One of the reasons that I require all 1500 of the students in my GEB 3003 class to show up for Welcome to the Majors is to reinforce the idea that as they enter our college, they are one person in a vast pool of very similar students. A commodity. And if they don’t work to differentiate themselves in some way, to find their unique niche through skills, story, or experience, then life after graduation will be difficult. Name a commodity. Water. Now name a unique bottled water. If you can, it’s because that brand has done something to set itself apart. They aligned with a known brand like Coke or Pepsi. They added fizz or flavor. They cut their price. There are a lot more players in that field and you didn’t name them. They lose.
So it amused me last week when one of the Dean’s Advisory Board members told me…in an exasperated tone…that she was being overwhelmed by LinkedIn requests. Well, that’s because to differentiate themselves, one of the things I push students to do is connect to alumni and employers. Get to know them. Do informational interviews. Ask their advice. Pick their brains…well, the ones that want to be picked, anyway! Regarding LinkedIn, they can set up an account, get 100 connections, and make sure that at least 25 of those are UCF alumni in their field for points. They can go to networking events and join professional groups. They can reach out and conduct informational interviews. Other alumni and even some of our faculty have asked what’s going on. Why are students so interested in getting to know them? Why are they all over the place….and dressed so nice??? “We’re waking up the dragon!” I tell them.
For years I knew I knew something cool could happen if we could just harness the effort and energy of our student body. First it was the Cornerstone Course. Reports and research weren’t teaching them to work together, let’s have them do something! What? I don’t know, build a house or a bridge or something. Let’s make them DO something! Many many things were done and continue to be done.
Next it was career activity. So here’s a few examples of what’s happening:
- College of Business student attendance at UCF Career Services events has grown ten-fold. Where they used to have a dozen or two dozen students show up for an info session, it’s standing room only these days. Next semester they will have to introduce a registration process for info sessions and workshops to handle the demand.
- Students are overwhelming alumni and community networking events. GOSHRM, the Orlando-area professional organization for people working in Human Resources hosted a networking event. Over 100 students attended. They had to buy more food. In typical HR fashion, this awesome group pivoted their event and made it an impromptu “how to network” training event because so many of my students weren’t comfortable mingling.
- We repurposed an entire area in our college to deliver a slate of speakers and subject matter experts. Instead of having a computer lab that a dozen or so students would use, we now have The EXCHANGE (http://business.ucf.edu/centers-institutes/the-exchange/) where over 100 students can spend a couple hours each day with someone who has something interesting to say. Yes, students get points for going. But they can also get real world news, experience, and perspective. Things that they can learn and use outside the classroom.
So what is the next step? I’d like to see my students move from “do’ers” to “DO Leaders.” Stop relying on someone else to provide the venues and events for your activity. Take the reins and create things that will provide others the opportunity to start doing. A DO Leader gives back through their action. Next semester, then, I challenge you to move from doing to giving:
- Start a new student organization. Last semester two students (Alex Meleis and Andre Ong) decided they wanted to offer students the opportunity to get Excel certifications. So they started an Excel student org. It’s open to anyone and it’s awesome. Another student (Paul Llerena) felt there was a need for an organization that served students at our Regional campuses. There are over 8000 students in our college, over 60,000 in our university. What are you interested in? I’ll be there are others.
- Start a networking group. Go check out meetup.com. There are a ton of existing groups. Join one, figure out how it works, and then start one yourself. Do you think you’re the only Orlando-area Finance student interested in working on Wall Street (New York, not off Orange Ave.)? What can you do to harness the others and help connect them to the people that can help them? What have you learned? What can you share? Maybe you can work with them to put together a trip up there and meet people working on Wall Street.
- Be a mentor. Are you already working and have experience you want to share? Talk to your classmates and find someone you can help develop. Don’t have years and years of experience? But you made it through the first year in our college. Who can you meet at Welcome to the Majors that you can help get through their first year? I know you can find someone who wants to major in what you majored in, do a job that you want to do, or start a business like the one you started. How can you inspire them to help someone after THEY make it through their first year. Your legacy is not what you’re GONNA do, it’s what you’ve DONE for others.
- Plan and execute an event that helps others. Can you bring in an employer? Do you have a service project idea? Can you bring others to your employer for a site visit or networking event? What can you do to help others the way YOU’VE been helped this year?
Robert South said, “If there be any truer measure of a man than by what he does, it must be by what he gives.” I’ve asked all of you to DO, and you are doing. Now I’m asking you to give!