My Take on Majors

Last Friday we had a very successful welcome to the major event. It was an opportunity to acknowledge an important milestone in our students’ lives: getting into the business school, as well as discuss the COBA culture and what we expect of our students. It also gave our department chairs a chance to pitch their majors. It was a friendly, but spirited, competition to convert “business students” to “accounting”, “economics” or “management” majors.

But all of us: faculty, students and administrators overstate the importance of choosing a major in the course of your future. Think of your choice of a major more as a bureaucratic imperative necessary to graduate than a choice that will forever influence the course of your life. Frankly if I had my way there would only be two undergraduate majors in the College: Accounting and everything else. And there are many days I’m not that convinced about accounting, but I digress….

Why am I so cavalier about choosing a major? Recognize that choosing a major is not the same as choosing a career. Loving to study something is not the same as loving to do it. I love to read the history of World War II, but that doesn’t mean I would have enjoyed fighting in it. To know you love a job requires that you actually do it. This is why I meet successful alumni everyday who are doing something very different than what they studied: accounting grads who are venture capitalists, economics grads who become business school deans, physics majors who do high finance. Sometimes what you study is also what you love to do, but don’t count on it.

This is one of the reasons why I encourage students to think in terms of acquiring skill sets that can be used in a wide variety of careers, rather than specific majors. For example, our data shows that lots of our finance majors go into financial planning. Sales skills are essential in these jobs and sales is taught in marketing, not finance. If you are going out to do this type of work by opening your own financial planning company, you will also need entrepreneurial skills, which are for the most part, taught in management. I could make the same observations for aspiring public accountants–entrepreneurial and sales skills are valuable in almost any career…..so are math, statistics, and writing skills. Making sure you acquire strong sets of general skills is way more important than the label attached to your major.

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Advice to New Knights via Silicon Valley

I am writing this blog post just outside the offices of Twitter, having spent the better part of a week meeting with alums who work in Silicon Valley.  We have a lot of COBA and College of Engineering and Computer Science alums at places like Google, Symantec, VMware and  RemedyPoint .  We also have a number of people working on start-ups.  It has been a busy few days and I’m about to head to Seattle to begin the processes of linking our alums and building our brand in that fine city.   (Yes, I have a great job.}

But while I’ve been traveling up and down the West Coast with Kelly, Tiffany and the rest of my external relations team have been planning for the arrival of new UCF Knights.  About 4500 freshmen will invade campus this week and we will welcome more than a thousand new upper division students to the College of Business in our “Welcome to the Major” event.

Inspired by all of this social media technology out here, I decided to Tweet my followers this week and ask them what advice they would have for all of these new UCF Knights.  You can read all of their responses by searching #Newucfknights on Twitter.  I won’t repeat all of them here, but a number touched on getting engaged, internships and following your passion.  My five favorites:

@GeorgeAnders: “Make a dozen great friendships and 4,488 good acquaintances) at school. The pay-off is huge.

@OfficialGinaN: “If you have to change your major, it’s okay! A lot of students change theirs 2-3 times before they stick with something.

@ucfgirlprobs: Plan for parking hassels especially for mid-morning and evening classes.  “I couldn’t find a spot” is not a very legit excuse.

@vucf_arts: “Get Involved! You are a KNIGHT! Being a passive student isn’t an option.  Make it known—YOU have arrived!

@KbogesRecruits @Colin4ward and @highwayscenery all said about the same thing: “Get involved as early as possible. There is a student organization for everyone & the exposure and experience you gain will help you land a job.

But perhaps best advice I got all week for new UCF Knights came from Daniel Seeff, a 2011 accounting graduate, runner-up in our Joust competition, founder of three businesses and currently Search Quality Analyst for Google:  “If you want to work here, having good grades is just the start.  We want to see passion, something unique and a record of being a self-starter.  Without that, you got no shot.”  In fairness to my Tweeps, Daniel got more than 140 characters, but he took full advantage of his time at UCF both inside and outside of class to expand his world.  Now he works for one of the world’s most innovative companies on projects that will replace people with mediocre talent and drive.  Who would you rather be?

