Have We Forgotten How to Celebrate?

Graduation Friday was weird.

I was looking forward to pomp and circumstance along with some revelry. Universities are good at pageantry and UCF does so many graduations that this production is a well-oiled machine. UCF delivered the pomp and circumstance. The students, on the other hand, did not deliver the revelry.

Instead, they were subdued. I had been warned about this by the event staff who commented that the prior ceremonies this semester were almost silent. It was so bad, that when I presented the graduates from the College of Business, I departed from my three sentence speech to beg the graduates to make some noise. They hesitantly complied.

The college experience is supposed to be a joyful time when you get to explore who you are, question what you thought you knew and leave celebrating your entry into adulthood knowing you are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Graduation is a final reminder that it takes courage and boldness of action to make the world a better place.

Perhaps we have forgotten how to celebrate in large gatherings. Perhaps we have stressed compliance so much over the last year that we have sucked the joy out of too many things. Perhaps students are focused on what the pandemic took from their college experience or are just too uncertain about the future to be in a celebratory mood. Maybe it’s all these things.

What I do know for certain is that if we want to restore the revelry and the optimism of the college graduate, we need to restore the college experience and that a culture of engagement is the way to get this done. The Fall semester and the return of full blown campus life can’t come soon enough. We need to make sure that return is worth celebrating.

The Hopes and Aspirations of our Students

This week is graduation. It is great to have it in person again, and I know our graduation speaker Laurette Koellner is going to have some great advice for our students who have succeeded under the most unusual of circumstances.

But as we say goodbye to our graduates, it’s worth noting the professional hopes and aspirations of our students as they start their journey with us. Every semester we ask students in our first professional development class about what they expect after graduation. This semester’s survey yielded 451 respondents. Some highlights….

Most important work-related attributes to you? 1.Salary; 2. Job Satisfaction; 3. Work/Life Balance; 4. Advancement Opportunity; 5. Job Security

The Top 10 companies the students would like to work for (in order of preference): Disney, Apple, Amazon, Google, JP Morgan, Netflix, Bank of America, Universal, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin. I’m guessing our students have significant customer experiences with at least seven of these 10 companies.

Given that list, it is not surprising that 59 percent would like to work for a medium- or large-sized company after graduation

The 8 top jobs of interest (in order of preference): Analyst (Financial, Credit, Budget, Pricing, Etc.), Financial Accounting, Corporate Finance, Sports Management, Project Management, Social Media / Email Marketing, Business Consulting, Marketing Analysis.

They expect to work hard: 83 percent of the respondents say they are hard workers. 57 percent expect to work 40 hours a week, and 32 percent expect to work +40. 56 percent expect to work weekends and evenings.

And they expect to get paid: 46 percent expect to earn between $45,000–$60,000 after graduation; 27 percent expect to earn more than $60k!

More than half of our students don’t think they will be working for someone else in 20 years: 40 percent expect to be running a business in 20 years (I blame Cameron for this); 12 percent expect to be retired (I blame social media influencers for this).

And 50 percent want to remain in Florida after graduation.

Hopes and aspirations are important. You can’t achieve if you don’t have motivation, but you also need a plan that you can and will execute while you are with us. Trust me, Disney or Netflix isn’t magically knocking on your door a week before graduation with a $65,000 job offer. They can hire anybody they want. Why should it be you? That is where our professional development courses, corporate partners and culture of engagement come in. They are designed to help you create and execute a well thought out plan to achieve your early career goals. That way, you can celebrate more than just graduation, you can celebrate finding that tangible future you will start creating the very next week.

Traditions Endure

Universities are this odd combination of innovation and tradition. On the one hand, we are seen as places of knowledge creation that advance science, the professions and society in general. On the other hand, we are—because of our longevity—places of tradition with rites of passage: football Saturdays, the Greek system, spirit splash, graduation. Both knowledge creation and tradition give our lives meaning and it is why they have endured during the Pandemic.

Here in the college, one of those rites of passage is the Great Capstone Case Competition. It happens at the end of every semester: Fall, Spring and Summer. It is the last opportunity students get to distinguish themselves in the college by competing in teams to provide a solution to the leadership team of a company that presents them with a problem. We start out with more than 100 teams and finish with just one. Winning is a big achievement. Some teams have even gotten job offers from our corporate sponsor.

This semester’s version of the competition is this week and is sponsored by Verizon. Verizon has partnered with us each spring for a number of years now, thanks in large part to Monty Garrett who is their senior VP of Audit and a member of my Dean’s Advisory Board. Monty loves this event, hires lots of our grads and refuses to let the pandemic deny our students this experience. We even had to pivot to a Wednesday as the first day of Grad Walk unexpectedly bumped us from our time slot.

Monty, thanks for helping to keep this tradition alive. Our students have become pretty adept at virtual presentations (a skill we will probably add to the curriculum), and I’m sure the winning team will give your people the novel solution you’re looking for. As for the winning student team, they not only get bragging rights but will have a great story to tell their children about how to adapt and win even under the most unusual of circumstances. That way when they come to the UCF College of Business some years from now, they will already know what this event is all about.

