Experiential Learning Center – Kicking It Up A Notch

ELC1 Experiential Learning Center – Kicking It Up A Notch

Experiential Learning Center

This article like Bring It! Center – Charge Up and Refuel is part of Jakub’s Corner which is me the Marketing and Social Media Intern for the NIU College of Business introducing and informing you on the various resources available on campus. This week we will be highlighting the Experiential Learning Center.

You might be asking yourself, what is the Experiential Learning Center? The NIU College of Business Experiential Learning Center or simply the ELC to those of us who are familiar with it connects teams of the very best students with accomplished executives. Over the course of a 16-week collaboration, NIU students apply their energies and talents to help solve cross-functional business issues. It is a terrific opportunity to apply the knowledge, skills, and theories that you have learned in the classroom to find real business solutions. That is exactly what draws me to the ELC, the idea that it gives you the opportunity to learn in a way that is different from the traditional classroom. You can do all the homework and take all the tests you want but nothing compares to real world experience.

Some highlights of the ELC are that you will earn 3 credit hours for participating, you will be given the opportunity to build your resume and develop a valuable skillset, you will receive professional coaching, and you will also be given exclusive access to cutting-edge lab technology and facilities. That’s right, you are earning credit in exchange for invaluable experience that will set you apart from the crowd. In addition, the ELC has partnered with such companies as McDonald’s, Caterpillar, McKesson Pharmaceutical, Abbott and many more. A handful of students have even received jobs as a result of participating on an ELC Team.

One of my biggest regrets in college thus far has been that I have not done an ELC Project. With that being said, Spring 2015 Projects have been revealed and applications are being accepted on a rolling basis so please don’t miss out on a truly life changing opportunity. Until next time, this is Jakub’s Corner.

Forget the A’s, College is about the B’s

Editor’s Note: Chloe Pooler is a junior Accountancy major with minors in Community Leadership & Civic Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship. She is President of the professional business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, an e-board member of CAUSE, heavily involved in the College of Business, Student Association, and formerly the residence halls as well. Chloe enjoys walks on the beach, the company of witty people, and jamming to good tunes.

Chloe Forget the As, College is about the Bs

Chloe Pooler, Junior Accountancy Major

 Forget the A’s, College is about the B’s

I myself am a very achievement oriented person. I need that grade, certificate, approving email, whatever, that validates my efforts in academics, in extra-curriculars, and professionally. I am very much about the “A’s” of school- literally, “A” grades, “A”wards, “A”chievement. Trust me, these are GREAT to strive for, but aren’t what college is about. College is the place for the “B”s.

Balance

Work hard, rest hard, play medium (enough to make college the best time of your life, not enough to sacrifice the work and rest).

Having near perfect grades and a packed resume are not worth losing your sanity over. It is important to remember to make time for yourself. No, not the for yourself like “I’m joining this sixth organization your my future,” I mean for yourself as in scheduled time to do yoga, run, play basketball, draw, journal- something you actually enjoy doing!

These activities are things you might have to literally schedule into your limited (perhaps non-existent) free time. Make them a priority and don’t sacrifice nonessential activities over your you-time! Constantly being at your wits’ end is not worth the stress that you can alleviate by making time spent on yourself important.

It’s true in the professional world and it’s true in your collegiate career- work/life balance is key. Don’t forget to recharge and periodically give your mind a break from all of the academia and extra-curricular craziness!

Building

You are never in a more perfect place to grow than in college. You are blessed to have so, so many resources at your fingertips, especially here at NIU! Electronic libraries, esteemed professors, successful alumni are all just a click of a mouse and “send” of an email away.

It is important to acknowledge that each of us have room to grow and the ability to build ourselves to be better professionals, leaders, and people. Take advantage of all of the organizations NIU and the College of Business has to offer. Going outside of your comfort zone, taking on a role you might not be entirely sure you can handle, and attending events with the intent to learn from them (not just get the Passport credit) will benefit you in many, many ways. Literally think to yourself, after doing something above and beyond, “how awesome am I going to look when I talk about this in an interview?”

Maybe you read that request to join something and take on a leadership role and yada yada and thought to yourself, “it’s just a point on my resume, I won’t get anything more out of it than that.” *Dwight Shrute voice* FALSE. Guess what else joining clubs gets you? A network of alumni who were in your same shoes however long ago.

