A college education is more than what’s learned in the classroom.
At the University of Memphis, students are prepared for their respective careers through various mentoring programs that can provide another key to jumpstart post-graduation success.
Dr. Justin Lawhead, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students at the University of Memphis who heads up the school’s LEAD program, said it’s important to focus on the skills employers say are necessary: integrity, communications, problem solving, creativity and teamwork.
“We walk through exercises to make sure we’re providing those competencies for students in a variety of ways,” he said. “Students may develop them but might not know their value or how to represent it on their resumes or how to have a conversation in an interview that brings out those things.”
Lawhead said he developed an interest in helping students get prepared for a professional setting eight years ago while dining out with his daughter. The server was a former student who was struggling to find a job, even though he had a bachelor’s degree.
“I realized through conversations that while many students are doing wonderful things they weren’t doing that type of prep for the next phase in their lives,” Lawhead said. “I think all my work is for naught if I’m not helping students connect to the next opportunity. Students who are superb student leaders then can become superb employees.”
Lawhead said the school’s Emerging Leaders program requires students to participate in four years of leadership training. In the last semester he walks them through a process to pull out the value of their experiences related to a job.
The Professional Connections program links students with employers, professional leaders and other people to have a career-oriented conversation about what will help the student be successful in the workplace. Participants meet three times, two of which are in a business or nonprofit setting.
“We have those conversations so students can ask questions in a safe lab because they’re not risking a job or opportunity,” Lawhead said. “It’s merely dialogue meant to supplement what they know.”
Finally, Lawhead said a Personal Branding Conference gives students information to present themselves to potential employers, including sessions on creating a resume and proper methods for good electronic communications.
Dr. Kathy Tuberville is director of the Avron B. Fogelman Professional Development Center. She leads the Complete Professional Program, which is a professional development program that is primarily taught through relationships with employers to students of the Fogelman College of Business and Economics.
The program provides students with innovative workplace development training that helps them become ready to compete in today’s job market. Each semester, some 2,000 students participate in some form.
“We had a lot of employer feedback and a lot had to do with gaps,” Tuberville said. “Students weren’t ready. So how do we get them ready? Employers said, ‘We want to help. We want to be your partner.’ From there it blossomed. There was a gap in employment opportunities and what I’d call the success in recruitment efforts.”
Tuberville said her program started with stepping back to examine the need and what is missing, working on curriculum and processes. There are a variety of opportunities to help students navigate a business setting, including Professionalism First, which teaches students how to present themselves in a business setting. Toastmasters International helps enhance students’ confidence, and classes on things such as dining etiquette in business settings help students be prepared.
One big effort is the Memphis Institute for Leadership Education (MILE) Program, which is designed to provide leadership education for students in the Fogelman College of Business and Economics. Its stated mission is to prepare the college’s students to be future leaders in the city through leadership development programs and mentoring.
Dr. Robert Taylor, an associate professor in the school’s Department of Management, is MILE director. The program works to help juniors and seniors develop into the city’s future business leaders. But it also gives local companies a connection to the university’s top business students.
“We promote to the mentors that here is a chance to cherry pick the best students in the college of business,” Taylor said. “They’re giving back to the community, but for many of them it’s a chance to recruit wonderful students. We’ve already screened them. We try to get the very best students we have.”
The first class was nine years ago. Taylor said they thought they’d have 15 students show up to be paired with professionals for a mentorship opportunity. There were 25 and they were all matched with a business mentor.
But the program is more than just matching a student with a mentor.
“Instead of just saying, ‘Joe, here is John. We hope this works,’ we have structured monthly meetings in which we provide speakers and do leadership training,” Taylor said.
There are two components: a monthly meeting where the students receive leadership development and the ongoing mentoring outside that meeting. The student and mentor meet monthly to discuss career, provide an introduction to that person’s company and anything else that can help the student develop.
The program targets the top students in the Fogelman College with the hope of keeping them in Memphis. That work includes showing students ways to get involved in the nonprofit sector.
“We want our students to have fingers in the community so they learn they can stay here and have a successful career,” Taylor said. “You can do that in Memphis easier than you can in Chicago or Dallas. Here in Memphis you can have an impact quickly through organizations like Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club and Leadership Memphis. We want students to find out about these things and get connected.”
Taylor works closely with Tuberville to find internships for students.
“By the time they finish the MILE program they’ll have a network of 20 or 30 professionals they otherwise wouldn’t have met,” Taylor said. “These people can provide job opportunities.”
Students chosen for MILE go through what Taylor calls a hurdle selection system. He goes to classrooms and sends out notices to recruit students to attend information sessions. The students who attend one of those sessions then receive an application. Those who apply are then invited for a panel interview that usually includes two faculty members and an existing mentor.
Not every student who goes through an interview ultimately is chosen, but most do. Of the 115 interviewed last year, 105 were accepted.
The program starts in September and runs through April.
Taylor said Memphis is the perfect place for MILE to be successful.
“It’s big enough that we can find business people,” he said. “You couldn’t find 100 business people in Oxford who could mentor students down there. The city just isn’t that big. Memphis is the perfect place to find mentors for students and the perfect place for them to want to stay and find a job, but it’s small enough to have personal contacts in the community.”
Taylor said about 60 to 70 percent of the mentors come back the next year, which means he’s always looking for 30 or so new members every year.
There are challenges to the success of the Complete Professional Program, one of which is resources, both financially and in people.
“What we do is very time-consuming and hands-on because we work with people and try to make it as personal as we can with the number of students we have,” Tuberville said.
She added that sometimes employers want to get involved but don’t know the best ways to get engaged. But she said there are many ways to find opportunities. And of course reaching students to help them better understand the need for the program is always a challenge.
But those students who do get involved realize the valuable experience it provides.
Bessy Jamenez is a senior international business student who will graduate in May. Originally from El Salvador, Jamenez said she wasn’t comfortable speaking in public before her involvement in the program.
“One of the biggest things I got is it’s taken a step further from the classroom setting,” she said. “In the classroom you learn about business strategies but how do you address them and be able to communicate among managers? Communication is something I’m getting out of it. It’s different when a student goes to class, but to actually get involved and network and build a professional profile.”