In the leadup to our Fall 2021 Commencement ceremonies happening this Sunday, December 12 at the Wolstein Center, Cleveland State University is delighted to introduce you to our University Valedictorian. Rachel S. Jablonski was nominated by both the Monte Ahuja College of Business and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) as college valedictorian, and is also the university’s valedictorian for the Fall 2021 Semester. Like all of our Fall 2021 valedictorians, Rachel is an exceptional, well-rounded student and scholar and embodies an exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge, pride of personal character and a strong commitment and dedication to academics, while balancing a myriad of outside activities, challenges and obligations. Meet Rachel S. Jablonski!
RACHEL S. JABLONSKI
Monte Ahuja College of Business
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Overall Cleveland State University Fall 2021 Valedictorian
Bachelor of Business Administration, International Business
Bachelor of Arts, French with minor in Dance
Bachelor of Science, École Supérieure de Commerce, International Management (Semester Exchange)
Summa Cum Laude
Rachel Jablonski was nominated by both the Monte Ahuja College of Business and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) as college valedictorian and is the university’s valedictorian for the Fall 2021 Semester. She is not just an outstanding student and scholar.
She is creative, curious, entrepreneurial and resilient. This Fall, she will have earned a double major in French and International Business as well as a minor in Dance.
Rachel chose Cleveland State University because the university offered a French Major. Her mother had studied French and exposed her to the language at an early age. She fell in love with the language. She also knew that she wanted to work with people from all over the world.
The International Business major, for her, was a logical choice which played to her strengths in strategic thinking and communication as well as her collaborative, empathetic nature.
She used those strengths during her internship with the Department of Commerce U.S. Export Assistance Center where she helped local small businesses with market research to assist expansion into global markets.
Rachel’s second internship, in marketing, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She therefore participated in the Education Entrepreneurship Consortium’s Summer Side Hustle program and decided to take inspiration from a business idea she had 2 years prior from a short-term trip to Shell, Ecuador.
On the trip, the group interacted with an indigenous tribe called the Waorani.
“When the pandemic began, this led to the tribe being unable to buy food due to a lack of tourists in Ecuador,” she explained. “Knowing there was a loss of sales, I wanted to create a channel for their artesania (Spanish for crafts) and help them participate in the global market.”
In September 2020, Rachel launched Habitant Exchange (www.habitantexchange.com), an online business selling hand woven pieces created by the women of the Waorani tribe including bracelets, purses, bags and home décor. The products are unique and sustainable. Proceeds from selling the pieces helped the tribe afford food, clothing and housing, in addition to helping prevent the sale of their Amazonian land to oil companies.
In November of 2020, Rachel presented Habitant Exchange in the Weston Ideation Lab Side Hustle Series to tell her story to the CSU community.
Rachel always knew she wanted to study abroad. Her original plans were altered by the pandemic, and it was stressful preparing and organizing for a trip that might not happen, but in Spring 2021, Rachel was in France for the semester. She enjoyed the opportunity to hone her language skills, the people, reading in French and the cultural experience. She hopes to do the same and live in a French-speaking African country one day.
Rachel says looking back, her French major enhanced her International Business major and provided her with an advantage. She thought about and approached her business classes with a different perspective. For example, she could read the same text in both English and French and gain new insights.
Her favorite professors during her time at Cleveland State are Donna Davisson (International Business) and Annie Jouan-Westlund, Ph.D. (French). Both professors took time to get to know their students, were supportive of her earning a double major and provided advice and encouragement.
During her time at CSU, Rachel was involved in many different student organizations, however the mainstays were the Mandel Vikes (Honors College student organization) and International Friendships, a national organization that provides life-changing hospitality and friendship to international students struggling with culture shock, stress and loneliness.
“We have meaningful discussions about topics that matter and things we can relate to cross-culturally,” Rachel explained. “Everyone comes at it from a different cultural or religious perspective and I really enjoy that.”
“The Mandel Honors College provided wonderful networking opportunities and I ended up working in their office, so I got to know all of the faculty and staff pretty well,” she said. “It was special and became a home on campus.”
Rachel’s Honors College project was research on the barriers and opportunities for Moroccan women to begin e-commerce businesses and how it compares to the barriers and opportunities that American women might face. She determined issues specific to Morocco and identified suggestions that policy makers, financial institutions and women’s business organizations could put in place to address the obstacles they face.