College is a great time to build your network and connect with Huskie alum and the professionals/companies the COB brings in. Purposefully design and learn how to maintain your network at this prime time in your life.

Blunders

Blunder is a more fun word for mistake. Make mistakes this school year!! Don’t do so intentionally, but try something new or different and see where it leads you. You might be wrong! Making flashcards the day before a UBUS 310 Exam might not result in as good of a grade as when you actually did practice problems the weekend before. But hey, at least you went for it! Texting that girl from Rosy’s the next morning could end with no reply, or with a “Hey! The funny guy with the blue shirt!” You never know unless you try.

Plus, college is that weird age where you’re 100% responsible for your actions, but also people are forgiving, because you haven’t been in the professional adult world for long. It’s understood that you don’t know every little detail about how to do an audit or have all of the answers to the questions your professors ask, but it’s important to raise your hand and go for it anyway. A little humility can grow a person more than a lot of arrogance.

Realize, too, that everyone makes mistakes! Your peers, professors, and potential employers have all done something just as embarrassing or silly, and you can all laugh about it down the line after you’ve walked across the graduation stage, landed that dream job, and reminisce about the days on campus.

C for Conclusion

College isn’t all about Achievements and Awards and A+’s, though those are great; but so are balance and building and blunders. Striving for those A-things is important and having goals are key, but being sure to balancing work/life and taking time to breathe, building yourself professionally and as a leader and your network, and making mistakes and learning from them are all great things to focus on during your time in the COB.

Bring It! Center – Charge Up and Refuel

Editor’s Note: This article was written to introduce and inform students on the various resources available to them on campus. This week we are highlighting the Bring It! Center, one of my personal favorite rooms on campus that not many people know about. – Jacob Ferguson, NIU College of Business Marketing and Social Media Intern

Bring It! Center

The Bring It! Center is a place for College of Business students to come together to study, collaborate on group projects and receive service, support and training with technology. In the center you will receive:

  • Help with the Anywhere Lab
  • Help with the Anywhere Printer
  • Help with Wi-Fi
  • Help with Password Resets
  • Help with NIU E-Mail

Location

The Bring It! Center is located near the Atrium in Barsema Hall Room 104.

Policies/Guidelines

  • The Bring It! Center will provide general support for any mobile device.
  • Food and drink are allowed on shared areas and each user is responsible for their own device and to keep the Bring It! Center clean.
  • The Bring It! Center does not provide support for desktops or any hardware repairs.
  • A waiver must be signed by students or faculty members before they can work on your device.
  • Mobile devices are not to be dropped off for repair.
  • No misconduct, including but not limited to arguments among group members, loud talking, loud music or any other distractions that disrupt the other groups or students studying.
  • Please be courteous to your fellow students.

Summer Internship Experience: For-Profit Edition

Editor’s Note: With the summer just finishing up and the NIU Internship/Full-time Job Fair just around the corner we wanted to highlight students and their internship experiences. In this two part series we will highlight two students, one who interned with a for-profit company and another who interned with a nonprofit company. By highlighting these two sectors we hope to give students different perspectives so that when it comes time for them to make the decision of their own they’re better prepared.

Hello! My name is Luis Sandoval and I am a senior double majoring in Management Information Systems and Applied Mathematics.  I am also double minoring in Marketing and Computer Science.  I was originally an accounting student but quickly found out that I really didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.  It did not seem interesting to me but rather static. In addition, I also felt that there wasn’t much room for personal innovation and that did not align with what I envisioned for my future.

I have had the great opportunity to intern with AbbVie, a biopharmaceutical company, for the past two summers. The summer of 2013, I took on the role of a Business Systems Analyst and worked with the company on enhancing the overall performance and user experience of an international financial planning tool. At the end of my internship I had the opportunity to present my results in front of the project steering committee. This past summer, I took on the role of a developer and built an interface that allowed for the communication of an external and internal systems. During both summers I worked within a team, that’s just how the business world is.

Over the past two summers, I really developed my leadership, communication, teamwork and professional skills. I learned to put myself out there by simply putting myself out there. It may have been uncomfortable but I managed to overcome that. I was able to put myself in situations (networking, pitches, one-on-ones with directors and management, etc.) until it became more familiar to me rather than uncomfortable. That naturally allowed me to develop the skills listed above. I ultimately learned to put myself out there and I got used to being comfortable in uncomfortable and new situations.

