Alumni Association hopes to ‘coach’ students on job searches

 

nuaa_logoTwo minutes was all Caleb Wright had to present his elevator pitch to his Norwich alum and “coach,” Mr. Vadney. As one of the 25 volunteer participants, Wright nervously prepared his spiel about his plans for his life after NU. It’s was a long ways away for the then-freshman, but the opportunity to think forward with the Coaching Program Day was too good to pass up.Last March, the NU Alumni Association (NUAA) launched a pilot program designed to pair up 25 students from the business school with alumni who would coach them through presenting their career goals in an “elevator pitch.” The program will be tried again on a larger scale, encompassing the entire campus, on March 5 this year.Wright, who is now a 19-year-old sophomore business and management major from Milford, N.H., had to make his elevator pitch to his coach last year and then receive critiques on how to improve his pitch for later use in life.

Wright took the opportunity to start networking with alumni. “My coach, Mr. Vadney, gave me his business card to contact him later,” Wright said. “Which is actually pretty cool because (at) the student send -offs that they have before the school starts, (I was able to) see him again earlier this year.”

For students like Wright, the opportunity to connect with NU alumni was one of the highlights of the program. “It gives a huge chance to stay in touch with past alumni,” Wright said. “Especially with my coach, he is the manager at a business.”

Aside from just getting to connect with alums, the possibilities of scoring an internship are also perks to participating. “It is possible to get internships through him (and) a lot of career opportunities,” Wright said.

Other participants from last year didn’t emerge as lucky, such as Alex Johnson, another now 19-year-old sophomore business and management major from Farmington, Conn., He actually lost his coach’s contact information. “Looking back, I really wish I had kept her contact information, which I didn’t,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said he received excellent life- and career-coaching advice from her. “She gave me advice that I never really thought of before, so it was really good to get a different perspective of it,” Johnson said.

This year during the cold, muddy month of March, an expanded version of the coaching program will allow about 75 students to face cold sweats and jitters as they prepare to give their elevator pitch, just as Wright had done a year ago.

From the feedback given to the program from the participating students, there were no negative comments regarding the alumni coaches.

One student’s comments said, “My coach was a great guy that I will be connected with throughout my life, however, he admitted that he was very young and lacked real- world experience compared to other alumni who joined us. Granted, I related with him very easily and we shared some very important aspects of our lives with each other.”

Another student comment said that there should be a follow-up meeting between the students and alumni that was more of an “outside of Norwich mentor.”

There were several suggestions of making the case studies that were used for discussion as part of the program more relatable to 20-year-olds, as well as being able to interact with more than one coach for different perspectives on the studies. Some students said there should have been more notice of the program beforehand and that lunch ran too long before reconvening.

Other proposals suggested were to have freshmen join one year and then during their junior year have them join again to see if there was improvement. Others said that the coaches should be able to pick their mentees or that the coaches and mentees should be match up according to specific jobs relating to certain majors, and that the program should be open up to every major.

All of this feedback did not go unnoticed, but was taken into consideration when improving this years’ program.

“We ran it last year, we had all 25 alumni show up (and) all 25 students,” said Eric Curtis, a NU ‘98 alum who owns his own strategic planning consulting firm for non profits in Salisbury, Mass.

“It went off very successfully, )and) we got some great feedback from the alumni on how to improve the program, which is what we’re taking forward this year,” Curtis said. “We got some great feedback from students on what they liked about the program and what they would like to see different.”

“We’re taking all of that and now, last year was the pilot concept, what we want to do is be able to roll it out this year to 75 students and 75 alumni,” Curtis said. “The idea is to build the self-awareness of students, (like) how are they coming across in a leadership setting.”

“This year, five students will be paired with five alumni and each alumni is assigned an individual student; the alumni will sit five in a room with five students, and we’ll probably use almost every classroom” in Webb Hall or another location, he said. The alumni will let the students go through five case studies and they’ll be looked at and reviewed on six different leadership competencies, he explained.

The case studies will be situational and general instead of tailored to specific majors. The cases are intended to have the students debate with each other and think critically about situations that people do not normally consider they will come across in their lifetime.

Last year, Johnson remembered one case study in particular that his group wrestled with back and forth the most. The study was along the lines of: You are the leader of a platoon in a combat situation with supplies for only one more day, but your platoon ran into civilians that were critically injured and starving. What would you do?

Another example was given by Curtis: “You are managing five people (and) you know that your star performer is sexually harassing one of the other people and without that person you can’t fulfill the deal. What do you do?”

“It’s really creating very real, but very hard decisions to be made,” Curtis said. “These leadership competencies that they’ll be evaluated on are listening, oral communication, decision making, teamwork, ethics, and leadership.”

“Our goal is to get 75 alumni and 75 students, (which is) tripling the size of last year which is pretty aggressive, but we have a lot of support,” he said.

