Todd Emerson, BA English ’93, enjoys a successful career in technology but it wasn’t an education in computer science that led him down his path. His fascinating start actually began in the VCU Department of English with a challenge that helped him realize the creative potential at the intersection of technology and the humanities.
As an undergraduate English major, Todd understood the mechanics of the coursework and the high standards and quality of instruction that the department offered. When state budget cuts limited the class size of critical writing workshop courses in the 1990s, Todd and writing instructor Michael Keller worked together to identify a way to deliver the same instruction without the limitations of a physical classroom space. Before the advent of online file sharing applications, Todd was tasked with creating a method for students to submit writing assignments, exchange papers for review and critique, and resubmit revisions without printing documents and sharing a classroom. Todd diligently met with professors and his peers and with their input successfully created an early version of a digital file dropbox. He remembers the project as “a rewarding exercise academically and intellectually.”
Todd’s creative solution for the VCU English Department was just his first project that would later grow into a successful career. Originally moving to Seattle to work in the wine business, he began to take on one-off tech projects for friends, businesses of friends, ultimately growing a sizable portfolio of clients. One of his more inventive enterprises involved the creation of a digital tracking technology for Blue C Sushi restaurants in Seattle that allows chefs and restaurant staff to monitor plated sushi for freshness and increase kitchen output for menu items in high demand. Over time, Todd’s success matching need with technology-based solutions grew into delivering innovative and tailored data analytics informing the strategies of national and international clients such as T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Nokia, and Rovio.
Todd credits skills learned in his undergraduate studies in the English department with allowing him to precisely articulate processes and workflows that his engineers later translate into code. Passionate that a humanities-based education provides invaluable problem-solving perspectives in his industry, Todd is so committed to this idea that he has recently made steps to recreate the opportunity that launched his career for future generations of VCU students. Establishing a grant that will fund a VCU humanities student to explore, research and resolve a need with a technology-based solution, Todd’s gift will encourage and inspire students to creatively apply their knowledge and provide them an arena to test their conclusions—and considering the impressive diversity of humanities studies at VCU, Todd’s contribution will ensure that students can pursue endless and exciting possibilities.