DENTON (UNT), Texas -- The Professional Leadership Program within the University of North Texas College of Business celebrates 20 years this year – marking two decades of developing students and helping them gain the polish and expertise they need to succeed in the work world.
Students review basic soft skills such as interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence and resume writing. This year PLP added a new increment to the curriculum that gives students the experience they need in strategic decision making – a vital skill for any industry. Facilitated by professional consultants who volunteered their time, students learned the structured case analysis process. They then worked on sample business case studies to get real-life experience. This experience goes beyond the traditional case method as taught in the business classroom by bringing together students from multiple disciplines, and by incorporating industry mentors throughout the process.
"In the classroom settings, you learn the technical side, and in PLP you learn the professional soft skills, like interviewing skills, how to dress for success and dining etiquette," says Karolyn Hernandez, PLP student leader who is working toward a master's degree in accounting and also earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from the UNT College of Business. "We get paired up with a mentor that helps us accomplish personal and professional goals."
Hernandez's mentor, from Fidelity, helped her polish her elevator speech for potential employers, which equipped her for the interviewing process. She has already accepted an offer for a full-time job as an assurance associate at Price Waterhouse Coopers in Fort Worth starting in September.
In working on a sample business case study through PLP, Hernandez learned to put together a strategy for an overseas company that wanted to expand its market into the U.S. – and she feels well prepared for a similar case if she encounters it in her career.
"I am already familiar with the thought process, so that is extremely helpful," she said.
Austin Hatcher, a decision sciences major and PLP student leader, will earn a bachelor's degree in May 2014 and has secured a position with Price Waterhouse Coopers' Dallas office starting in July.
"The program is not just for the career or academic side; it's personal as well," Hatcher said. "On Wednesday nights in the program, you learn about defining success, the first 90 days on job and generic finance. The real benefits are knowing other people in the program and the mentors, who volunteer to help students reach goals, grow professionally and avoid their mistakes."
After being paired with her mentor who worked at the North Texas Tollway Authority, PLP alumni Emily Seamster earned an internship at the NTTA. There, she made connections that eventually helped her land a full-time marketing position with architecture and engineering firm Carter and Burgess, now Jacobs Engineering Group. She consults on facility asset management projects, working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal, state and local clients.
"PLP has led directly to my career," said Seamster, who earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in marketing in August 2004.
Seamster has already given back – facilitating a class presentation for PLP on writing.
"It's a wonderful program in order to give students confidence. That's one of the main things I gained out if it – confidence to handle a conversation with people, write a resume, write a thank you note, conduct yourself in an interview or at a business meeting or business dinner. It gave me confidence that my soft skills in business were applicable and appropriate."
Beth Ruffing, manager of HR services at Insperity and Seamster's former PLP mentor, has volunteered for PLP for 12 years in various roles as a mentor and presenting classes on resume writing and interviewing and more. She also served on the program's advisory board. When she moved to Florida, she continued to visit UNT to present classes in PLP.
"I believe in the program. I have never found a place in my heart I can let it go," said Ruffing, who works in Austin but returns to the area to mentor a PLP student and make presentations to the group.
"I ran into my share of brick walls and dead ends and had to figure out on my own how to navigate the business world because it is so completely and utterly different from college," she said. "If you are a medium-sized fish in college, you go into business world, and you become a small little guppy in the middle of an ocean filled with sharks, and that can be pretty intimidating. If my experience can benefit a student just getting ready to enter the business world, it would help them over some hurdles."
PLP will officially celebrate 20 years at a gala from 6:30 to 8 p.m. March 22 (Saturday) at UNT's Apogee Stadium.