Ready for the Real World
With careful guidance and coaching, St. Kate's Business Practicum students will graduate prepared to face a tough job market.
By Elizabeth Child
It is a warm June evening, but not one student is wearing shorts or flip-flops to class. These St. Catherine University students have come to campus directly from a day of interning at Ecolab, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Coldwell Banker and other Twin Cities companies. They also are about to experience one of the first networking opportunities offered by the "Business Practicum" class led by Mary Unger Henderson '80, associate professor and chair of St. Kate's Department of Business Administration.
Tonight is the summer-session launch of Henderson's course, in which students with internships get advice from mentors and peers that will help position them for professional careers. The course's lectures, readings, guest speakers and one-on-one coaching will help students identify their strengths and find support in this new phase of their lives.
To top it off: They get academic credit.
Henderson, a former business executive who holds the University's 3M professorship, dismisses reports of a dismal job market for college graduates. "There are lots of opportunities," she declares.
Now in her 12th year leading the "Business Practicum" at St. Catherine, Henderson says employers consistently tell her that St. Kate's interns are the best prepared. She will teach this group of students how to maximize professional opportunities. She'll also insist that they do three to five informational interviews that will help them make connections vital to their careers.
When Henderson teaches the same course in the University's Weekend and Evening Program, many of her students are already working full-time jobs. Instead of internships, Weekend students take on extra work assignments called "stretch projects" that show they are capable of handling more responsibility.
Henderson paces at the front of the room, punching numbers into her cell phone. She is dialing Ali Marson '12, who will listen in from Richmond, Virginia, where she's landed an internship at medical-supply distributor Owens & Minor. Weekly, hour-long, one-on-one coaching sessions are a regular part of the practicum, and Henderson doesn't want Marson to miss a thing.
As facilitator of the discussion, Henderson turns on the spigot and lets the conversation flow. She asks the panelists what has surprised them about their jobs and internships.
"I made it a point to leave my job on good terms," says Shannon Schottler-Hasty '08. "I got a call from a friend there who wanted to interview me for a consultant job."
Cristie Young '11 was surprised about the differing definitions of "business casual": "When I was interviewing for my job, I was wearing a suit, and the director who was interviewing me was wearing pajama bottoms," she recalls.
Internships don't always move smoothly, adds Emily Wigfield '10. "I thought I'd have more guidance," she says. "My manager did not hold my hand."
Henderson doesn't expect her panelists to gloss over their experiences. These graduates pump the students full of savvy, real-world tips for overcoming obstacles and succeeding.
The final panelist to speak is Lynn Schleeter, director of St. Kate's Center for Sales Innovation. She advises students to differentiate themselves on campus: Participate in Student Senate, play on a team or ask a professor for an extra research project, she suggests.
Practicum students have a track record of transitioning smoothly from college into professional life. Panelist Wigfield was hired for a healthcare sales position at Biomet Orthopedics, the company where she interned. Schottler-Hasty developed a strong network that has helped her make three career moves. She is now a business analyst at Target Corporation.
Young landed her job at Shuster Purchasing just three days after graduation. She applied for 75 jobs till she found the one that was right for her — a client relations manager at a family company that prides itself on empowering employees to work where and how they want, even dressed in pajamas.
PARTNERSHIPS THAT PAY OFF
Schleeter has been instrumental in forging relationships that foster internships and mentorships, and the University's Center for Community Work and Learning also helps find internships for students.
"The practicum is a good feeder," says Candace Mailand, 3M sales-innovation manager. She coordinates 3M's Frontline Sales internship program, which scouts top talent from universities nationwide. "St. Kate's does an incredible job preparing students to enter the workforce," she says. "We have a really collaborative relationship."
3M has hired Henderson to train its Frontline interns, and several St. Kate's students have received job offers after interning at 3M.
Along with teaching courses in management, marketing and sales, Henderson is determined to empower women and make internships a win-win partnership for both the sponsoring companies and her students. "We have a University rule that no more than 15 to 20 percent of an intern's job can be administrative," she says.
Progress is measurable. Before the internship begins, the student, her manager and Henderson each completes a learning contract that outlines expected projects and work performance. At a midpoint during the internship, the three gather again to evaluate how the student is doing on meeting agreed-upon goals.
A basket in Henderson's office overflows with thank-you notes from students who have learned skills and found encouragement to land their dream jobs. But Henderson gives students the full credit for their own success. "Students do the work," she insists — which, after all, is the whole point of the internship experience.
Elizabeth Child is a Twin Cities marketing consultant and freelance writer.
While she was a student in St. Kate's Weekend and Evening Program, Palma reinvented retail banking at Teachers Federal Credit union. During Professor Mary Henderson's "business Practicum" course, Palma was tapped to open a new retail branch for the credit union. She put her marketing-research lessons to work and created an "innovation" branch with best practices designed into its very architecture.
Palma went undercover as a typical customer, opening checking accounts at various well-known banks. She was disappointed by the service she received, so she searched for role models outside the banking industry and hit on Nordstrom, a national retailer known for its customer-service expertise.
When Palma's branch opened it was like no other in the system. Customers were always greeted when they entered, just as they are in Nordstrom's famous shoe department. Taking a tip from the interactive experience of buying shoes and cosmetics, Palma transformed teller lines into teller pod stations that looked like large tables. Customers could stand next to tellers and see their transactions on the computer screen. "If you're depositing $5,000, you want to know it's going into your account," Palma explains.
The branch became a model for what's known as "retail" banking. The stretch project also transformed Palma's career. When her chief operating officer left for a competitor, he asked her to join him there.
Palma retains the lessons and values of her St. Kate's education. "The whole experience teaches you to do good and do well moving forward," she says. "It's part of who I am."
-- Elizabeth Child
"I feel passionate about Ecolab and about St. Kate's," says Wong, whose enthusiasm has led to a formal role recruiting St. Kate's graduates for her employer.
A finance manager, Wong interned in Ecolab's accounting division during the "business Practicum" course. "I was encouraged to make the most of my internship," she recalls. "I completed informational interviews to understand the organization and to ask people how they were able to achieve success professionally and personally."
Wong now directly or indirectly oversees nearly 20 people. "I feel strongly about the culture and the environment," she says. "you can do accounting or finance at any organization, and the work will be similar. I'm motivated by knowing the direction the company is going, and the culture aligns with my beliefs."
Why does Wong recruit so many St. Kate's alumnae? "We're fantastic!" she laughs. "Leadership is something you see distinctly in the Katies we have hired. They are strong individuals. I am honored to bring more Katies to Ecolab and mentor them to be successful."
-- Elizabeth Child