Repost Wednesday: Lunchtime Roulette–The Deal Still Stands

Last Thursday I hosted my first faculty lunch of the semester. The idea is to bring together small groups of people from different departments who might not normally interact to get to know each other better, discuss issues of common concern, and begin to build a more cohesive sense of identity and purpose. Eighteen of the twenty people chosen for the first event accepted my invitation.

Among the topics we discussed were efforts to better coordinate curriculum, Ph.D. student recruitment, infrastructure needs and the elimination of economics from the general education requirements. In each of these discussions there was a desire to spread awareness, bring more people to the table, and generate momentum around ideas. The hour flew by and I was impressed with everyone’s willingness to engage in the conversation.

As the discussion unfolded, I mentioned an article I had read a few days ago where a company had implemented what they called lunchtime roulette. The idea was to randomly assign people to go to lunch together at the company’s expense. The goal was to drive innovation through idea generation from people who don’t normally get to talk to each other. I commented that I couldn’t afford to send pairs of faculty to restaurants for lunch, but that given our discussion I was willing to set aside some money from the Dean’s Excellence Fund to buy pizza or sandwiches for small groups of people from different departments to discuss an issue of common interest or concern. So here’s the deal:

1. If you want to hold such a working lunch, you need to get three other faculty or staff to sign on to a meeting. The four people must come from at least three different departments so that we know the issue cuts across a number of disciplines. The group cannot be a standing committee of the college or a subset of a standing committee. I want it to be an organic group of at least four.

2. The issue must pertain to students, teaching, curriculum, cross-disciplinary research, or infrastructure.

3.Email your names and a short description of the agenda to Anne Marie at least a week prior to the proposed meeting.

4. I will review the request and if it meets the guidelines, we will send out a notice to all faculty with the topic, time and place of the gathering so other interested parties can attend. People will need to RSVP by the day of the before the meeting if they want a lunch. We will buy up to ten. If the meeting draws the interest of more than ten people we will provide an alternate forum for the topic.

5. It is the responsibility of the four requesters of the meeting to provide me with an appropriate summary of the meeting including action steps. The summary will be due one week from the end of the meeting. This summary will be posted on our website.

6. Failure to comply with item 5 will bar all four of the original requesters from being part of another group to request a similar meeting.

7. If you do post the summary and justification for a subsequent meeting exists, you can request a follow-up working lunch under these same rules.

It will be that simple.

This policy will be in place for calendar year 2013. At the end of 2013 we will evaluate the program and decide whether to extend it for another year. So get talking.

This is Something We Can Fix

I spent last Tuesday downtown at our Executive Development Center with about 50 central Florida recruiters. Collectively they work for a wide variety of companies and industries. Some worked for large firms, others small. Some were UCF COBA grads, but most were not. A few had never recruited at UCF, but had coworkers who graduated from our institution.

I had three goals, pretty typical stuff really. One was to get a sense of what recruiters thought of our students—their strengths and weaknesses. Another was to understand how recruiters assess the professionalism of the job candidate during interviews. A final goal was to encourage more recruiters to take a look at our students.

Most of the conversation went as one would expect: UCF students tended to have good technical knowledge but scored lower on emotional intelligence. Every report I have ever seen from recruiters on college graduates says this: They have the knowledge, but can’t communicate, play well in the sandbox with others, or recognize and conform to culture expectations of the company they want to join.

The surprises came around recruiter perceptions of our students’ experiences both inside and outside the classroom. Many of the recruiters believed our students have never worked (our data shows otherwise) and that they lacked an opportunity to apply what they learned in class to real world situations. The UCF graduates were quick to correct them, pointing to classes like cornerstone and capstone that required students to apply their skills to real world problems.

After much discussion, the diagnosis came down to this: Too many of our students cannot connect the skills they are learning and the experiences they have had while at UCF to the requirements of a specific job in an interview setting. In short, they are bad story-tellers—unable to craft a compelling narrative of their value to a potential employer with a specific need. One recruiter put it this way: “If you can’t make the connections between school and work I’m not going to hire you. It doesn’t matter whether I know you have had these experiences; you have to be able to effectively communicate these to me.”

This is something we can fix. Perhaps it is a module on story-telling. Maybe it involves the development of student portfolios. It certainly requires more practice at interviewing. But until we do fix this, we are not going to get the credit we deserve for the novel practical experiences we provide our students.