Which Course Should I Take?

I had a tough week. It involved two funerals. One was for a family member who lived a long life. The other service was for a friend’s brother who died too young. Both of these services reminded me of my favorite Ted Talk. It’s by an EMT, Matthew O’Reilly and is entitled: “Am I dying?” The honest answer. Matthew has had many experiences where he arrives at the scene of an emergency and knows the person he is trying to save is going to die. He has learned to be honest with them and the talk focuses on what he has gleamed from these conversations.  What’s most of interest to me in this talk is that two of the most common themes of those conversations focus on the dying wanting assurance from a stranger that that they will be remembered by him and that they spent their time wisely — on something of significance. You can watch his talk by clicking here.

Many of my students express a similar concern. They are unsure how to spend their lives. They want to do something meaningful, but are afraid they are going to make the wrong choice. They keep hoping that eventually they are going to walk into the right business school course or internship and that this will show them the light. They are hoping to discover their passion and life’s purpose.

I am a big believer in an observation from Angela Duckworth’s book on grit where she notes that people don’t find their passion… they develop it. In other words, it takes work.  It’s not an instant gratification sort of thing, and it frequently requires you to look in places that you wouldn’t normally think to look.

My sense is that many business school students are looking in the wrong place.  What they need is a version of “the Stockdale course.” The Stockdale course is the informal name given to the Navy War College’s course on the Moral Foundations of Obligation. It is a course in Western philosophy that was created by Admiral James Stockdale. Stockdale was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton. He credited his survival in captivity to the philosopher Epictetus and his course is meant to help military leaders (many of whom are STEM students) prepare for the challenges of leadership and military service. There is a great podcast on this story (I told you I have a podcast obsession) that you can listen to by clicking here.

I provided business students a short introduction to philosophy at Welcome to the Majors last year when I invited University of San Diego philosophy professor Nick Riggle to talk about his Ethics of Awesomeness. It was a glimpse into a framework that could help guide students in an important aspect of their lives…one with lots of business applications. More generally, philosophy is the study of how to have a good and meaningful life. It, along with my Great Books courses, were some of my favorites in college. These are not esoteric subjects — they provide guidance on the practice of life.

If you are one of my students who is searching for ways “to make a difference,” “be remembered” and “not waste your life,”  take a couple of these courses. The great thing about American higher education is that we believe in general education — it’s not just your major that counts. You have general education requirements to fill as part of your degree program. Take advantage of them to take a couple of philosophy courses and read the great books. Then put these ideas to use. They will help you discover the course you should take with your life. Oh, and take more math and statistics courses, too (trust me).


And the winner is…

Lonny Butcher Welcome to the MajorsToday we hosted nearly 350 business students and one GEB Points Fairy in the college for Welcome to the Majors. Special thanks to UCF alum and UBREAKIFIX co-founder and president Justin Wetherill, ’07, for sharing his story about how he went from Accounting major to successful entrepreneur all thanks to a shattered iPhone.

Welcome to the Majors wouldn’t be successful without our presenting sponsor Wells Fargo and the support of our corporate partners, alumni and friends who participated today. Thank you.

And congrats to the winner of the iPad drawing… Sheril Lalani. Sheril, we’ll be emailing you soon about how to pick up your prize.

And as part of the drawing, Sheril and fellow students Vanessa Arnold, Samuel Orcutt, Walter Gerstel, Colin Spain and Jason Leonhardt have won lunch with me. We’ll be in touch to set that up soon.

The Real Victory

This weekend we partnered with the UCF Alumni Association to host a tailgate for 350 fans before the Michigan game.  Both Julie Stroh and I are Michigan alums.  Dr. Hitt was pleased to see us both sporting black and gold.  When I spoke to the crowd, I used my time to put the game in perspective…

When I walked into the Big House in 1977, Michigan was ranked No. 2 in the country and had more wins than any other program in college football history. FTU didn’t have a football team. Today we share the field, and this huge accomplishment couldn’t have been possible without the hard work and support of the people here today.

The institution across the street taught me the importance of greatness. Everyone in the stands today and all the players wearing winged helmets understand that being good, or pretty good, isn’t good enough. The weakness of the institution is reflected in one of my favorite T-shirts you will see around campus. It reads: Maize–A more arrogant shade of yellow.

