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February 26, 2010

The College of Business: Making Students Shine

By Jessica Soine

The College of Business prepares its students for life outside academia and after college by providing them with experiences not always provided by in-class instruction. Two programs that provide business students with a little extra polish are the Leadership Institute and the Student Professional Development Program. The Leadership Institute prepares all incoming freshmen for college life; the Student Professional Development Program responds to employer feedback by training students in business etiquette and career skills.

Justin Gardner coordinates the Leadership Institute (LI) and runs the Student Professional Development Program (SPDP) with Sheryl Poirier. Gardner believes that these programs really help UWEC students shine.

“A lot of people on campus make comments to me about being able to pick out students that have attended our leadership programs,” he says.

The Leadership Institute takes place in the summer, each session having 40-50 participants that get to experience campus before they move to Eau Claire in the fall. Each session of incoming students has upperclassmen coaches that room in the dorms with them while the students are on campus. Gardner understands using older students provides positive role models for students, saying, “Peer pressure is a powerful influence, and we feel like we can effectively use it in a positive manner.”

The Leadership Institute not only familiarizes students with the campus and gives them role models, it also enhances their self-confidence. Gardner points out: “The more confident the student, the more likely they are to become engaged in campus programs and organizations, not to mention the rest of their lives.”

The Student Professional Development Program puts a brilliant finish on business students so they can continue to stand out from the crowd. Though it first targeted upperclassmen, currently the program works primarily with freshmen and sophomores, as students are entering into internships earlier than ever. Program workshops focus on topics such as career planning, professional appearance, developing a professional profile, and professional etiquette. Gardner claims, “These few little details that students learn set them apart and give them the edge over other graduates.”

However, just as these programs seek to improve students’ skills, Gardner and his colleagues are always working to improve the two programs to benefit student learning and development. “We are continually developing greater expertise as well,” he says, “which drives continuous improvement of our workshops.” Another thing he thinks benefits students and promotes the program is that there isn’t just the traditional instructor:  “We integrate other students and professionals into the training sessions.”

Gardner finds his own teaching techniques also benefit from his participation in these programs. When he treats classes more like mini seminars he is better able to connect with his students, helping them to understand concepts and stay engaged. Overall, Gardner hopes that such programs are not only fun for the students but help meet their needs as they grow professionally.

Source: Classroom Successes, February 2010, Volume 2 Issue 4, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire / The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

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