A Thank You to Our Donors

A few weeks ago, UCF had its day of giving. The College of a Business had a banner day, raising the most by any college with almost $310,000 from 149 donors. Our biggest gift was $250,000 from Jessica and Ken Blume to support first generation scholarships, another $7500 gift came from a first time donor inspired by another recent gift to help meet the technology needs of students during the Pandemic.

Thanks to everyone of you for supporting our students and engagement efforts in the College. We have made great strides in engaging our alums and the community at large over the last several years as we have thrown open the doors of the college and asked you to be a part of the learning environment we have created for our students. While the money raised during our day of giving and throughout the year helps make these efforts possible, it is equally dependent on the army of alums, corporate partners and community leaders who have donated their talents and time to help our students prepare for the professional challenges that lie ahead. Thanks to all of you too. We couldn’t do this without you.

And of course none of this would happen without my amazing team in the Office of Outreach and Engagement. From Susan and Sarah who help people support their passions and leave a legacy, to our tiny marketing team (Erika, Kellie and Josh) who get the word out about the many ways people can contribute to the college and the impact it has on our students and faculty, to Jess who works with our Ambassadors and Alums, to Jennifer (and Lonny) who engage so many people in the Exchange, to Tiffany Hughes who leads the team and engages everyone, every day. It’s an integrated effort that works for our students, faculty, alums, corporate partners and donors. Well done.

If you haven’t yet donated your time, talent or treasure to us, but want to be a part of this, come visit us when things open back up in earnest here in the Fall. The team and I will find you a place where you can make a difference.

Meatball

One of the joys of working in my business is that you get to see people mature, hone their talents and move on to great opportunities. Usually this involves students, but sometimes it’s a member of your team. Nobody likes losing talent, but people need new challenges to continue to grow and do the things in life that they want to do. So I’ve always encouraged my people to explore what’s out there and hope that when they move on that they will remember their time with us fondly. I also hope they will share a bourbon with me once in a while to let me know what’s going on with them. Happily most do (It’s your turn, Bridget. It’s been ages).

This week Josh Miranda moves on. If you don’t know Josh, it’s because he is the guy behind a lot of what we do in the Office of Outreach & Engagement. He is the guy behind the website. The genius behind many of our videos. The producer of the podcast. The poster of content on our social media sites. The technical expert that runs Zoom events… etc., etc. He has been a very big part of our visibility efforts over the past few years. It was only a matter of time before somebody in the private sector with a big checkbook found him. If Erika panicked, she would be in one now. She doesn’t.

But what I will miss most about Josh is his ability to absorb the many indignities that come with being the youngest member of a team full of mean girls. (I admit that I freely participated in this.). Which brings us to the title of this post. At one of the first college events Josh attended, he was photographed scooping up a second plate of meatballs. Erika referred to him as “Meatball Miranda.” I made sure the label stuck.

Everybody who works for me teaches. The students see what they do, how they perform their work and how we operate as a team. Josh was no exception. He taught a lot of young people, especially our Ambassadors, how to handle the demands placed on a young professional, how to develop your own standards of excellence and how to sell your ideas to a group of over-achieving, fast-moving, type A personalities who are in love with their own ideas.

In so doing, the guy behind so much of what we did made all of us better. Thank you, Josh. Now go do great things you can tell us about over a bourbon someday soon. Well, maybe a Shirley Temple for you.

Cheating During the Pandemic

Last week, saw two cases of potential academic misconduct cross my desk. One involved the posting of quiz questions on an on-line study site, the other the presence of identical, unusual wording in multiple responses to the same exam question. Both cases are under investigation.

There hasn’t been a lot of published work on cheating during the pandemic, but there is a general sense that the shift to online learning has cheating on the rise. A recent article on CNBC, notes that a study at the Imperial College London, found that the number of questions and answers posted on Chegg’s homework help section for five STEM subjects between April and August 2020 (when the school shifted to online instruction) was up over 196% from the same time period in pre-CoVID, face to face instruction during 2019 (click here to read the entire article). Perhaps the best evidence that charges of academic misconduct are on the rise, is that some law firms have developed units to specialize in defending students charged with cheating (click here for an example).

Cheating isn’t new. It’s a response to stress, performance anxiety and a sense of desperation.  The pandemic has clearly been stressful for students and the online environment can make it seem like no one is watching. But, one explanation for the rise in academic misconduct is not that students are cheating more, but that faculty are getting better at detecting it in online environments.  That certainly seems to be the case in the college where we share information on the latest cheating innovations and methods to stop it.  We also encourage faculty to pursue misconduct charges in cases where the evidence warrants it.

