As the tinny sound of a steel drum echoed outside the Wanek School of Natural Sciences, students found their recent Friday afternoon taking a different turn.
They grabbed doughnuts and other treats from four food trucks ringing the fountain, and they stopped by eight tables surrounding the brick plaza to discover what campus opportunities fit who they are.
The celebration marked the end of HPU’s first-ever Communication and Life Skills Summit. With the help of a steel drum, the celebration took on an island vibe and gave students a much-needed reprieve to semester’s frenetic pace of class-homework-exam.
The five-day summit ran from Oct. 19-Oct. 23, and it gave students a chance to hear virtually how they could grow professionally and personally from the experts – HPU’s in-residence innovators. They were:
- Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall on building your professional values.
- Corporate executive Scott McKain on becoming distinctive.
- ABC News broadcast journalist Byron Pitts on connecting with your audience.
- Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph on introducing yourself well.
- Award-winning sports columnist Bob Ryan on becoming an industry standout.
The summit ended Friday with a session from HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein, telling students how to create their own roadmap for professional success and personal significance.
“You have to get up in the morning and say, ‘I believe!”’ Qubein said in his session. “There are no unrealistic dreams, only unrealistic timelines.”
The summit did give students a chance to dream. And dream, they did.
Take Colton Zenni and Hunter Johnson.
A Pathway To Success
Zenni hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, and Johnson, he’s from San Diego. They have much in common. They’re suitemates, fraternity brothers in Beta Theta Phi and seniors majoring in pop culture and media production.
Like many college students nationwide, they see the business environment around them, and they worry. They know they’re walking into a job market hurt by a global pandemic that has caused companies to retrench rather than recruit new employees.
So, on the last day of the summit, they sat in a Phillips Hall classroom. They wanted to know more about the new master’s program in communication and business leadership at High Point University.
They liked what they heard.
“No matter what field you go into, you’ll need these skills,” Zenni says. “And whether I go into media production or politics, this master’s degree will be help me carve my own pathway to success.”
“It’s a little intimidating,” Johnson says. “I haven’t taken any business classes. But I know it’ll be worth it. I’m looking to go to Los Angeles and pursue filmmaking, and with COVID, there’s nothing going on right now, and this master’s will help prepare me for what I want to be.
“I want my name to be recognized. I want to be the best I can be.”
The year-long program focuses on skills necessary in any workplace: negotiations, leadership strategies and tactics, interpersonal and intercultural communication, complex problem-solving and complex decision-making skills.
According to national studies, students earning a master’s degree can increase their earning potential by as much as $17,000 a year and stay employed during any unforeseen disruption such as the COVID-19 crisis of today or an economic downturn of tomorrow.
And by the age of 23, students can have a master’s. But the best part?
HPU graduates can go for free.
“It sounded too good to be true,” Johnson says.
“I remember what my Dad told me,” says Colton, the only child of a retired firefighter. “He said, ‘Son, you need to know when opportunity spits on your shoe.’ This is the right opportunity. A free master’s program? That’s incredibly impressive.”
The Genesis of a ‘$45,000 Gift’
Here’s how it all came about.
Last fall, Qubein had promised students in the Class of 2024 the chance to receive a free master’s degree in communication and business leadership. He saw the opportunity as a way to celebrate HPU’s centennial anniversary.
Then came the pandemic.
In March, colleges and universities nationwide shut down to protect the health of its students, staff and faculty. Students went home and college officials nationwide struggled with what to do with the financial problems they faced.
As HPU refunded more than $17 million in room-and-board fees, Qubein had an idea for students in the Class of 2020 through 2023.
Students could obtain the master’s degree in communication and business leadership tuition-free if they returned their housing refund. He also has extended the offer to students in the Class of 2025.
Qubein calls it a “$45,000 gift.”
Dr. Virginia McDermott, dean of the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication, helped craft the program with Dr. Jim Wehrley, dean of the Phillips School of Business. McDermott knows right away why Qubein offered the program to students who lost a semester because of the pandemic.
“The president felt the students lost so much,” McDermott says. “I did, too. We all felt terrible for the class of 2020. And he wanted to figure out a way to give them something back and give them something to look forward to while they were unable to travel or even leave their homes. This was his idea, and it’s the most generous response to the pandemic that I have heard.”
HPU sent an email with the news last spring. In came the comments from parents.
Parents like Gwenn Noel from Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania.
Her older son, Joshua, a sophomore sports media major, will enroll in the program when he graduates in 2023. Meanwhile, her younger son, Chris, a high school senior, was recently accepted to HPU and plans to major in studio art. Upon graduation in 2025, Chris also plans to enroll in the master’s program.