I definitely did not have a good grasp on everything all the time. However, I asked tons of questions and did many hours of personal research outside of work. I feel that’s what everyone should do. You can’t just wait and expect for things to come to you. I am grateful to say that I will be starting full time with AbbVie in their IT Development Program in January.

Summer Internship Experience: Nonprofit Edition

Editor’s Note: With the summer just finishing up and the NIU Internship/Full-time Job Fair just around the corner we wanted to highlight students and their internship experiences. In this two part series we will highlight two students, one who interned with a for-profit company and another who interned with a nonprofit company. By highlighting these two sectors we hope to give students different perspectives so that when it comes time for them to make the decision of their own they’re better prepared.

Entrepreneurs 2 300x270 Summer Internship Experience: Nonprofit Edition

NIU Business Student Kerrian Miller and Co-Founder and Director at Human Connections Elly Rohrer posing for a picture with a local artisan.

Hello! My name is Kerrian Miller, I am a sophomore Marketing and Social Entrepreneurship student in the College of Business. This past summer I was fortunate enough to intern as the Marketing and Media NGO intern in Bucerías, Nayarit, Mexico. Three of the goals I set for myself when coming to NIU were to always challenge myself, enjoy what I’m doing, and gain real-world experience. While interning at Human Connections I was able to reach these goals and accomplish much more.

I interned at Human Connections, a non-profit organization that works with low-income artisans and tradespeople in the beautiful town of Bucerías, Nayarit, Mexico. They offer tours showcasing the artisan’s to locals and tourists. The tourists are able to gain a better perspective on the culture and appreciate the hard work that goes into sustaining a small business. The profits from the tour and donations are used to compensate the artisans shown on the tour and provide community classes for clients and their communities.

I had an amazing experience working at Human Connections. I learned so much in the short six weeks I was there. It was great to gain experience in consulting, marketing, and non-profit organizational leadership. This internship helped me to gain a better understanding of non-profits, immerse myself in a different culture, and it exposed me to people with such different stories. I was continuously learning, taking on new tasks, and being a positive contributor.

While interning for Human Connections, I helped create the strategic marketing plan. I loved offering creative and innovative ideas toward marketing material that would help us reach as many people as possible. Working on the website content and layout was very interesting. I had the opportunity to act as a marketing and financial consultant with many artisans and working with them was a very humbling experience. They were always very welcoming and appreciative. Towards the end of my internship I was creating marketing material for a client named Francisco. I know that he was grateful to have a new way to market his products and make tourist understand the work that goes into his craft. I left Mexico knowing that what I did made a difference in the lives of our clients.

Overall, being an intern this past summer has taught me to really think about where I want my career to go and to work diligently towards it. I now think about working internationally or for a non-profit organization. My interest in non-profits, social enterprises, and entrepreneurship has really grown. It was an amazing learning opportunity. I had such a great time working with students from universities from all over the country. Being an intern has made me realize how much I’m capable of. There was never a moment where I felt like I wasn’t doing something worthwhile. Human Connections is so invested in the artisans, tradespeople, and small business owners we work with. I have so much respect and appreciation for the team and work done at Human Connections. I know that having that experience will lead me towards more new and exciting opportunities.

Score a FREE Lunch!! (Contest Details)

If you are an NIU Business major (freshman through senior levels) and if you like food (especially when it’s free!) AND if you want an opportunity to meet other students and the NIU Business Dean in a relaxed setting, then this is the contest for you.

Follow the instructions (below) and you may win a free lunch!  Not only that, but you’ll have fun, meet some new friends, chat with NIU Business Dean Denise Schoenbachler, and maybe even learn something new about ways to make the most of your time at NIU!

“Score a FREE Lunch” Contest Instructions

  1.  Send an email to jacobiferguson@yahoo.com and include this information:
    1. Make the email subject:  “Score a Free Lunch Contest”
    2. In the body of your email, provide:  your name, your declared NIU Business major, and your academic year (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior).
    3. Please also briefly share “Why I Chose NIU.”  (There’s no right or wrong answer to this!  We just love learning more about you!)
  2. Send your email no later than WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 10th!  In order to be eligible your email must adhere to all of the contest instructions listed here.

