Life Skills: How HPU Prepares Graduates for Continuous Success

Jun 17th, 2019

Life Skills: How HPU Prepares Graduates for Continuous Success

This story is featured in the Spring 2019 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU instills life skills in its students. 

You’re a new High Point University student grabbing Starbucks before a study session in Cottrell Hall.

But when you walk into Cottrell’s open atrium, you find more than coffee waiting.

Through the glass walls in this modern facility, you see so much.

Your friends rehearse job interview questions and fine-tune their resumes at the Career Bar in the Office of Career and Professional Development.

Across the lobby, global education advisors guide students to dots on the map. Europe. Asia. South America.

A panel of upperclassmen who have completed internships at the “TODAY” show, NBA and Madison Square Garden Company share advice on landing high-level opportunities with other students during a panel inside the Bauer Executive Education Auditorium.

And the Harris Professional Sales Center is filled with students practicing to sell everything from their own ideas and abilities to a company’s product inside of environments that look like a financial firm, Silicon Valley startup and a health care setting.

What you see are resources to assist you, mentors to guide you, and an environment that inspires you. You see opportunities.

The heart of HPU’s approach to career and professional development is housed here in Cottrell, where students also flock to study and collaborate. But it reverberates throughout campus because of HPU’s focus on life skills.

Life skills is a term used by employers to define the traits they need in new hires other than technical skills.

Technological knowledge is important, but technology changes. What skills do you use to navigate those abrupt, often uncomfortable changes?

Adaptability. Communication. Collaboration. Motivation. Coachability.

Life skills.

On the following pages, read examples of real students and real professors who explain how HPU infuses life skills into every class and learning opportunity.


Caring Coaches

Ryan Drakeley met his first full-time employer on High Point University’s campus.

As a junior, he already had two years of preparation when he walked into the Sales Career Fair, where companies gathered to find their next interns and employees.

Drakeley’s preparation included guidance form his success coach, Pam Francisco, and marketing professors Larry Quinn and Randy Moser. They encouraged him to join the Professional Selling Club and take on leadership positions. He did, and along the way, he discovered that a marketing major and sales minor would provide the career path he wanted.

“They coached me,” says Drakeley. “I went into their offices and said, ‘What can I do to be ready and show my potential?’ They told me to always be aware of what I’m doing well, but also be aware of areas where I can improve. I learned from them to always ask for feedback and be able to acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses.”

Outside of class, Drakeley practiced his sales and marketing skills in Cottrell Hall’s Harris Sales Center, which allows students to record their presentations and analyze them afterward.

And he and his peers participated in selling competitions across the country.

Ryan Drakeley practices pitches in the sales learning labs located inside Cottrell Hall.

By the time he shook hands with a Gartner representative at the Sales Career Fair, Drakeley had developed coachability, as well as what he calls “executive presence.”

He landed an internship at Gartner’s Fort Myers, Florida based headquarters and experienced just how important those traits are to the company’s executives, who extended a post-graduation, full-time job offer to Drakeley at the end the internship.

“Gartner loves HPU and keeps coming back to hire students,” says Drakeley. “We develop excellent public speaking and presentation skills at HPU. We know how to conduct ourselves in professional settings. We have executive presence, and the leaders at Gartner appreciate that.”

Today, Drakeley is building his career at a company he first met while at HPU, where he was prepared to succeed in the corporate world.

“Choosing HPU has paid off tremendously,” says Drakeley. “I was able to have a lot of experiences outside the classroom, whether it be through leadership positions or internships, and I secured a full-time job before beginning my senior year. With the help of the sales program and my fantastic professors, I was always two steps ahead of where the process should be and didn’t have to experience job search anxiety.”


The Purpose of 1924 Prime

Ally Pratapas dialed her mom’s number after she left the second round of her internship interview.

“Mom!” an out-of-breath Pratapas said. “This is why HPU students have 1924 Prime.”

For weeks, Pratapas competed in rounds of interviews for a spot in HPU’s Life Skills and Executive Leadership Development Program with Caffey Distributing, a beverage distribution company.

The program, designed by Caffey executives and HPU’s Career and Professional Development Office, rotates students through every aspect of the business while the students also complete a project specific to their major.

