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ODU Education Helped Prepare Returning Student for Entrepreneur Role with Small Engineering Firm

After six years as a modern dancer in New York City, Sarah Boyce Golden was looking for a career with a little more stability when she decided to go back to school.

Ending up in Hampton Roads, Golden enrolled in computer engineering at Old Dominion University. A few years older than most freshmen, she nonetheless formed close connections with fellow students.

"We were a small group then. We were always in the library together studying or in the labs working on senior projects," she said.

Golden loved her small classes, and the attention she received from faculty members and advisers like Tom Wunderlich in ODU's Career Management Center. "The faculty was always available to us," she said.

As a female engineering student, and an academic go-getter, Golden was counseled by Wunderlich to add a co-op component to her studies, in part because the federal Civil Service was anxious to try to deal with the gender inequality in its engineering workforce.

For her last two years at ODU (she graduated with a B.S. in computer engineering in 1994) Golden also worked 20 hours per week at Norfolk Naval Station, in the office now known as Naval Ship Support Activity (NSSA). She was charged with development and support of software applications utilized for technical support for the U.S. Navy fleet based in Hampton Roads.

"We created troubleshooting technology to be used aboard Navy ships," Golden said. "It was the perfect application of my education, and really exciting to me."

After graduation, Golden worked for NSSA full time for six years, then spent a year working for the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche in Los Angeles. Having varied work experience has been invaluable to her. Each position has helped to prepare her for what she does today.

Golden and her husband, Bob Golden, who has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, an M.B.A. from the College of William and Mary and a background in Civil Service, founded the GBS Group in 2005. The engineering, business consulting and technical services firm provides reliability engineering and technology insertion support services and products to the rail and transportation industry and the energy and construction industry, as well as engineering and software development support to the federal government, controls and automation engineering support to several industries, and consumer services for home electronics connectivity.

The company, which ranks 8th on the Virginia Chamber of Commerce's 2011 list of fastest-growing companies in the state, saw its revenues double for the first four years of operation. In 2010, the company had $16.4 in revenue from customers such as Amtrak, and clients in the defense and oil and gas industries.

Sarah Boyce Golden is chief administrative officer of the GBS Group, in charge of internal processes such as contracts, finance, accounting, facilities, security, IT and human resources. Her husband is chief executive officer and directs all business development and technical and customer relationships of the GBS Group, which has 80 full-time employees in more than a dozen states.

The company, which actually got its start in the Goldens' home, is still run like a small operation. "The advantage that it gives us is we're flexible," Sarah Boyce Golden said. "We won't hold still if it's not working. We'll change something."

Among the jobs that GBS has undertaken are providing maintenance management for ultra-deepwater oil rigs, prompting the company to open a Singapore office. The GBS Group also assisted Amtrak (the company's first client) in the launch of Wi-Fi service onboard its Acela high-speed line, running from Washington, D.C., to Boston.

Golden said her time at ODU was integral in helping prepare her for the anything-can-happen life as an entrepreneur with a small engineering firm.

"I felt comfortable at ODU from day one," she said. "When I was an ODU student, there were a lot of older engineering students like me, and we could see the path ahead of us. I think I got a great education."

This article was posted on: October 7, 2011

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