“We are so blessed,” Noel says. “High Point is paying it forward, and my son’s reaction, he was just ecstatic. He told me, ‘Mom, I get one more year at HPU.’
“And for me, it’s all brilliant. High Point stands in a class by themselves. I have friends who were lucky to get a $500 refund from their university, and look at what we get? A free master’s degree.”
The master’s program now has 235 students. This spring, more are coming.
The Goosebumps of Possibility
As Zenni and Johnson sat in the back of Phillips Hall, four students sat up front – Brandon Hostetler and Anna Linares, Mady McCann and Allison Myers.
They came to talk about HPU’s new master’s program. They know it firsthand. They’re in it.
Last spring, as pandemic raged and their May commencement at HPU became a virtual celebration on a computer screen, an email arrived from HPU.
They read how they could receive a master’s degree tuition-free and gain skills they could use and contacts they could rely on for the rest of their lives. All four jumped at the chance. They know why.
Confidence and opportunity.
“On the first day of classes, Dr. McDermott told us, ‘I know you regret not walking across the stage, but as the inaugural master’s class in communication and business leadership, you’ll get a chance to do that in May,’” Mady McCann says. “That gave me goosebumps.”
Mady McCann grew up in Cumberland, Rhode Island. She’s really never been anywhere else other than the home state of her family and her alma mater.
With a master’s degree combined with her undergraduate degree in human relations, she wants to use her newly acquired skills to work in an office of student life at a college or university anywhere in the country.
That’s one idea. Her other? Open up a bed and breakfast. Because of the master’s program, she has a notebook full of ideas.
Allison Myers grew up in Harrisburg, North Carolina. She received her undergraduate degree in graphic design. She has tailored her master’s program to help her hone her creativity and improve her own professional brand.
She has an internship with a local textile designer. With this master’s degree, she dreams of going to New York City. As for making that move, she’s not scared anymore. It’s because of the skills she’s learning.
Brandon Hostetler grew up in Belmont, North Carolina. He graduated with a degree in business with minors in economics, entrepreneurship and sales. The master’s degree already has helped him get a job with as a sales executive with U.S. Health Group.
It’s also helped him revise a business plan of an idea he’s had for years –– open a live-music venue and wellness center in Charlotte.
Anna Linares grew up in Charlotte. She graduated with a degree in exercise science with a minor in Spanish. At HPU, she helped organize Hayworth Chapel’s Wednesday service as a member of the Board of Stewards.
Linares always saw leadership as a hobby. Now, she sees it as a potential occupation that could fuel her passion to be what she has always wanted to be –– an executive with the YMCA working in youth development.
“When I walk into a room now, I feel I have earned the right to be confident and proud in my abilities that I’ve learned in such a short time,” she says. “I’m grateful for that. I know what I’m talking about, and I can back it up with more than just a piece of paper.”
‘What We’re Working Toward’
The Communication and Life Skills Summit brought out the fun for many.
Students taking HPU’s drone piloting course turned the Roberts Hall lawn into an obstacle course, and students majoring in game design turned the Qubein School of Communication into a big playhouse.
But the centerpiece for the summit were the life-skills sessions.
Grant Hines, a sophomore from Owen Mills, Maryland, studying media production and entrepreneurship, heard Pitts give tips about how to network. Hines found that a valuable skill for his dream of becoming a lawyer.
Nicholas Masalleras, a sophomore from Clemmons, North Carolina, saw Pitts, too. He also saw Randolph. Masalleras found Randolph’s talk on creating strong introductions especially helpful because Masalleras is searching for summer internships worldwide.
After five days of tuning in to talks, Hines and Masalleras relaxed Friday outside the Wanek School of Natural Sciences.
That afternoon, they staffed tables at the Innovation Corridor Life Skills Fair and talked about passion and opportunity. Hines told students about HPU Vision, the club for communication majors; Masalleras gave details about HPU’s Media Fellows program.
They both enjoyed the break from the crush of classes. They didn’t get a Fall Break. But they did get a Communication and Life Skills Summit geared for the entire campus.
That, they said, helped.
“A lot of it has been so go-go-go along with the extra stress that life brings,” says Masalleras, a media production and entrepreneurship sophomore. “But this (week) reminds of what we’re working toward –– our future.”
Big Dreams, Big Opportunities
As the panel on the master’s degree program ended, Zenni and Johnson stayed behind. Inside the big classroom at Phillips Hall, they talked about opportunities. Johnson wants to make films; Zenni wants to produce music videos and shoot shows, concerts and documentaries.
As they detailed their dreams near the back row, McDermott walked up the steps. She stopped.
“You going to apply?” she asked.
Zenni and Johnson answered in unison.