Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business has a long history of a unique symbiotic relationship with the Richmond business community. Over the years, the school’s graduates have led some of the area’s industry behemoths, from Universal Corp. to Luck Cos. Executives from Fortune 500 companies such as Performance Food Group, Altria Group and Markel Corp. board of directors.

In turn, these companies have partnered with the school to sponsor events, provide experiential learning opportunities, and hire graduates they’ve seen firsthand receive exceptional business training.

So last spring, when School of Business graduate Cristina Childers was looking for a new job, she contacted an accounting professor at her alma mater to ask if he was aware of any vacancies. He suggested Altria might have something, and within a month Childers had his first interview.

Childers started in April as an associate financial analyst for the tobacco company’s accounts payable. She also has the distinction of being the company’s first deaf employee in its 36-year history.

Childers, 43, was born in Bucharest, Romania. When she was about a year old, she developed a high fever which made her deaf in both ears. While most toddlers were learning to speak, Childers was learning to lip read.

“Throughout school in Romania, I was forced to lip read and communicate without using sign language,” she said. “The use of sign language is not recognized as an official language in Romania as it is here in the United States.”

In 1999, Childers moved to Washington at the behest of his father.

“I never signed when I was a kid, I only read lipstick,” she said. “My dad really wanted me to learn American Sign Language so that I had a good opportunity to study, work, be hospitalized, etc. He knew that communication is very important. “

She obtained a certificate in ASL from Gallaudet University before moving to Richmond in 2000. In 2014, she obtained her Associate of Science degree in Business Administration from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, where she obtained her diploma with great distinction. She then enrolled at VCU, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in accounting in May 2020.

“VCU offers the best education, and it was a great opportunity for me to expand my knowledge, skills, confidence and experience to help me find a job,” she said.

At Altria, Childers performs audits and analyzes financial data.

“Altria has never had interpretation services for deaf and hard of hearing employees,” Childers said. “I told them in detail about my communication needs and requested interpretation services. Clear communication with people is so important.

The same is true of diversity in the workforce. Since becoming CEO of Altria last year, William F. “Billy” Gifford Jr. – another VCU graduate – has been pushing for increased diversity within the company. He serves on the board of directors of Catalyst, the global non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women in the workplace, and is a CEO of Catalyst Champion for Change.

“We are very happy that Cristina [Childers] chose to work at Altria, ”said Gifford. “She has already demonstrated strong leadership and passion and has helped me grow. I look forward to having a long relationship with Cristina as a colleague and friend.

Altria also places a strong emphasis on team collaboration, said Childers, which makes her own values ​​fit well with the culture of the company.

“My dream is to become a director and Altria supports this by providing mentorship and growth opportunities in my career to help me achieve this goal,” she said.