“We have support from the Norwich University Alumni Association, the Board of Fellows, the faculty of the business department, the nursing department, the engineering department, the architecture department, and a lot of alumni groups and clubs that are out there that are participating,” he said.

“A lot of people have caught wind of (the program) and I think now it’s trying to build on the leadership competencies that we want to establish at Norwich for the next 10, 20, or 30 years,” Curtis said. “What would you do?

The program is being promoted with the help of select departments at the school, but is open to every junior and senior student, regardless of their major, according to Curtis. “We want to keep it to the upper classes because some of the case studies are going to be pretty tough and we want them to have a little bit of experience in college prior to now.”

There may be a program in the future for freshmen and sophomores after the program becomes more stable and is established a bit more.

The program also does not match up the participants with their coaches and will not this year, even though the feedback received suggested they should. “The reason we don’t is because it works better that way,” said Curtis.

Curtis was inspired to bring this program to Norwich after participating in a similar one at Babson College that in a span of 15 years has around 15,000 undergraduates and 5,000 alumni registered for their leadership coaching program. While partaking in it, he had the pleasure of coaching students both in his area of industry and not, but nonetheless learned just as much from one as he did the other with different types of thinking.

“Really what you want to be able to do is work with alumni to improve their ability to coach, which helps them in their jobs with management and leadership and also improve the students self-awareness,” he said. “That really doesn’t have anything to do with area of study.”

Just as Wright said he saw the program as a networking opportunity to help benefit for later in life, so does Curtis. “This is also a great networking opportunity for the students to one, to meet alumni and get to know them at a very personal level, but to also tell them this is what I’m interested in doing, who should I be talking to,” said Curtis.

In the student training they will learn what is to be expected of them because not only do they have case studies to figure out, but they must have prepared a two- minute elevator pitch about the career that they want prior to coming in hopes of convincing their coaches to “hire” them, Curtis said.

According to Power, the actual program is from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the afternoon on March 29.

A general overview of what is to be expected from the all-day activities is a coaches’ meeting; a meeting with the students; case studies, and elevator pitches in the first half of the day. There will be lunch served as part of the program on campus, then in the afternoon comes a coaches’ collaborative session, one on one coaching, and then evaluations.

Johnson, a previous student participant found the one-on-one coaching to be beneficial for himself, even now.

Johnson’s mystery mentor gave him insight into the business world, he said. “She ran her own company, so she put a lot of her advice into real world terms and how my type of leadership versus somebody else’s might imprint different people,” he said. “It was pretty cool to get a different perspective on it.”

The different perspective was helpful for the participants, Johnson said, especially considering the range of coaches present. “It really helped getting feedback from someone who has been through a lot of stuff,” he said. “I know another person in my group, one of the coaches was a Marine colonel who ran her own consulting firm. These people (the coaches) have a lot of their own real world experience, so for them to be able to monitor us and then give feedback was really helpful.”

“I know that from a lot of the feedback she gave me, I’m trying to work on myself,” Johnson said.

According to the Norwich Alumni website (www.alumni.norwich.edu) there two chances for the coaches to attend a webinar training, which is required in order to coach. The first one is March 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. and the second opportunity March 19, from 5 to 7 p.m.

The coaches have to travel by their own expense to campus for the all-day program, and do not have to be local in order to be a coach.

A first-time coach himself, Bill Lyons, a NU’90 alum from Hudson, Mass. wants to continue to be a coach so he can give back to the university that had helped educate him 24 years ago. “I feel blessed by the opportunity that Norwich gave me and I want to make sure that I do everything I can to give back,” Lyons said.

“On a more specific basis, I would like to take the opportunity to apply some of the leadership skills (and) management skills that I have been so blessed to develop over the years and pass along knowledge to Norwich students that can benefit from my 24 or 25 years worth of experience,” he said.

Lyons said that the program will be beneficial on two levels.

The first is that any time alumni and students connect “in more than just a superficial way,” it is always a positive. “We’re the conduit for students for a lot of employment opportunities, networking opportunities, career advice, mentorship, we provide all of those things to the students,” he said.

The second, or technical, level is that any time a mentor or advisor in one’s profession can guide and critique you to help improve is always a positive thing to have, according to Lyons.

Another first-time coach, Ed DeWolfe, NU’94, has a different reason for wanting to give back. “I wish that somebody had offered this service when I was in school,” he said.

DeWolfe believes this program would be beneficial for students because they would “get insight into actual industry knowledge” as well as practical knowledge for what happens in the real world.

He also wishes to share his experiences from when he graduated to now in the real world.

This program would also be beneficial to the school because if the students can learn to focus their career path and become successful, then it would reflect positively on the school, said DeWolfe.

Curtis hopes to one day have this program become just as good if not better than Babson College’s, summing up the program’s mission as “we produce leaders.”

 

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