing to interact with our alumni. My primary responsibility is to do anything I can to help my staff keep these programs going, and as a director give them the resources they need for continued success with these programs.

CB: How do you plan to expand upon the Ciocca Center?

RM: There are four initiatives we are focusing on.

  • One is mentorship, we want to formalize mentorship groups with our alumni and focus on our student led clubs. Great mentorship requires common threads: The most powerful thread is Holy Cross alumni working with Holy Cross students. A second thread is aligning mentors' interests with the charters of our 9 business clubs which include Agency (PR, Advertising, Marketing), College Street Journal, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Investment, Insurance, Sales, Real Estate, and Women in Business. . The second initiative, which is directly in line with the President’s objectives, is for students to be more involved in the business community. Through our HC Launch student incubator, we want to have one trip a month to a start up,. Besides the Holy Cross Community in Boston, I bring my own network from Worcester and Springfield to the table. It would be fun to do one trip a year to New York and take advantage of the New York Holy Cross leadership community to visit two or three businesses on the trip. The hope is that many of the companies founders and executives that we visit will want to come back and be mentors.

  • The third initiative is centered around the HC Launch student incubator. We are putting this at the center of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program. I envision a day when we have a student incubator in its own space with staff, mentorship, supplies, equipment, and coaching to help nurture fledgling businesses to grow.

  • The fourth initiative is to have a series of alumni talks based on a TEDtalk format with a series of business leaders holding a 15-20 minute presentation followed by a Q&A from the students. We have already reached out to our friends in the performing arts center so we can stage these correctly, with the proper lighting, AV, backdrop, filmed and edited all with Holy Cross resources and student work. It is a way to get the community back involved as well as us reaching out. This is the vision to take the Ciocca Center forward. We’re calling these events “Cross Talks”

CB: What do you enjoy most about working with students?

RM: I love sitting down with students in any capacity, whether it be for College Street Journal, mapping out their certificate or teaching my business fundamental course. I love to teach, and I look forward to my weekly lectures and the chance to share my experiences as part of their learning.. As the entrepreneur-in-residence, I also spend a lot of time with students talking about their business ideas. My ambition, when leaving corporate life was to be in this environment and play a small part in helping students envision their futures and take the first steps in achieving them. I could not be happier!

CB: How can Holy Cross students leverage their liberal arts education and business certificates to stand out from other applicants in the business field?

RM: I love talking about this because of my degree. Engineering was specific and very focused; quite the opposite of a Liberal Arts degree. Focused education teaches you more what to think. Seeing things as I do now, liberal arts education shows you how to think both strategically and critically. The advantage our students have is that they have been exposed to cultures, art, languages, the human condition, philosophy, and new ways to think. You’ll see today a large part of the pre interview process is focused on determining if an employee is going to be a cultural fit with the company. As someone who has run companies I can attest that culture beats strategy any day. I typically looked for candidates fresh out of college who brought diversity of thought and experience to the company. Look at domains of finance, banking, and insurance for example; there really aren’t many specific classes at Holy Cross that focus on these specific topics, but if you look at some of our most successful alumni, they are very successful in these fields. They are smart and have the aptitude, but more importantly they fit the culture of the company. That is the importance of the liberal arts education.

CB: How do you promote alumni and current student connections throughout the program? How has it been a beneficial relationship for both parties?

RM: It's the business tie quite frankly, there are so many successful alumni, for instance Joanna Geraghty ’99 who is the President and COO of JetBlue Airlines . Art Ciocca ’59 bought Franzia from CocaCola and turned it into the second largest wine manufacturer in the United States. It's the very successful alumni with Holy Cross liberal arts education that are proving it in the business world. Giving successful alumni the opportunity to give back through mentorships or to come back to Holy Cross and speak to students is beneficial for both parties. The students are able to get experiential learning through one of our alumni taught workshops At the same time, they are being connected to the alumni network, and that shows up as opportunities for internships and jobs.

CB: Do you have any advice for new students who aspire to work in the field of business post graduation?

RM: We have three different business certificates and there is a lot of overlap between the workshops and requirements to achieve each. Early on, definitely take Fullbridge, it applies to every Certificate and it's a four day immersion in the institution of business. It's the best way to get a sense of the domain and its value. Then look at the different certificates and requirements. Get involved and see what you are interested in. I also highly recommend joining a club, you do not have to be in a certificate program to join a club but it will be a great learning experienceg. Every club has an alumni advisor that works as a mentor. By your junior year you will have a better understanding of which career you want to pursue based on your experiences.

CB: Do you have any last bits of advice?

RM: Follow your passion.? Think less about specific career fields and specific industries and immerse yourself in the opportunities Holy Cross has to offer. By all means, treasure the liberal arts education you are receiving, have fun, and trust that you will be well positioned for success in life!