Repost Wednesday: On Being New

With the start of a new academic year we welcome many first time freshmen and transfer students to campus.  I too am fairly  new to Knight Nation. UCF is the fifth academic institution to write me a paycheck.  If you include where I went to college as a student, I have experienced being new at seven different academic institutions.  So, I consider myself a bit of an expert at being new.  Some observations:

Being new presents challenges.  When I started at UNLV several years ago, I went from being the “go to guy”—the guy everyone depended on to fix things– to the guy who locked everyone out of the office when his key got stuck in the door.   Here at UCF, I think I broke the email system during my first week.  I still have three email boxes and can’t figure out why. In being new, one can feel helpless.  This problem is compounded by the fact that like most students, I have a great deal of autonomy.  I get to decide what I want to do or not do on any given day.  In other words, I am free to be as helpless as I’d like.  HINT: New people ask lots of questions. It is okay to ask questions, that is how we become less helpless.

Being new also presents opportunities.  The biggest is that you have a chance to reinvent yourself.  Nobody really cares what you were like before you came here.  You have to show people what you can do now. You start with a clean slate and have access to all of UCF’s resources in an effort to become whatever you want to be.  Just make sure that when you leave UCF that you are well on your way to being that person and of value to others.  We newbies all face the same task: to reinvent ourselves in ways that stand out from the crowd and give us the best chance to compete in the world.  In our crowded, hyper-competitive, smart-phoned world, being average just won’t do. Like I wrote Monday, by the time you graduate, you need to have a good answer to this question: Why should an employer hire you rather than one of the other 2100 COBA students who will graduate from UCF this year?  What makes you the one? As for me, I need a good answer this question:  What makes UCF COBA students unique? Why should I come here as a student or hire your students as an employer rather than a graduate from UF, FSU, or some other fine institution?  NOTE: The answer to your question and mine are intertwined, as is our destiny.

And we both have about three to five years to get this done.  After that point, your parents will get tired of paying for your college education and want you to get a better job than you have now.  Similarly, if I haven’t helped to make the UCF experience unique by then, the faculty and administration of UCF will be tired of me and wonder what I was doing with all that free time.   So, we need to get busy.  Time is short.  The world is not waiting for us.  It will not discover our greatness as we idly stand by waiting for good things to come our way.  We need to execute a plan to make it happen.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a few parts of the puzzle. I have written on some of these topics before, so for the next five weeks I will be implementing: Re-post Wednesday.  In addition to my regular Monday post, each Wednesday starting this week and running for the next five weeks, I will repost updates of prior blog entries that address how to get off to a good start and make the most of your time at UCF.  Let’s transform you and this great institution together.

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Get To The One

Friday we welcomed 1144 students to the College of Business in the largest single face-to-face class in the history of UCF. Our Welcome to the Majors event is part of our new Professional Development Curriculum, a series of courses designed to expand students’ horizons, help them make good career choices, and through practice, instill in them the confidence to know that they can compete with anyone anywhere.

Every year, we graduate about 2,100 students from the College of Business. As each of those students cross the stage, they need to have the answer to one question: “Why you, rather than one of the other 2,099 students graduating this year….What makes you the one?” Friday was about posing that question, giving students a framework for answering it and challenging each of them to engage with us in a variety of ways that will help ensure that they are the one: the one that gets the job, starts a company, changes the world, and gives back to their community.

In today’s world, academic excellence is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to get you to the one. Knowledge is a huge asset, but ultimately it is what you do with that knowledge that counts. In translating knowledge into action, personal qualities and past experiences shape choices. For example, when I look to hire someone in the college, I look for people who believe deeply in the transformative power of higher education. If you don’t exhibit that quality, I don’t care what you know or what you’ve done in the past. I am not hiring you. You do not fit our culture and I doubt you will show sufficient motivation on the job to keep pace with my team. If you do exhibit that quality, I’m interested in the knowledge and past experiences that you can bring to the team that will enrich us and make us better.

To give the class a framework for answering our key question of the day, we asked students to fill out a survey about their intent to participate in a variety of activities as well as their career goals before they showed up on Friday. I then showed the students how I could get from 1144 to 1, in selecting a person to fill a lead financial analyst job with a consulting firm specializing in international NGO (nongovernmental organizations) projects. I noted that I needed a go-getter with strong financial skills, who had been in a variety of leadership positions, who could communicate with people from different cultures and understands grassroots community groups.

To identify go-getters, I noted that half the class didn’t complete the survey ahead of time. These students told me they weren’t in the game. I eliminated them. (This by the way is about the same percent of students who maintain a 3.0 GPA in the College…a reasonable threshold for determining academic proficiency in a chosen discipline. It would be another way of assessing if you were up to the job). Of the remaining half, about 190 wanted to be finance majors. Of those 190 finance majors, only nine aspired to multiple leadership positions while at UCF. Of those 9, just three planned to study abroad. Of those 3, two wanted to work with community groups and of those two, just one articulated a clear career objective.. Her name was Valeria Alaya….she got from 1144 to just 1.

Valeria Ayala got to the one by aspiring to a set of unique choices. If she follows through on these aspirations and combines it with academic excellence, her plan will set her apart. If she can tell her story in a compelling manner, it will land her a career like the one I described above. What will be your path to the one? There are literally hundreds of options at UCF that can help differentiate you by creating a unique combination of knowledge, qualities, and experiences that will provide the basis for achieving what you want to do with your one precious life.

