This story is featured in the Spring 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU graduates spend four years amassing the life skills employers want in new hires.
Leah Pieniadz, ’17, remembers the moment she knew she was ready.
Career ready. Life ready. Opportunities welcome.
It happened inside Cottrell Hall, High Point University’s hub for career and professional development, where employers from Big Four accounting firms lined up to meet students, schedule interviews and find future team members.
For months, Pieniadz worked with advisors from the Career and Professional Development team. She’d practiced interview questions and knew how to dress, shake hands and communicate the value of her skill sets. She’d built confidence through her coursework and the faculty who challenged her to grow.
KPMG, one of the nation’s largest tax firms, noticed.
The company offered Pieniadz an interview, then an internship in Manhattan the summer after her junior year. She took it and made a positive impression, so much so that KPMG offered her full-time employment in the same Manhattan office when she graduated in 2017.
“Thinking back on my time at HPU, that ‘Meet the Firms’ event was one of my most impactful moments,” says Pieniadz, now an audit associate in New York. “I dreamed of having the opportunity to work for a Big Four accounting firm, and with the help of this event, I was able to talk with current employees who provided an honest perspective on their career.
“As it turned out, moving to Manhattan that summer was one of the best experiences of my life, and I was ready to move back after graduation to begin my career there.”
Pieniadz is part of a compelling HPU statistic.
Ninety-six percent of graduates begin their careers or go on to graduate school within six months of completing their HPU education
But her story is about more than a statistic. Like all graduates, she benefited from HPU’s focus on life skills, a mission the entire campus shares.
Students begin to understand this early in their academic career when they learn from HPU President Nido Qubein, who teaches the President’s Seminar on Life Skills for all freshmen.
Qubein is a product of the American dream. He came to the United States from the Middle East and built his business career from the ground up. He helped start a bank and became an internationally sought-after speaker and business consultant.
In his class, he focuses on what the world calls “soft skills,” but what HPU calls life skills.
Acing a job interview over dinner, for example, is a crucial life skill when employers report that taking candidates to restaurants is one of the most revealing parts of the hiring process.
Financial literacy, team work, emotional intelligence and delivering persuasive presentations are all parts of the course, too.
It opens the doors to career preparation for new students as soon as they arrive.
“When graduation nears, people will say to you, ‘Now you’re going into the real world,’” Qubein tells students in the course. “But the truth
is that the real world is the path you’ll travel on this campus for four years. The real world is the one you’ll create for yourself. The real world is the pathway that you’ll light for your own life and the roadways you’ll pave for your own future. That’s the real world.”
Faculty and staff are a mix of industry leaders and impactful researchers. They include a former NBC Today Show director, former award-winning sales professionals, angel investors, lobbyists, authors, journalists, analysts, health care providers, business owners, prosecutors and executives.
They know well the careers students are eager to launch, and they know the networks to navigate. That shines through in the experiential opportunities they create.
Like Dr. Bill Gentry, HPU’s director of Career and Professional Development. Gentry is a leading researcher in the field of leadership development, focusing specifically on young, emerging leaders.
Today, he leads career advisors inside Cottrell Hall, where other support teams encircle the glass lobby, making opportunities easily visible to students. That includes Career and Professional Development, the Office of Global Education and the Harris Sales Center. Upstairs, there’s the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works, the Belk Entrepreneurship Center, and the Mestdagh Creative Commons.
The Office of Career and Professional Development provides one-on-one counseling with students, delivers presentations to classes and hosts major events that bring employers to campus or take students to employers.
Take HPU’s Life Skills and Leadership Development Program, for example. While traditional internships are increasingly valuable, this program gives students a 360-degree view of a company, from entry level positions to executive leadership roles.
The Life Skills and Leadership Development Program at Caffey Distributing launches this summer. The beverage distribution company interviewed HPU students on campus and selected final candidates. Those candidates will get a top-to-bottom look at how the business operates, from riding along on an early morning distribution route, to working alongside the company’s founder, Chris Caffey.
“We encourage students to come to Career and Professional Development early and often beginning their freshman year,” says Gentry. “For the freshman who hasn’t declared a major, they can take self-assessments to discover their strengths and interests. Then a strategic plan guides them through all four years.”
Graduates credit faculty and staff as their heroes and mentors who helped them not only identify the right career, but lead a meaningful life. That’s a major goal for Gentry and his team.
“We don’t just help our graduates stand out from the competition, but we empower them to get a high quality job and equip them with leadership skills,” he says. “They know from day one that their employer is watching them to see if they are potential leaders. If we can teach them how to be leaders and show them the process of how to better their organization before they graduate, they will advance faster because we know that’s what employers want. They need boundary spanning employees who can communicate, have empathy and coach others.
“That’s one of the HPU distinctions. Students prepare not only to launch their careers, but to advance as leaders.”
Matt Tetu was in the first semester of his senior year when he got a phone call that solidified his future.
On the line was Jennifer Baird, a General Electric representative. She delivered the news HPU seniors work hard to get even before graduation.
“Matt, we’d love to have you join our team,” Baird told him.
It was the full-time, post-graduation job offer Tetu had been waiting for. And he’d traveled a winding path to get here.
“I started with business, switched to communication and switched back to business,” he says. “I added a sales minor and absolutely loved Professor Larry Quinn’s Sales in Dynamic Environments course. That’s when I knew I wanted to get real sales experience.”
So he scoured sales internships and was hired by Lochness Medical, Inc. His two-state territory covered Massachusetts and New Hampshire, his home state, and he zigzagged more than 20,000 miles that summer to sell diagnostic testing kits to doctors’ offices.
“I essentially cold-called doctors in person by walking into 10 to 12 medical offices daily, unannounced, and asking them for a few minutes of their time in their already busy day,” Tetu says. “It could be intimidating, but I learned how to problem solve, approach the office members and authentically sell the products. I knew if they didn’t like me, they would never like my products.”
By the end of the summer, Tetu landed the second largest intern sale in company history.
He returned to campus in the fall ready for the next challenge.
Quinn, chair of the sales and marketing department, had plenty waiting for Tetu. Quinn is known for the amount of time he dedicates to working with students one-on-one, taking students to national selling competitions and attracting big employers to campus.
One of those employers is General Electric. They’ve visited HPU for several years and hired past graduates like Sara Katherine Kirkpatrick, ’16, who was selected for one of just three slots in GE’s Healthcare Commercial Leadership Program. She’s completing a year of training in Milwaukee, and afterward, the program will place her in a role within the company that’s indicative of her strengths.
Now Tetu will join that program, too, and become part of a legacy of HPU alumni launching stellar careers as soon as they graduate. He’ll go to Milwaukee, undergo training and then find his place within the GE family, in any of three cities of his choosing.
Tetu and Pieniadz are two of many HPU graduates who secured their dreams early and increased their chances for future advancement. There are others, too, like Rebecca Ulrich, ’18, who’s been accepted and is choosing between Emory University, Stanford University and other top organic chemistry Ph.D. programs across the country. Or Lauren Engler, ’13, a theater major living out her dreams of acting in the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore, Maryland.
When it comes to opportunities at HPU that prepare graduates for a significant life after college, students know there are many.
“I went to see different people on campus because each of them offered good advice,” Tetu says about the mentorship he received from Quinn, Career and Professional Development, his peers like Kirkpatrick and more. “I built solid relationships, practiced interview scenarios and wrote and re-wrote my resume and cover letters. All of it ended up being very helpful.
“If students get involved, join clubs, talk to their professors after class and take advantage of the one-on-one time professors and staff will spend with them, they will absolutely succeed.”