I don’t know who will win today but I do know two things: UCF’s best days are ahead of it, not behind it. And the real victory, the real victory will come when the dean of the business school at Michigan is a UCF alum. 

I don’t have to tell you that the final score wasn’t pretty. But progress at universities is measured in decades, not football weekends.  And while it is fun to watch our teams compete on the field, the real measure of our success comes from preparing our students to know they can compete with anyone, anywhere (in the classroom, on the field and in shaping the future) and that greatness is always the expectation. Go Knights.

Wow, That Was a Huge Failure…

At our 2014 Hall of Fame event, we featured a video of then Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley who is also CEO of Florida Hospital, Winter Park. The video starts out with Ken saying the following: “I came to UCF as a failure and left a success.” Ken had seen his dream to enter medical school dashed, but found his future at UCF. He has gone on to great things and now has doctors reporting to him! His achievements landed him in our Hall of Fame, a place where only 67 of our more than 55,000 alums have been recognized for their accomplishments.

Despite what helicopter parents think, everyone fails. It is part of life. A Knight should never fear failure. Getting comfortable with failure is a key step in becoming a better risk–taker and successful leader. That is why we celebrate failure and persistence in the college. Today, we begin the ninth installment of our Failure Competition.  Entering our competition is simple:

Write an account of a failure you have experienced in the past.  Your failure story has to focus on a new experience, a time you stepped out of your comfort zone: the farther the better. Tell us why this was such a stretch for you, the failure that resulted and what you learned from the experience that would be of interest to others.

While the Failure Competition began with students in our capstone class, it is now open to any UCF student on campus: undergraduate, graduate or EMBA, business, education, engineering or whatever. The only requirement is that you currently be enrolled at UCF.  Two semesters ago, we had a music student win the competition.

Need inspiration or guidance to tell your story? Search my blog. We have posted many stories about failure over the years.

Here are the ground rules, complete with important deadlines:

1. To enter you must post your essay in response to this blog. If you are a capstone student this semester include your section number and name of your instructor. If you are not in this class, tell me your class standing ( e.g., freshman, senior, graduate student) and your field of study. You must complete this exercise by 5 pm on Monday April 4th.

2. Instructors from the Capstone Course will then choose a winner from their section and explain why they chose the essay they did. A panel of College staff will choose no more than five finalists for me to consider from the rest of campus. I need these by 5 pm on April 11th.

3. Those winning entries are then sent to me. I will select three finalists by April 13th at 5 pm.

4. The finalists will be asked to submit short videos based on their essays. They must have those videos to me by 5 pm on April 20th.

5. I will then feature one video each day on my blog starting April 25th with a vote by everyone reading my blog taking place to determine the winner on Friday April 29th.

6. The winner will get a letter of recommendation from me along with a $500 prize. Second place will get $300, third place $200. These monies are awarded through our financial aid office.

Good Luck! Who knew failing could be this good?

Beating the Tree

“Ten years ago, did you ever imagine we’d be competing with Stanford?”

I heard this comment from a number of alums on our recent trip to Palo Alto.  Most of them were referring to football, but a couple were also commenting on our recent U.S. News ranking as one of the most innovative universities in the country. Stanford was #2 in that ranking, we were tied for 13th with Georgia Tech and USC.  We have indeed come a long way baby.

The key difference between us and “the tree” (BTW, this is what happens when a faculty committee comes up with a mascot) is that while we hope to win, they expect to win. 

Expecting to win because you think it will be easy is arrogance. Expecting to win because you know you are better prepared for the hard challenge ahead is confidence. Having the vision to see where things are going before the competition and executing the right game plan is victory. 

Vision, creativity, preparation, and a commitment to execution: The same formula applies to the football team, the faculty, and the student body.  It’s how you learn to beat the tree.

Rising Prospects

An improving economy and our emphasis on early job search activity is having a major impact on the immediate post-graduation experiences of our students.

Every semester we get survey responses from roughly 600 graduating seniors about their employment prospects. Comparing the results for the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters with the same two semesters for 2013/2014 (we don’t have the numbers for this summer yet) shows dramatic improvements in the percent of graduating students entering the workforce and securing employment. The percent of students who were either already employed or seeking work jumped from 75 to 84 percent. Eleven percent more students were either continuing in an existing job or had a job offer (62% vs. 51%) than the year before. Those staying in a job that they had already secured before school as well as those who had only a part-time job offer fell slightly (about 2%). So the entire gain in the post-graduation numbers came from students who reported they had secured a full-time offer of employment before graduation (31% vs 18% the year before).