Pratapas was ready for the opportunity. Her second interview included dinner at Caffey’s corporate headquarters, where she found herself sitting next to the company’s president.

That’s when she understood, “This is what 1924 Prime prepares us for.”

1924 Prime is HPU’s fine dining restaurant and learning laboratory. For all four years of their HPU education, students have access to the facility to practice job interviews over dinner, learn proper etiquette and experience international cuisine and cultures.

It prepared Pratapas, a senior from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to excel during her interview, just as it has prepared many other HPU students.

Ally Pratapas stands at the entrance to 1924 Prime.

“During the dinner at Caffey, we weren’t just casually eating and talking about the weather,” says Pratapas, a strategic communication major with a minor in sales. “I was sitting next to the company’s president, who asked me questions like, ‘Tell me about the last time you failed.’ I had to answer those questions in a professional manner while I ate, and my HPU education came full circle.”

Pratapas went on to complete marketing projects in employment recruitment and branding, and she created an entirely new kit of marketing materials for the company.

“During my final presentation to executives, I decided to get some of the materials I designed for Caffey professionally printed so I could give them to every person in my presentation,” Pratapas said. “My strategic communication classes taught me to think outside the box and stand out. I wanted to give them something valuable to show for my work.”

Her approach worked, and today, the company utilizes what Pratapas built for them. The company ordered 1,000 copies of a brochure she designed for them.

“My time at HPU really set me up for success,” says Pratapas. “When I came to HPU, I was shy and unsure of what I wanted to do. Now, I’m a university ambassador and in a sorority. I work with my professors in the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication and have great relationships with them. I feel like the sky is the limit.”


When Employers Notice the HPU Difference

Anna Desbiaux knows that employers can train anyone to use their software.

“But they can’t train you to have strong character, to build rapport with other people and to present yourself well,” says Desbiaux. “The experiences HPU provides teach us to do those things as if we’ve already been in the workforce for 10 years.”

Desbiaux, a senior, has gained much experience both on and off campus during her time at HPU. For three years, she has worked in the Office of Student Employment, which ensures every student job on campus is treated as a professional, resume-boosting experience.

She welcomes students looking to build their skill sets into the Office of Student Employment, and she remembers what it was like to be in their shoes.

Anna Desbiaux featured above. 

“Sometimes new students walk in and don’t yet know what questions to ask,” she says. “My time in the office helped me understand how to listen to them and figure out what resources will benefit them.”

Another real-world position Desbiaux holds on campus is in the HPU Survey Research Center (SRC), which conducts public opinion polling across North Carolina. Researchers on campus provide interesting questions, and student workers call individuals across the state to collect their opinions.

“It can be very uncomfortable cold-calling someone, but I’ve learned to approach them in a way that makes them want to talk to me,” says Desbiaux. “Through the SRC, I’ve developed professional cold-calling skills and learned to quickly build rapport with people I don’t know.”

In addition to campus work, Desbiaux has regularly sought guidance from the Office of Career and Professional Development to elevate her resume and cover letter while finding internship and career opportunities. Her combined experience made her a prime candidate for nationally competitive internship programs, including the Reynolds American sales internship program, where she’s working this summer.

After career advisors encouraged her to apply for the program, the company conducted a phone interview with Desbiaux, then flew her to Detroit, Michigan, for an interview at their corporate office. She embraced it as her moment to shine.

“I got the internship thanks to my mentors who coached me at HPU,” Desbiaux says. “It can be hard for college students to go into an interview and impress employers if they haven’t built any experience. That’s the HPU difference. I was able to answer questions about the professional experiences I’ve built, including times when I’ve struggled or overcome challenges. “The Reynolds American interviewers told me none of their other interns were able to provide these types of answers. HPU provides students with opportunities to grow and learn from and then become better students and, one day, better leaders.”


The Power of a Growth Mindset

Onward and upward.

Those are the words of encouragement Dr. Meredith Malburne-Wade, director of HPU’s Office of Fellowships and Awards, shared often with Yasmene Dergham throughout her HPU journey.

When Dergham graduated in May, she took the mantra with her to Atlanta, Georgia, where she is working as a Humanity in Action Fellow with people from around the globe to promote human rights, diversity and active citizenship. The opportunity is one of many fellowships she secured during her time at HPU, where she studied abroad twice on international scholarships, conducted undergraduate research and prepared for a career in international relations.