What does the future hold?
“I’d like to work in small business development, hopefully with women in North African countries,” she said. “I’d like to do some cultural training beforehand, so in the meantime I will work on my own business.”
Cleveland State University: Can you tell us about the moment you decided to move forward with CSU – your “yes, this is the college for me” moment, if you will?
Rachel Jablonski: I was very grateful to be admitted to the Honors College at CSU, and so I made my decision upon receiving that letter.
CSU: What made you go into your major(s)? Were there any defining moments or inspirations that led you on that path?
RJ: Both of my majors were influenced by my parents. I knew from a very young age that I would study French in college, partially because my mother had done the same and I enjoyed the early exposure she gave me to the language. I then wanted something multicultural in nature to accompany my French degree, and I have no doubt that it was my father’s international sales role that led me to choose international business.
CSU: Once you started getting into your major classes, how did your perception of that course of study change?
RJ: For French specifically, I began to understand that it is not possible to separate the study of a language from the study of culture. Direct translations do not suffice after a certain point, because the connotation of words, their roots, and idioms all grow up out of the cultural influences at play. My time studying in France helped deepen my understanding of the culture, which gave me greater command of the language.
CSU: What was the best class you’ve taken at CSU – or the class you enjoyed the most – and why?
RJ: I’ve consistently enjoyed participating in Dance Company, also known as Dance Repertory and Performance (DAN 300), because the experience extends beyond the classroom, encompassing a community, a project, physical effort, and a performance. Aside from that, my other favorite was a French class comparing French and American culture (FRN 303 – France/Amerique Conversation) because it was in this class that I really began to understand the foundations of French culture and in some ways, my own.
CSU: How has CSU cultivated your character, values, and standards of excellence?
RJ: I had an experience in my sophomore year where I nearly failed the first exam in a class because I was over-confident. I realized that my unsatisfactory results affected only myself, and so it was my choice whether I wanted to ameliorate the situation or not. I ended up meeting weekly with the professor (who was very generous with his time) that entire semester to ensure I understood the material. This wasn’t the most convenient option, but I was able to improve my grade and built a good relationship with this professor. My experience at CSU pushed me to take ownership of my work and my failures, but it also taught me that diligence can go a long way!
CSU: How do you think you’ve changed or grown during your time at CSU?
RJ: My conception of time has changed drastically over the past four years. I entered college with an excessive love of efficiency. However, efficiency is not efficacious if one wishes to prioritize relationships. I was frequently challenged in my ideals for productivity and often felt frustrated by “wastes” of time, but these challenges helped me re-evaluate my investments of time. I want to continue to prioritize investments that will last rather than checking off an eternal to-do list, and it was primarily my time balancing a variety of courses, involvements, and relationships at CSU that challenged me in this area.
CSU: Aside from being Valedictorian, what stands out most to you about your CSU experience?
RJ: Part of the reason I chose Cleveland State was because there is a large population of international students, and my interactions with friends from all over the world have proved to be the collective highlight of my CSU experience. These cultural exchanges within the context of my own hometown enriched my daily life and challenged my perspectives.
CSU: What is your favorite CSU memory?
RJ: The memory that stands out to me the most is very simple. I was a student worker at the Honors College for a few years, and my coworkers and I were very good friends. We would come into the office even when we were not scheduled to be there just to eat lunch together. I appreciated that we could have meaningful discussion but also make each other laugh until we cried. In fact, I feel for those faculty/staff members in the Honors office whose offices were close to the front desk!
CSU: What’s next for you in life and how has your experience at CSU prepared you for it?
RJ: I hope to complete a cultural training program within the next couple years, and so the immediate next step is working for a few months in preparation for that. I plan to do a variety of things including working on my own small business, teaching an art class, deepening my language studies, and continuing my involvement with international students.
CSU: What advice would you give to the next class, or even a freshman entering your major?
RJ: I would advise a new student at CSU to avoid having a single friend group. Cleveland State has a unique variety of students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. While a “group” is often most comfortable, it can be very limiting. I think it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity to expose ourselves to new kinds of people and thinking, because we grow a lot from it.