Alumni Spotlight: Gino Degregori
MIS alum, McNair scholar, pursues his passion for problem solving
In the early 1990s, Gino Degregori and his family traveled nearly 3,500 miles from their hometown of Lima, Peru, to Washington, D.C., to start a new life.
"I was 10 years old," Degregori recalled. "I didn't speak the language. The only thing I knew how to say was 'Hello, my name is Gino.'"
Fast forward to today, where Degregori is a principal and co-founder of Bravo Consulting Group, LLC in Washington, D.C., where he resides with his wife and three young children. His company, founded in 2007 and growing steadily ever since, employs approximately 25 people. Bravo Consulting Group works with the federal government, Fortune 500 companies and hospitals to improve communications and collaboration through specialized process improvement using technologies like SharePoint.
Degregori recalls that he certainly experienced a culture shock when he first arrived in America, but caught on quickly by attending public school and helping his parents learn the English language. A few short years later, when high school was coming to a close, he applied to several colleges and was accepted to all of them. Originally, he was attracted to WVU because of its newly minted forensics education program. But when Degregori realized chemistry wasn't his strongest suit, he decided to explore the Management Information Systems program through B&E — a pivotal decision that began to mold his future career.
He met his wife, Kelley, at WVU. She was a student in a five-year secondary education program at the College of Education and Human Services. Determined to finish school at the same time, Degregori put himself on his own five-year program, taking summer courses to complete both his undergrad and his MS in software engineering by 2004. But keeping pace with his future wife was only part of the motivation behind squeezing in all that education in a mere five years.
"Really the main driver was the McNair (Scholarship) Program. It was really helpful in getting my master's," Degregori explained. The McNair Scholarship program is for first generation college students from disadvantaged backgrounds with strong academic potential. It aims to open their eyes to the opportunities that lie beyond a baccalaureate degree.
"During the summer program, they teach you all about research, how to put a paper together, how to do a thesis. I felt like that was a big thing for me. I worked with Dr. (Virginia) Kleist. We did a paper together (called) "Minorities in the IT field" and got it published. It was a great experience. It's a great program for first generation people that felt like all they needed was undergrad. It shows them they can take (their education) all the way to the Ph.D. level if they like."
Degregori said he would like to complete his Ph.D. one day, but in the meantime he has thrived as an entrepreneur.
"I have always been an entrepreneur, always looking at business," he said. He explained that one of his first ventures was starting his own small business in Morgantown in the early 2000s when wireless networking started to become mainstream.
"I set up wireless networking in homes. I did (former) Professor Scott Rotruck's and Dr. (David) Dawley's and some other professors. It was a nice little business to get me started. Once I graduated with my master's, I went to work for federal contractors," he said.
He began at a large firm and then moved to smaller and smaller companies in order to learn how they managed a firm in the federal contracting world. After being an employee for a few years, he started a practice by himself with one or two employees. Around 2007, he collaborated with his colleague, Neil McDonnell, who had a background in network engineering. The two of them saw that the technologies for SharePoint were going to be leveraged by the federal government, and Bravo Consulting Group was born.
"I've always had that (entrepreneurial) bug in me. Always," Degregori said. "I like running with things. Being a first generation college student as well as a first generation American, that was a huge driver for me, too." Degregori explained that his determination to succeed began not long after his family arrived in America.
"I was middle class down in Peru. We had things, I went to private school and it was good. My dad was a banker in Peru. He was always in a suit and a tie. When we came here for personal reasons, his first job was as a dishwasher at a restaurant in D.C.," Degregori said. "He took me to his job once and told me, 'Look, son. This is the land of opportunity. You set your mind to do whatever you want and you will accomplish it. And I don't want you to ever do this (wash dishes.) Take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of you.' I always remember that. That was a huge thing in my decision to be an entrepreneur, that one moment right there."
Through determination and education, Degregori now pursues his passion for problem solving by aiding the federal government through IT solutions and business process improvement.
"We really help streamline their processes. We work to understand what the agencies are doing, improve what they're doing and then automate what they're doing by implementing a solution that will save not only time but also money," he said. "That's what I like to see, is us making a difference in those organizations. One of our large clients is the Department of Veterans Affairs. All the work that we do, from a technical standpoint, is trying to help the veterans. That's a good thing that we're doing there," he said.
Degregori's journey through the work he has poured into his start-up has been a learning experience he can share with current students looking to emulate his success.
"Definitely do your homework. Make sure you have some experience and a lot of passion. It's all about passion," he said. "If you do not love what you do each day, you won't succeed. I found a technology I liked and now I look for solutions that I think will solve the problems out there." Beyond finding a passion and doing what you love, Degregori said managing a business requires some strategic planning skill as well.
"One of the challenges of being a leader is making decisions. You've got to make sure when you're making a decision that you're not just making it based on emotions. Every decision affects something else (in the business.) Stop and think, 'How is that going to affect other areas in my organization or with my clients?' So every decision, you've always got to be thinking strategically."
Degregori's education at B&E helped pave the way for his success. He said he thoroughly enjoyed his coursework, particularly classes with Dr. Kleist and Dr. Graham Peace.
"Dr. Peace is a great professor that really cares about the students, and Dr. Kleist has been great, so very supportive. She's a sharp lady," he said. "They've been (at B&E) for a while. When I was there, it was in the very early stages of the MIS program and I learned so much from them. I loved every minute of it."
"The information (I learned) in Dr. Peace's systems development class, I still use it now. I did a presentation to the MIS students last year and I talked about this particular course and how I always go back to it at work. When I teach my (employees), I go back to what I learned at B&E. It's exactly what I use," he said.
Today, Degregori continues his relationship with WVU. He presents to MIS classes and provides feedback to MIS faculty including Professor Dr. Nanda Surendra.
"I never had (Surendra) for class, but I very much communicated with him when trying to incorporate some of the things I look for from a recruiting prospective. I'm trying to hire some of the B&E students, and I want to make sure they know the proper technologies. I've been talking to (the MIS) folks to incorporate those technologies in their programming. I'm very excited to see how B&E is really growing."
One final and most important piece of advice that Degregori offered to current students is something he learned from the McNair Scholarship Program: continue your education.
"If you have the chance, do it. Do it. Do it now."