I’m raising this issue now because Spring Break will be next week and we will shift entirely to remote instruction again when we return through final exams. Finals is an especially stressful time under the best of circumstances. Exams come in rapid succession and doing well on a final may be necessary to pass a course or get into the major of your choice. The temptation to cheat will likely be at its semester peak. But understand that a poor grade is way easier to recover from than a finding of academic misconduct. Classes can be repeated, there is more than one path to a successful career, and people admire persistence in the face adversity. Cheating, on the other hand, damages your reputation and that can take years to rehabilitate. It’s also easier to detect than you think.

Six Rings

I call Bill Steiger the Nick Saban of sales programs because all his students do is win national championships. Last weekend he made it official as the UCF Professional Sales Program team won its sixth, taking the title at the National Shore Sales Competition, which was virtually hosted by Salisbury University.

Angie Mele placed second in the individual competition, and Laura Rivero was fourth. UCF was the only team with two students in the finals. Great job coaching the team by Stefanie Mayfield Garcia.

The next challenge for Bill is to tie Phil Jackson’s 11 rings (an excellent book on managing high achieving people by the way) although the record shows not very many college coaches make the transition to coaching the pros, and I’m not sure there is a sales competition for seasoned sales professionals. Hmmm…maybe we should invent one?

Return of the Joust

Joust New Venture Competition - 2021 image

Of all the things that got postponed a year ago, the biggest casualty for us, was the Joust. We had just shut everything down and hadn’t yet figured out how to do events virtually. If entrepreneurship is about anything, it is about learning to deal with adversity and pivot. True to form, the Joust has recreated itself as a virtual event. The first round will take place this Thursday from 3 to 5 pm.

The Joust is the brain child of Cameron Ford who runs our Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. It is open to students from across campus. Students from outside of business compete regularly in the Shark-tank like event. Several have taken home the top prize over the years. Aside from encouraging students to get out of their comfort zones and put their idea to the test, my favorite part of the Joust is seeing what our students think could be viable business ventures. It says at least as much about them as it does about the needs of the consumers they hope to satisfy with their product or service. I will be especially interested to see how the Pandemic has shaped their ideas.

Special thanks to our presenting sponsor Echelon. It’s only appropriate that one of our own entrepreneurs– Lou Lentine class of 1993 and CEO of the Echelon has stepped up to support this event. He has picked up the mantle from Steve Felkowitz, former CEO of Atico and class of 1973 who was the long time presenting sponsor of this event. Winners from round 1 will compete in the finals from 3 to 5 pm on April 8th. You can watch the finals by clicking here.

Insight is born from Experience

I have been writing this blog for more than a dozen years. Today was the first time I didn’t have a post ready to go Sunday night. I’ve been struggling for topics lately. I see the blog as an opportunity for me to provide students with insights and observations into their experience, to help them see what they are experiencing from a different perspective and to give them some advice on how to get the most out of their time in the College so that they can go on to success in life.

A year into the Pandemic and remote instruction, it has been harder for me to see what students are experiencing, give them my take on what is going on and help them recover or take advantage of what they are going through. Frankly, most days have seemed like Groundhog Day… doing the same things over and over again without much sense of moving things forward: activity and accomplishment are two different things.

So here’s an offer: If you think you have an insight based on your experience over this last year that would be of value to others, send it along to me by replying to this post. The blog has a moderated discussion feature, so others won’t see it until I read it. If my team thinks our readers would be interested in hearing from you, I will ask your permission to post it as a guest blog.

The One Question Every Interviewer Should Ask a UCF Business Student

Although my blog is typically targeted at students and how they can get the best out of the experience in the College, I have come to appreciate that many of my readers are UCF alumni and corporate partners who have an interest in how we are preparing students for success after graduation.

Earlier this week, Lonny forwarded to me an email from a marketing student who had just completed a job interview. She noted that she was shocked when the woman interviewing her asked about GEB points, what she had done with them and what she had learned from the experience. She went on to tell Lonny: “Luckily, your class had prepared me to answer all of her questions.”

That interviewer’s question is genius. For those of you who do not know, students in the college are required to take a set of professional development courses. Those courses help students decide what they want to do in their careers, sharpen their focus, create an action plan, develop networking skills, connect them to people who can help them achieve their goals and prepare them to succeed on the job. Our ultimate goal is to have students leave the college having thought very seriously about what they want to do with a professional job (or graduate school acceptance) in hand. Because these classes are about “doing,” students accumulate points for successfully completing activities from a long menu of options to determine their final grade. As you might guess, there are two very different approaches students take to completing these courses: (1) Those who take this seriously, have a plan and use the many professional development opportunities we provide in the college to get ahead, and (2) those who procrastinate, believe they already know everything, treat it as a burden and cynically comply (sometimes after multiple attempts to complete the courses). The interviewer’s question is designed to determine which type of student they have in front of them.

If you want to understand whether you have a UCF College of Business student who takes their professional development seriously, is both a self-starter and coachable and is likely to give you 100 percent on the job, ask this interviewer’s question. It will tell you a great deal.