A Knight of Affirmation

Thursday was our 18th Annual Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.  It’s an important day in the college.  Honoring our most successful alums is an affirming event for the faculty and staff—it reminds us why we do what we do.  It is also an opportunity to show the community what we are all about and why we are worthy of their time, talent and treasure.  The event has grown to be quite large.  This year we expected 740 guests.

 

So, as you might imagine, it’s an all hands on deck production. We want people to leave our event having something they want to talk about at work the next morning.  Job descriptions give way to just getting stuff done and putting on a first-class event.   People, especially the students involved in the evening, leave their comfort zones behind.

 

This year in the final rush hours leading up to the event at Rosen Shingle Creek, Jennifer Johnson, our Director of Engagement, tore her quad muscle.  I didn’t even learn of it until the event had started and by then Jennifer had gone to the ER, had it taped-up, was given crutches and returned to experience the evening.  The tear is painful and any reasonable person would have expected Jennifer to go home and begin her recovery.  She came back to work, not because she had to, but because it was where she wanted to be that evening.  We all toasted her at our after-party.  I smiled somewhat smugly.

 

People sometimes wonder why I like to hire folks with sharp edges and give them wide discretion to be who they are and do their thing.  They think that hiring people more willing to color in the lines would be easier and lead to more predictable behaviors and outcomes.  I always reply that when you hire people with passion, they come armed with two edges to their sword…you don’t get one without the other.  But if you are willing to engage them on their terms, they will return the respect and support you show them many times over and the place will advance in ways you could never have engineered on your own.  The most affirming thing that happened at this year’s Hall of Fame was Jennifer returning for the evening.   More than the big crowd, amazing inductees, honored guests and energizing students, her actions told me we are on to something in the college of business.

 

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Improving our Job Numbers

Students come to business school to get the skills that will land them a great job and future.  It’s just that simple.  If we want to assess our value-added, the simplest, most powerful measure of the success of our efforts is the number of students who realize their professional aspirations and land a job.

Accrediting agencies and ranking organizations typically look at the percent of students who have landed a job six months after graduation.  Our benchmark is the percent of graduates who leave us with a job in hand.  It’s a more aggressive goal, but the biggest cost of going to school is not tuition, it is the opportunity cost associated with forgone income.  If you want to improve the return on investment to education, one way to do it is to reduce the time people search for a job after graduation.  When we first made this a priority, we moved the percent of students leaving us with a job in hand by 11 percent.  This year I’ve challenged our Office of Professional Development staff to improve that number by another 5 percent.

I got the mid-year job numbers last week. They made me grumpy. Fewer students filled out our survey this fall than last fall, but the total number of students reporting they had landed a new job before graduation fell slightly. The number who said they were going to stay in a job they already had fell much more sharply.  Maybe we raised people’s expectations about what they could achieve, making them less willing to stay in a job they got while in school. Maybe it’s a random dip in the data. But the bottom line is that more students about to graduate were still looking for a new opportunity when they filled out the survey. If we just had the same number of Fall 2016 graduates find new jobs as happened with Fall 2015 graduates, we would have showed the progress I was looking for in percentage terms.

We need to do better. We are going to roll out a new invitation-only internship fair this spring (more to come on this in a later post) and are adding a new course to help students better prepare for the future that will debut in Fall 2017. This should help. But I think one of the challenges of being at UCF is that we are so large and have made student engagement such a priority in the college that we regularly engage in conversations with students that dupe us into thinking we’re winning.

I had just this kind of encounter leaving the building Friday.  A student came up to me to thank me for our “Get to the One” initiative and the professional development courses that helped him land the job of his dreams. He was elated and given the numbers I saw Monday, it was an especially affirming conversation, but I walked away thinking: “One down, 599 to go.”

Like many things, it is the discussions you don’t have that burn you. We need a more systematic approach that tracks our progress in real time, not just once a semester, and motivates more students to have a sense of urgency about realizing their futures. And we need to achieve this without a significant increase in people power. The challenge at UCF is to do things at a scale others think impossible. This requires new thinking and I’m going to get people together next week to take a cold hard look at how we can show continuous improvement in the number of graduates who are leaving with a job in hand.

A Gift to Support Our Culture

The construction in BA-1 can’t get done fast enough in my view.  The project has quieted the common spaces on the first two floors.  The usual hustle and bustle is gone– no students practicing presentations in suits. No groups working on team projects.  No “Good Morning Dean Jarley” as I walk down the halls. The few people who do pass through the building are just scurrying to find a more welcoming place to get on with their lives.  It’s a stark reminder of just how critical the right spaces are to creating the culture you need to support your objectives. It feels like we have gone backwards in time.

The good news is that this week, we are announcing a five hundred thousand dollar gift from The Ravago Group to help bring the right spaces to BA-1. Ravago is the global leader in the distribution, resale and compounding of commodity, engineering and specialty plastic and rubber polymers.The company has offices in Maitland and one visit there will convince you that they understand the important role physical space plays in supporting culture: Its a beautiful, functional, stylish office that tells you that forward-thinking winners work here.  Ravago’s generous gift will help us build the inspiring, high-tech, creative spaces necessary to create an educational experience that instills the mindsets, habits and behaviors students need to succeed in today’s marketplace.  It’s a gift to a culture that strives to get students our of their comfort zones, take risks, collaborate and invent their futures.

Thanks for believing in what we are trying to achieve Ravago. We look forward to hosting your team in our new space in early summer.

Hall of Fame 2017

February is Hall of Fame month in the College of Business.  Preparation for the event that takes place on Thursday February 23 at Rosen Shingle Creek dominates our staff meetings.  Why spend so much time and effort on just one evening?

Because it’s the single biggest opportunity we have each year to show our alumni and community what we are all about, why we deserve their support and how much progress we have made together. Looking back over my five years as Dean, I cannot help but be proud of the many partnerships we have built with organizations and friends throughout Central Florida.  These partnerships have helped us promote a dialogue with the community about the practice of business, engage our students in their professional development, and ignite conversations about the future of business education.  We have come a long way toward achieving our vision of becoming the cross-roads of town and gown– an engaging place where people from different backgrounds come together to collaborate, take risks, analyze real time data and invent the future.

For those of you who have been coming to this event over the last five years, you know that no two Hall of Fame evenings are alike.  We try to bring the UCF College of Business experience to our audience during the evening and that means getting out of our comfort zones and taking some risks with the program.  If you want to attend an event that will make you proud of your hometown business school, give you a chance to get to know our amazing alumni inductees, faculty and students and give you something to talk about the next day at work, come join us by clicking here.  (We’ll also get you on your way home by 9:00 pm.)

See you February 23rd.