Lewis County High, Wesleyan grad, gets EMBA and $1.3 million federal contract
Arria Whiston has a lot to celebrate. After two and one-half years of study, she just received an Executive Master of Business Administration degree from WVU, and in July, her company was awarded its first federal contract —$1.3 million.
Whiston, who graduated from Lewis County High School and earned a degree in accounting from West Virginia Wesleyan College, is CEO of a small company called Allegheny Technology Corp., a management-engineering-technology firm in Weston, W.Va.
“I wear all the hats right now,” Whiston said. “It’s a small, start-up company with only three employees. My main charge right now is growing the company. I was elated to learn that we got the federal contract. It is a program-management, knowledge-management contract, and it fits my area of expertise perfectly. It’s a good fit, and I hope this will be the first of many such contracts.”
Her contract is for work with the NASA IV&V Facility in Fairmont, W.Va., which tests software for mission safety assurance. Her company focuses on program management, software engineering and “the full-gamut of engineering services, e-learning and business intelligence.”
“For my company, the future looks great,” she commented. “We’re on the ground floor and the opportunities are endless. Right now it’s a matter of figuring out our marketing strategy and getting the company known.” She started her sole proprietor, AW Consulting business in 1998 and formed the corporation early 2009.
To that end she attended the Small Business Innovative Research Conference early in December in Morgantown. “The conference was a great foundation for small businesses to team with universities,” she said. “I was there to, hopefully, find a researcher or a Ph.D. who has a great idea who needs help in bringing that idea into implementation.”
Whiston graduated on Dec. 12 with 21 other EMBA candidates who have studied in groups in Morgantown and Elkins, joined by distance-learning technology. More than 1,300 WVU students graduated in December.
“I wanted to go back and get an EMBA for many years, and I waited for a point when my kids (ages 22, 20 and 13) were older and I knew it would give me a lot broader knowledge of business management than just a bachelor’s.”
She said she has learned “broader skills,” especially in-depth analysis and entrepreneurship. “I’ve learned a lot about business valuations and the broader aspects of management that you don’t really get into in your normal work environment,” she said. “The capstone simulation course–where you actually manage a company from beginning to end–that course was really valuable.”
Plans for the future? “Grow the business while maintaining a balance in my life,” Whiston said. “I think any entrepreneur is a bit of a workaholic–and I tend to work all the time–or I’m thinking about what I need to do next. “
Robert Wentz, president of Information Research Corp. of Fairmont, W.Va., has known Whiston for years and said her success as a woman in the technology area is significant.
“Arria is a very driven and motivated businesswoman and leader,” he said. “With this first NASA contract win, the future of her new company looks extremely bright. In a typically male-dominated industry, she brings a unique combination of management and technical skills to the company. It is great to see all of her academic and industry skills coming together. I expect to see great things out of Arria and Allegheny Technology Corp.”
Whiston said in tackling the EMBA, the most difficult challenge was “keeping all my plates spinning.”
“My analogy in life is the person who does the circus act, spinning plates on the ends of sticks. For me, it was getting a business off the ground in the middle of the EMBA program. I have a family, and I work full time, plus I’ve had my class work to maintain. There are lots of plates to keep in the air.”
Whiston spins them and doesn’t mind too much if sometimes they fall. “If you don’t break a few plates, you haven’t been challenging yourself,” she said. “So, it’s been worth it. It’s been a big year, and I was elated to get my degree, walking on air. It’s been a challenge, but definitely worth it.”