Christopher Raville ’20 dressing students for success through ‘Gen-One Initiative’

Raville’s “Gen-One” initiative aims to provide students, especially those who are the first in their families to attend college, with the professional clothing they need to feel confident on campus and beyond.

For Christopher Raville ’20, an “awkward” headshot in his first few months at Elon has always stuck. It wasn’t awkward in the way many headshots are. Raville says this experience was awkward because of the clothes he wore.

“I was wearing a pink button-up and a bow tie, and it just really didn’t go together, and it was really awkward to get that headshot done around people who were wearing nice blazers,” he said.

Sophomore year that experience came back to mind when Raville took an entrepreneurship class taught by Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Elena Kennedy. Raville and his classmates were tasked with pinpointing unmet needs on campus and in their daily lives, and then considering solutions to those problems. Raville, who had since replaced his pink shirt and bow tie with more professional clothing gifted by a family friend, immediately knew the need he wanted to target.

“Not having professional clothes that I felt comfortable in was always an insecurity for me,” said Raville, who is from Burlington, N.C. “I sat down with a few people and asked them if they were feeling this too, and everybody I spoke to about the issue was like, ‘yeah, this has continued to be an issue in the background, and no one has really done anything to address it.’”

As an Odyssey Program scholar and first-generation student himself, Raville wanted to find a way to make sure other first-generation students had the clothing they needed to feel confident as they pursued an education and future careers.

Out of that entrepreneurship class came the idea for the “Gen-One Initiative” to help students get the professional clothing they need to make an impression on campus, in job interviews and beyond. The initiative aims to educate young professionals, with the help of Elon alumni and other industry professionals, about best practices related to professional wear in and out the office. Raville also wants to provide participating students with funding to buy the clothing they need to start their new professional wardrobes.

Raville worked closely with Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who served as a mentor and helped Raville develop the initial business plan for Gen-One. Raville also sought help from Jean Rattigan-Rohr, vice president for access and success and professor of education, and Raghu Tadepalli, dean of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, who helped him get the Gen-One Initiative off the ground. Raville credits work in Doherty Emerging Professor of Entrepreneurship Sean McMahon’s entrepreneurship course for helping mold the idea into what it has become today.

With a concept in hand, Raville turned to Elon’s Acorn Fund for help paying for the initiative.

The Acorn Fund is a program of the Elon Student Government Association with funds made available as a result of an endowment established by SGA in 2011. The Acorn Fund is designated for Elon University students to financially support an original, innovative and feasible invention, as well as for-profit or nonprofit companies, organizations or other initiatives with the potential for positive impact beyond the classroom.

While there are many mechanisms of monetary support for students interested in undergraduate research and planning and implementing events for the student body, SGA felt there was a need to provide financial support to individuals pursuing other projects and ideas. Any eligible Elon student, excluding those that are in their final semester at Elon, may apply for the Acorn Fund. The Acorn Fund Committee can award two awards per year using the available total award amount.

Winning projects or ideas are awarded funding based on the viability and feasibility of their concept, something Raville clearly showed the committee during his pitch. Raville received funding to grant five Elon students with $750 to purchase professional clothing. The funding will also provide students with education tools to learn more about professional dress. Gen-One is now looking to assist its first group of young professionals. Rising Elon juniors can apply for one of the $750 grants here. The deadline to apply is May 10.

“For me I think the impact that a first impression has is so powerful,” Raville said. “When you’re in clothes that might not fit quite right, it’s hard to feel as professional as you truly are, and so that lack of confidence kind of seeps into the ability to perform at your best level and really convey how intelligent you really are.”

The Acorn Fund is currently chaired by Konnor Porro ’20, with oversight by Jana Lynn Patterson, associate vice president for student life and dean of students, and Martina, who serves as the Acorn Fund’s faculty liaison. The group says Raville and Gen-One were clearly deserving of the award.

“Chris’ passion, vision and commitment to the mission of supporting first-generation students is transparent and even contagious,” Martina said. “It is gratifying to work with someone who is highly dedicated to helping other Elon students succeed.”

Patterson added, “The Acorn Fund committee felt that Chris’ Gen-One project reflects the true spirit of the Acorn Fund – to give students the chance to initiate projects and products that will have a positive impact. The Acorn Fund award will also allow Chris to stretch his learning and build upon his idea.”

As he prepares to graduate this spring, Raville, a finance and entrepreneurship double major, hopes to begin a career in finance in North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham area. He also plans to continue growing the Gen-One footprint and hopes to one day provide professional clothing for first-generation students across the country.

“Knowing that others will benefit from Gen-One and to see others grow themselves and succeed, that’s something that really inspires me and keeps me motivated,” Raville said.