Along the way, mentors like Malburne-Wade pushed her to apply for more than 15 international fellowship and scholarship programs. Dergham scored major victories, but only after learning to see losses as opportunities for growth.

“The first time I applied for the Boren Scholarship, I was named an alternate,” says Dergham. “I was devastated because, ultimately, I wasn’t selected as a recipient. But Dr. Malburne-Wade said, ‘Hey, you’re just a sophomore competing with juniors and seniors. Focus on the fact that you were considered and how you can use that to your advantage to be a stronger candidate next year.’ She was right. The next year I applied again and was awarded the Boren Scholarship.”

Yasmene Dergham stands proudly with the Jordan flag.

Dergham landed additional, prestigious opportunities. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Education Scholarship sent her to Morocco during her junior year to study Arabic and international relations. Then the Boren Scholarship sent her to Jordan, where the dialect of Arabic is completely different.

Through the challenge of learning to communicate in another part of the world for the second time, Dergham remembered Malburne-Wade’s advice — “onward and upward.”

“I pledged to speak only in Arabic while I was in Jordan,” says Dergham. “I had to process myself and my emotions in a language that once felt familiar in Morocco. Eventually, I showed myself I could do it.”

At HPU, she conducted Middle Eastern historical research, double majored in international relations and political science, minored in history and developed a dream to work in diplomacy and conflict resolution.

“From my HPU network of resources, I learned that research can be conducted and applied to all fields — not just the sciences,” says Dergham. “I learned to deliver an elevator pitch on my research, I gained a lot of interview experience for the fellowships I applied to, and I greatly improved my writing.”

In essence, Dergham developed a growth mindset — a term coined by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck that has become a mantra on HPU’s campus. Students learn that failing is part of the process. They learn to keep moving “onward and upward.”

“Life skills are things you develop but may not realize it at the time, and it doesn’t always happen in a formal setting,” says Dergham. “But the next time you’re in a situation where you don’t know what to do and there are no instructions written down, you remember the challenges you’ve overcome. You realize you can overcome this, too.

“That’s tapping into your life skills.” 


Career Connections, Executive Education

High Point University took Marco Sebastian, ‘18, to New York City to begin his career — literally.

During the HPU in the City fall and spring break programs, students travel to metropolitan areas such as New York City and Washington, D.C., for a week of career exploration. At each stop, HPU’s alumni and parent network provides career connections and behind-the-scenes experiences at major companies such as Bloomberg, Google and the United Nations.

Sebastian came from Lawrenceville, New Jersey, to study computer science at HPU, where experiential learning opportunities surrounded him.

“There were always chances to get involved and push myself academically, professionally and personally, whether I was in the classroom or doing extracurricular activities,” he says.

During fall break of his senior year, Sebastian joined the HPU in the City trip to New York. That’s where he met executives at Bloomberg. He was inspired by the company’s phenomenal success and decided to pursue a career there. After he graduated in 2018, he joined Bloomberg in New York as a Global Data Analyst.

Marco Sebastian featured above.

Like Sebastian, HPU students take advantage of opportunities to connect with industry executives and global leaders.

On campus, students learn directly from corporate executives such as Steven Tanger, CEO of Tanger Outlets; Rob Siegfried, CEO and founder of The Siegfried Group; and Karen Narwold, executive vice president, chief administrative officer, and general counsel at Albemarle Corporation.

Career and Internship Expos bring a wide variety of employers to campus for large-scale events, while Focus Fairs in specific majors provide small group opportunities for networking. Employers also regularly visit the Office of Career and Professional Development, where they answer questions from students about working in their field and provide valuable advice on how to break into the industry.

More opportunities are available outside of campus, too. In addition to HPU in the City, the High Point Washington program is a semester-long partnership with The Washington Center, where students complete an internship in their field and learn from influential leaders in the nation’s capital. Media Fellows travel to Los Angeles to learn from entertainment industry executives. And the list goes on.

The experiences provide access to career connections. But they also provide students with the opportunity to continuously interact with executive leaders throughout their four years at HPU.