Gottahava Wawa… in Your Business Class
As a Widener student, Kevin Wiggins ’95 made his fair share of Wawa runs.
With a store located just a few blocks off campus, it was a convenient spot to grab hoagies, iced tea, and other must-have items to fuel his accounting studies.
“I’ve been a die-hard Wawa fan from my Widener days on,” said Wiggins.
He didn’t know it at the time, but 15 years after graduating Widener, Wiggins would be hired as Wawa’s corporate controller, and go on to serve as chief financial officer, his current position.
Wiggins has never forgotten his Widener roots and how the university set him on the path to professional success, not just in helping him build a strong financial knowledge base, but also in fostering his leadership skills.
Widener totally set me up to be successful in my career. I learned to be a critical thinker, to work hard, and to value relationships with people. — Wawa CFO Kevin Wiggins '95
And this year, he and some of his Wawa colleagues are helping first-year students grasp fundamental business concepts.
Wawa is embedded as a case study in SBA Professor Donna McCloskey’s introductory management course this semester. When McCloskey teaches about a concept – such as management, human resources, marketing, or finance – Wawa serves as the real-world example.
“It’s a deep dive into Wawa,” said McCloskey. “The purpose of this course is for students to come out seeing business disciplines are interrelated. By taking one company, we can focus on what those connections are.”
Throughout the semester, Wiggins and other Wawa executives – including Widener alumna and Trustee Catherine Pulos ’84, executive vice president and chief operations officer at Wawa – have appeared via Zoom as guest lecturers to talk about their roles and career paths, and to share advice for students.
Discussing business concepts through the lens of an actual company – especially one so well known to most Widener students – has helped McCloskey’s students digest the material.
“It’s so much easier to understand when you’re learning it in this way, coming from a real company and a company relevant to my life,” said marketing major Michael Caloiaro ’24. “This experience has been extraordinary. And it’s not every day you get to be in contact with or talk to the CFO or COO of Wawa.”
This is the third year McCloskey has been running her Management 100 class in this manner. In the first two years, Philadelphia-based Comcast was embedded in the course.
Wawa was a logical next choice. Headquartered less than 10 miles from campus, the convenience store chain – which has more than 900 stores on the East Coast, employing 36,000 people – has a multitude of connections with Widener.
A number of Wawa employees, including executives like Wiggins and Pulos, are university graduates.
I am so incredibly thankful to have our alumni giving back, particularly for these students and in such an unusual year. We’re helping connect our students to industry and our alumni. — Professor Donna McCloskey
Widener and Wawa also have an educational partnership, in which company employees receive a discount on university tuition.
Chris Friedman, a general manager in training with Wawa, is currently taking advantage of the partnership to pursue his MBA online, with a focus on business process management.
“I had heard nothing but good things about Widener and there are a lot of senior officers who went to Widener. It seemed like a good fit,” said Friedman. “I’d like to use the MBA as a steppingstone (in my career).”
Widener students have also interned at Wawa, gaining hands-on experience in their fields.
Marketing major George Funk ’21 has had two internships on the corporate side of the house, providing him practical skills, and a chance to interact with senior employees.
During his 2019 internship, Funk helped with consumer insights on testing for the selection of the now-ubiquitous red Wawa coffee cups emblazoned with the white goose.
“That cup is such an important touchpoint in the consumer experience. It’s the cup you walk home with every single day and post on Instagram. It’s so cool to have my name attached to that even in a small way,” said Funk, who got his foot in the door at Wawa thanks to a connection of one of his professors.
Funk is now working part-time as a customer service associate at Wawa to gain experience on the store side of the business.
And, of course, many Widener students count themselves as loyal Wawa customers and fans.
Finance major Xaria La’Mar ’24 stops at Wawa almost daily. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at the company through McCloskey’s class has been enlightening, she said.
La’Mar has enjoyed hearing about Wawa’s history (from its origin as an iron foundry in 1803, to its jump into the dairy business a century later), its continued evolution, and commitment to servant leadership.
“What they’re trying to accomplish is being accomplished in stores,” said La’Mar. “I’m definitely more observant walking into a Wawa now, knowing their core values and seeing how employees are interacting with people.”
Both Caloiaro and La’Mar say that seeing Widener alumni achieve such success at Wawa is inspiring.
Widener is giving you the opportunity to get that high in a profession. They show that it’s possible and it gives me a path I want to follow. — Michael Caloiaro '24
Added La’Mar: “It tells me I can be in their position one day if I just continue to work hard and listen to the advice they give.”
And what is that advice?
Wiggins counsels students to work hard, treat people the way they want to be treated, do something that makes them happy, and persevere through the challenges.
To that final point, Wiggins relates the story of how his first accounting course at Widener didn’t go so well, and he ended up dropping the class. But he picked it up again, and with the guidance of accounting Professor Joseph Hargadon, it “clicked.”
The rest is hoagie history.