Winner Selection and Announcement Details

Contest entries will be grouped by academic class (NIU Business:  Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior).  Winners will be randomly selected from each academic class and notified via email on Friday, September 12th.  The email notification will include more specific information about the free lunch and will be sent to the winners by jacobiferguson@yahoo.com .

Any questions?  Lemme know in the comments section!  If not, well, then GO! and fill out the contest instructions!

 

And the Journey Begins…

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NIU College of Business Marketing and Social Media Intern - Jacob Ferguson

Hello! My name is Jacob Ferguson and I am a senior Operations Management and Information Systems (OM&IS) major here at Northern Illinois University. Before we get started I would just like to thank all of the previous interns and authors particularly the most recent one, Rob Willer, for all their hard work and their dedication to making this blog the best that it can be. The goal of this post is to give you a brief introduction to myself and to inform you on the direction that we at College of Business plan to take the Student Voices Blog this year.

I graduated from Victor J. Andrew High School in Tinley Park, Illinois in May of 2011 with dreams of going to college and my eyes set on one school, Northern Illinois University. One of my main missions since entering Northern Illinois University has been to leave it a better place than when I started and to enjoy myself as much as possible along the way. I think I have managed to accomplish at least one of those in my time here thus far. Furthermore, I am involved in such organizations as Delta Sigma Pi, CAUSE (Collegiate Association of Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs) and the Dean’s Student Advisory Board which I believe have all helped me to make tremendous strides in achieving the two goals mentioned above.

At the end of the day a lot has changed since beginning my time here at Northern Illinois University and it hasn’t always been good. I plan to be transparent in my posts and will try to give you a taste of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to this place that most of us call home for four some odd years. Topics will be selected by students and we will focus heavily on guest posts to give you different perspectives. This blog is written for students and by students.

Go Huskies!

 

 

Building your personal brand

Ludwig Banner1 Building your personal brand

Editor’s Note:  We’re coming up on the start of NIU’s fall semester, when a new NIU Business social media intern will post to Student Voices.  In the meantime, another NIU Business student sent in a guest post and we’re delighted to publish it!  In this post, Ludwig Gerdes (that’s him in the picture!) shares great suggestions for building your digital presence and your personal brand.  It’s a wonderful thing to do because building a personal brand helps you become more intentional about your goals and even more focused on how you Show Up for things in this great adventure called Life! Check out all of Ludwig’s suggestions in this story (below) and also on Ludwig’s web page.   (We couldn’t help but notice that one of Ludwig’s tips is to build a branded webpage.  And we also couldn’t help but notice that he not only gives the advice, but lives it too! Awesome.  So now your turn…go for it!)

 

A guest post on building your personal brand by Ludwig Gerdes

You may not realize it yet, but you are already contributing to your prospects of getting your dream job in the future. Whether your contributions are positive or negative, however, is the real question that you should be asking yourself.

What I’m trying to say is that your personal brand is already having an influence on your future, and it is high time you manage what your personal brand is saying to the people that matter.


“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon.

 Building your personal brandJeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

Do a Google search for “Jeff Bezos”.  What do you see? Probably you’ll see multiple pages detailing his biography, some videos of speeches he’s done, and numerous articles about or concerning his work with Amazon.

Now search for your own name. What do you see? You’ll probably find your Internships.com profile, an old assignment you did for a class during your freshman year of college, and who knew you still had that old MySpace page.

So how are you and Jeff Bezos different, other than the $30.2 billion between your net worth and his? Well, he understands the importance of his personal brand more than you do yours.

But here’s how you can fix that.

1. Delete EVERYTHING (and start over)

It’s time for a good old-fashioned wiping off of the slate. Oh, but you spent so much time racking up those 2,000 friends on Facebook! They’ll still have profiles when if you come back. Think of it as a breath of fresh air. Believe me, you’ll thank me later.

If you do, however, have content that you want to keep (e.g. Facebook photos of yourself in high school, old Tweets you thought were hilarious, or Pinterest pins that showed exactly how you can turn that old desk in your parents’ basement into a GORGEOUS vanity) back it up. Save screenshots, download files, or whatever you have to so that you don’t regret deleting everything else.

