By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–For the past two years, School of Business faculty and the Center for Career Development have been organizing networking events that bring together business students and local employers. Some were buttoned-down and structured, while others were more whimsical, like last year’s “speed dating” set-up.
This year, a group of four instructors decided to pool their classes for a “networking spin” that filled the Hoosier Room with upper-division students and business people with wisdom to share.
The four professors–Doug Barney (accounting), Kathy Ernstberger (business administration), Ken Harris (management) and John Ross (business administration)–realized that their upper level classes met at the same time on the same days. They decided to devote one day to a kind of learning that would “complement and supplement what is learned in class,” in the words of Harris.
“We thought we’d like professionals to be able to talk to students, provide advice, lead an interactive discussion on pressing questions and ultimately have the opportunity to network with them,” Harris said.
They reached out to the business community, and received a very enthusiastic response. In the end, 25 organizations were represented, including Humana, Amazon, Samtec, Microsoft, Baptist Health, Raymond James, and others.
These representatives sat at round tables with several students and spoke about their own experience per a set discussion point that served as a prod for conversations about career preparation, professional competencies and things they wish they had known before entering the workforce. They mentioned aspects of their companies that students would not have known from internet research. After a few minutes, the students rotated to the next table.
“We wanted a format that was not stressful and did not require any preparation by the participants,” Ernstberger said. “We wanted both the students and the professionals to really enjoy and embrace the event.”
Many of the employer reps were IU Southeast alumni, giving them a special connection to the students. For the students, the participation of alumni made the information relatable and authentic.
“Students are so busy, with many of them working and taking a full course load, that networking and seeking advice from professionals often gets put on the back burner,” Harris said. “An event like this forces students to engage in listening, questioning, feedback seeking, learning, processing and networking.”
Barney agreed, for unique reasons.
“Many of our accounting students are naturally shy,” Barney said. “Any event at which we can get them to mix and mingle with professionals is a good thing, and by using different formats, students get a variety of opportunities to network and enhance their interpersonal skills.”
Students filled out evaluations at the conclusion. What did they learn?
- “Don’t be afraid to ask for help”
- “Don’t put yourself in a box–stay open to new opportunities”
- “Own up to your mistakes”
- “Constant communication with superiors and subordinates is of the utmost importance”
- “Make sure the [company] culture is a good fit”
- “Stay connected to the purpose of why”
- “Be yourself”
Judging from the energy in the room, and the quality of interactions, the spin was a success. Many students had already followed up with employers online and in person by the time they filled out their evaluations.
“A number of students mentioned that they are thinking differently about their futures and what they should be doing now, and are hopeful about potential internships and employment stemming from this event,” Harris said.
The faculty members are already discussing when they’ll hold the next event, and how they might tweak it, perhaps with an online component.
“We are constantly thinking about ways to innovate and improve the learning that happens both inside and outside of the classroom,” Harris said.
Homepage photo: Zakery Henderson follows the presentation of Mitchell Lewis from Graphic Packaging.