Now is the time to plan, make choices and engage with us. Lonny and your Career Coach will insist on it. Engagement isn’t optional in the college. Take action. Get to the One.

Crowds

On Friday we are going to host a crowd. One thousand two hundred students will pack the Pegasus Ballroom for, what I’m guessing will be, the largest single face-to-face class in the history of UCF.

It will be a great illustration of the power of crowds: big things get noticed. Big things generate buzz. Being part of something big leaves a mark on you. It changes you and people’s perception of you.

The challenge of being part of something big is to stand out in that crowd. It is to use the power of being part of something big without getting lost or overwhelmed in the process.

We plan to show our students how to do just that on Friday…How to be part of something really big while at the same time writing your own unique story. In essence, we will show them how to go from the crowd to just one.

Intrigued? Join the crowd and be there.

The Cost of Being Comfortable

It’s one of the slowest times of the year in the College. We graduated a bunch of students in early August. Fall classes don’t start for another week. And, it’s too early for the new faculty we welcome to the College this week to get into the kind of mischief that requires my attention. So, with the pennant races in full swing, my mind tends to wonder a bit this time of year…

What drives me crazy about my Detroit Tigers is that they know they are going to win their division and make the playoffs. This is how a team that has the last three Cy Young Award winners, the reigning ERA champ and a boat-load of hitting (Cabrera, Martinez, Kinsler, etc., etc.,) is only a dozen games over .500 this time of year. This also is how after a perplexing loss where the team doesn’t hit a mediocre pitcher, or one of those premium pitchers gives up eight runs in one inning, or they drop three out of four to a Yankee team held together by duct tape that someone like Max Scherzer will say: “That’s just baseball. Weird things happen over a long season. We are not worried. We have a very good team that knows how to win.”

What I want Max to say is: “I know everyone loses sixty and wins sixty during a baseball season, but it tears my heart out when we lose games like this. I want to win every game and we need to get better to challenge Oakland in October.” That no Tiger talks like this, tells me they are comfortable: too comfortable. The divisional competition just isn’t much of a challenge. The Sox, Royals, Indians and Twins fail to sharpen the Tigers’ edge. The resulting complacency is how the best team in baseball over the last five years has no World Series wins to show for it.

The cost of being comfortable is that you aren’t pushed to reach your full potential until you come up against someone almost as talented, but more tested by fire and hungrier than you. When that happens, you lose.

I worry about this happening to our best UCF students too. They run the risk of confusing the local competition with the global competition. It is up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. The cost of not sufficiently challenging our students is that they fall short of their potential, think they are better prepared than they really are and find surprise when they run up against more battle tested and hungry competition. Better we make them uncomfortable when they are with us than after they leave.

Sometimes You Have to Use Vise Grips

On Friday August 22 we will be rolling out our Professional Development initiative in earnest at our Welcome to the Majors Event.  This effort represents a substantial change in direction for student services and is meant to be at the foundation of the culture of engagement we are building in the College.  We expect more than 1200 students to attend and as you might guess, we have been planning for this day for the last few months.

Last week, emails went out to all of the students enrolled in the course describing the Welcome to the Majors event, what they had to do to prepare for it and that their attendance was mandatory.   Despite listing this course as face-to-face, we got some push back from students who see us as a “lecture capture institution.”  A typical email to Lonny read like this one:

Hello Lonny Butcher:

I have one year left for classes and when I switched my major from Accounting to Finance, I was told that I had to take 4 GEB classes that were added on to our graduation credits…..I work a full time job Monday thru Friday and told my advisor that I would not be able to attend the event on August 22.  I was told these classes wouldn’t be meeting and that is why I enrolled in it.  I set up my classes where I can take them in the evenings at 6 pm after work.  I cannot meet in the morning between 10 and 11 am.  What can we do to go ahead and fix the situation?

Lonny forwarded the email to me, expressing dismay. He rightly pointed out that somehow the student believed that her inability to attend was our problem and that we owed her a “fix”.  I commented to Lonny that in bending the culture from one of convenience to one of engagement that sometimes we are going to have to use vise grips.  This apparently was going to be one of those times.

Engagement isn’t optional in the College of Business anymore.  I know it is an abrupt change for some, but it is a necessary one. Hopefully in another year, a student like this will be sending an email to their employer rather than Lonny explaining that the Welcome to the Major event is just something no student wants to miss..

Graduation is Tomorrow!

CBA students graduate this Saturday. To those of you that will shake my hand as you cross the stage: Well done. I have only one line of ancient wisdom for you as you cross over to alumni status: Fortune favors the bold. The Romans believed Fortuna, the goddess of luck, was more likely to help those who took risks. In other words, you make your own luck in life through your deeds. Get busy.

As I have written before, we need more rituals in the CBA, pageantry that underscores who we are and what is important to us: That includes graduation. So in an effort to start nurture a new tradition we started last year, provide inspiration to future students and make graduation more engaging, I want you all to tweet me (@pauljarley) your most uncomfortably rewarding moment at UCF… A time when you took a risk as a student and how it paid off. Please use the hashtag #ucfbusiness. The best examples will be used throughout the coming year as quotes that will appear on our TV screens in BA1 and BA2. So make them inspirational and G-rated. Oh, and I’ll be tweeting some of you words of congratulations as well.

If you want to know what graduation looks like, check out this video from one of our alums by clicking here.