Complementing Curriculum

Peer mentor Katharina Becker, left, and her mentee, Nate Jones.

Peer mentor Katharina Becker, left, and her mentee, Nate Jones.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Innovative supplemental activities and opportunities enhance business education

The bar is set high for today’s business graduates. They have to be knowledgeable not only in their area of study, but also demonstrate skills in communication, leadership, networking, and civic and community engagement.

That’s why the Black School of Business extends lessons far beyond the classroom. Here are a few of the innovative ways the school supplements curricular offerings.

Intrieri family student-managed fund 

Forget stock market simulations and fictional financial scenarios. Black School of Business students have the opportunity to manage real money through the Intrieri Family Student-Managed Fund.

The fund was established in 2011 with a gift of $100,000 from Accounting graduate Vincent Intrieri ’84, a senior managing director of Icahn Capital Management, and his wife, Joanne. The fund currently stands at almost $300,000 and is managed by students from various business majors with oversight from Dr. Tim Krause, assistant professor of finance.

“The fund provides real-world experience, which is extremely valuable because it allows students to apply financial theory to an actual investment fund,” Krause said. “It also enhances the students’ communication skills because they are required to make weekly investment presentations.”

Krause said it also gives students a look at the less glamorous “nuts and bolts” of managing real money on a day-to-day basis.

The students have managed those nuts and bolts well. The fund is currently up 12.90 percent year-to-date and has consistently outperformed the S&P 500 Index since the fund was established five years ago.

Suitable

Employers want well-rounded individuals, but it’s hard for students to know how to acquire these skills on their own, which is why the Black School of Business launched a professional development program two years ago. One of the tools in the program is Suitable, an online professional development platform in which students are encouraged to document activities that build their professional profile.

Participation is voluntary and free for students. They can pick from a variety of activities at each level, such as joining a professional organization, registering to vote, participating in a class project, attending a cultural performance, or volunteering for a nonprofit organization.

As students complete each level, they can earn incentives from the school or from businesses that sponsor the program.

“In addition, as students complete more activities, they can improve their ‘rank’ in Suitable,” said Laurel Brown, professional development coordinator. “The top twenty are listed on the leaderboard on the home page.”

More than 600 students are currently participating in the program, as are a dozen business partners who are, no doubt, keeping an eye on the leaderboard for dynamic individuals they’ll want to add to their team.

Peer mentoring program 

Mentoring programs have been proven to increase student success and engagement by creating an environment of trust, belonging, support, and encouragement. That’s why the Black School of Business has a formal mentoring program to encourage both peer-to-peer and student-to-alumni relationships. 

Goals for the program include promoting collaboration among peers of varied disciplines, encouraging open dialogue related to personal and professional growth, and fostering a sense of comfort and stability among participants. This year, more than ninety first-year students signed up to be mentored.

Mentor Katharina Becker, a junior International Business and Marketing major, knows the value of a peer mentor. She benefitted from one.

“I was a mentee and liked the fact that if I had a question at 10:00 p.m., I could text or email my mentor and get a response,” she said. “My mentor was approachable and helpful and became a friendly face for me on campus.”

Becker was eager to return the favor and agreed to mentor five first-year students this year.

“It’s not very time-consuming and doesn’t include heavy involvement,” she said.

Laurel Brown, who also coordinates the mentoring program, said each mentor/mentee pair decides what level of engagement they have. Some communicate only by text or email. Some have regular meetings.

“We ask our mentors to do what they can to make a connection and check in with their mentees,” Brown said. “Then, it’s up to the mentee to ask for advice or guidance.”

Brown is hoping to expand the program to include more upper-class student and alumni mentor relationships. “Right now, we have fifteen or twenty alumni who are willing to participate and offer advice to those about to enter the workforce.”

Business Blitz

The best way to improve interviewing and networking skills is practice. At the Black School of Business, students can get plenty of practice in just one hour at the Business Blitz. This one-hour speed interviewing event is held each fall and offers students the chance to present their elevator speeches to industry professionals and get immediate feedback on their performance.

By design, the students have only a few minutes to make an impression on the professional they are paired with. The professional then tells the student what they did well, where they can improve, and what area they should work on.

Then—ding—the bell rings and the student moves to the next table and the next professional.

The Business Blitz is a crash course in interviewing that gives students an invaluable opportunity to not only learn from leaders in the industry, but also to network and make those all-important contacts.

Business leadership weekend

Each year, Penn State Behrend students can hone their leadership skills at an intensive two-day workshop where they learn the softer skills of business—the perfect handshake, dinner-table small talk, goal-setting, networking, and more.

Dozens of local alumni and business leaders are invited to participate in roundtable sessions where students have the chance to ask questions, get advice, and learn about different careers from industry insiders. Faculty members are also on hand to talk with students about their major options and the career paths in various business fields.

Past participants say that the weekend retreat is a unique and valuable exercise in professional and personal development.