For our career coaches, these numbers are early affirmation that their emphasis on internships and networking is working. For Lonny, it’s more than enough encouragement to continue his message about the importance of forming a career plan and putting it into action while the student is still in school. And despite being at this for only a year in our professional development courses, Lonny had the opportunity to deliver this message to many rising seniors this past year as they took his class to make up for core credit hour deficiencies they experienced as a result of our curriculum change.

Most importantly, these numbers tell students that having a job offer BEFORE they leave school is a very attainable goal. The number of students who are achieving this result is increasing and postponing your search until after graduation just means you will be shut out from more and more opportunities. If I were a slacker, I’d take that to heart, meet with my career coach and get busy.

Let’s see if working together we can drive the percent of students who graduate with a job in hand next year above 67%.


I want UCF students to get a great education.  This is not just about whether they have a solid grasp of statistics, finance, marketing or management.  Understanding these topics gets you a good education, not a great one.  A great education requires things that transcend a specific course or major.

First there must be some “aha moments”: eye-opening interactions that expand your horizons; presenting you with new possibilities, challenges, and perspectives on the world. Aha moments come from interacting with accomplished faculty, dedicated staff and engaged students who challenge your values and world view while raising your aspirations.

Second, a great education helps students make good choices about their careers and life.  It allows students to realistically preview different paths, better understand their interests, strengths, and weaknesses, and helps them develop a realistic plan to achieve their goals.  This requires students to get out of their comfort zones, experiment, build relationships with people who are different than themselves and risk failure so that they can succeed.

Finally, a great education gives students the confidence, knowledge and skills to compete with anyone, anywhere, no matter what the competition’s pedigree.  This comes from being in a competitive environment that helps students improve their performance through sustained effort combined with strong developmental feedback.

If you got these three things, you got a great education.  And a tell-tale sign that someone got a great education is what baseball coaches call swagger.  They look for it when players step up to the plate.  It is a critical quality in a game where you fail (get out) way more frequently than you succeed (get a hit).  Ricky Henderson, perhaps the greatest lead-off hitter of all time was famous for repeating under his breath: “You are the greatest Rickey” every time he stepped into the batter’s box.  If he struck out, he could be heard saying on his way back to the dugout: “You’re still the greatest Rickey.”  Rickey had swagger and people wanted him on their team.

Knights need swagger too. Be prepared: I am going to be looking to instill some swagger in all of you.

Hey Career Coaches….

Back in the day, it was common for people to include photos either on or with their resumes.  Some companies required it.  Then came concerns about discrimination: The photos disclose race, gender and to a large extent age.  Add in research which suggests that there is a bias toward attractive people in job selection, and the practice of including a photo with a job application came to a halt.   Yet today, everyone puts their mug on LinkedIn (not to mention Facebook) and see the site as a critical part of their job search and career management strategy.  Should our students photo or not? 

Stop Endorsing Me!

Thanks to our professional development courses, my LinkedIn network has been growing by leaps and bounds.  So long as you are a #UCFBusiness student and have a well-designed profile complete with a photo, I will accept your invitation to join your emerging professional network.  It’s the least I can do for young Knights trying to project the right professional image from the get-go.

But in a growing number of instances, this is followed by an endorsement for some skill I allegedly possess: public speaking, education or leadership to name a few.  While flattering as these might be, I get an equal number of endorsements for things like “PowerPoint”.  Given my well-known dislike for PowerPoint presentations (I think it is the single worst thing ever to come to higher education), such an endorsement signals  people who know me that the endorser does not: Endorsing me for PowerPoint is a bit like endorsing Lonny for “subtle influence tactics”.  

Perhaps I’m just “old school”, but if I’m impressed by something you did, I will write you a note or a letter of recommendation (e.g., when you win the failure competition).  If you see me do something that catches your attention, drop me an email or better yet, stop me in the hall of BA I or II and tell me what you think. It will give us the chance to get to know each other better so we can skip things like PowerPoint endorsements.