If you need help, you can head over to PrivacyFix, or to one of these sites to search for any profiles you might have missed. If you’re willing to spend some money, head over towww.reputation.com. These sites are useful if you are worried that you might have missed something on the web.

Now that you’ve made it through that step and are most likely shaking from separation anxiety, you can start thinking about the next part: what do you want to do with your life?

2. Make Your Personal Strategy

Where do you want to be in your life? No, this isn’t an existential question. I’m asking you what you want your career to look like. Where do you want to work? What do you want to do to make money? Where do you want to live?

You should ask yourself all of these questions before you even START to think about anything else. Give yourself time though. It’s your life – don’t rush through it. Good? Great.

Understanding where you want to be in your career in the next 2, 5, and 10 years is vital before you start shaping your personal brand with different social media accounts.

“It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have. Your reputation online, and in the new business world is pretty much the game, so you’ve got to be a good person. You can’t hide anything, and more importantly, you’ve got to be out there at some level.” – Gary Vaynerchuk, Author of Crush it! (2009) and Jab, Jab, Jab Right Hook (2013)

 Building your personal brandGary Vaynerchuk, CEO Vaynermedia

Gary Vaynerchuk (one of my personal heroes) understands the value of personal branding. Having attended a small private school in Massachusetts and receiving less-than-noteworthy grades, his personal brand and his attitude have more than anything made his career what it is today: a multi-million dollar media agency.

A. What Platforms to Choose (Professional)

Just how exactly do you start choosing what social media platforms to have a profile on, you ask?  Well, really it depends on where you said you want your career to end up, and how that relates to different social networks.

If you’re a design student (graphic or otherwise) you’d better have somecombination of profiles on Behance, Pinterest, Instagram, and Dribbble.

But wait! Don’t be on all of them. My recommendation is 2 – 3 accounts so that you can stay active on each of them, and it doesn’t stop being fun. Too many and you’ll never keep up; too few and you won’t have enough of a presence.

You can take a look at my comprehensive guide to choosing a social media platform based on industry. But in the meantime, let’s just say you’re majoring inbusiness administration, like me.

As a business student, your best friend is your LinkedIn account. On it, you can display your professional work, talents, and interests in such a way that someone interested in hiring someone with talents such as yours can easily find you. Did I mention that approximately 94 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to source and vet job candidates?

Secondly, you’ll want somewhere to host your work.

You love making slideshow presentations? Slideshare. Avid photographer? Instagram + Pinterest make for a one-two combo.  You have musical skills? Use SoundCloud to show off your masterful ability.

Each social platform has its unique features that lend itself to the betterment of your personal brand. Be creative and have fun.

B. What Platforms to Choose (Personal)

Now that you’ve decided on some professional profiles, you can decide if you want to accentuate them with one or two “personal” profiles.

What you have to remember in any case is that your personal accounts are still visible. Even if you set all of the privacy settings to your personal accounts to MAX, there are still numerous situations in which potential employers, co-workers, or recruiters can see your profile. So do not post anything you wouldn’t want emerging in an interview with the employer of your dreams.

Personally, I recommend sticking to the messenger apps like GroupMe rather than other, often problematic social media accounts, but for each their own.

C. 100% Completion

It’s not enough to just have a profile on a social network. You need to invest the time and energy required to reach 100% completion. Otherwise, you’ll come off as looking like an amateur. Do you want your brand to say “Amateur”?

Start by making sure that you have a sound profile picture. The picture should be less than six months old so it actually looks like you and not your younger, less stylish self. Also make sure the picture looks professional. No selfies or mugshots. Nor any generic background photo that looks like you cut it out of a yearbook. (I’m talking to you, NIU faculty!)

Link all of your professional accounts to each other so that they are easy to keep track of. Also, PLEASE customize your social account web addresses, if possible.  http://www.linkedin.com/in/ludwiggerdes looks infinitely more professional than www.linkedin.com/in/12019283102

Just go the extra mile to avoid looking like an amateur.

3. Create A Professional Website

Now that you have a professional presence on social media and are benefitting from the improved SEO that comes with that presence, you can take it one step further and create a professional website that can serve as a portfolio, blog, or simple contact form.

I know that you may have made a basic website during the early stages of your college career, but let’s face it. It was probably a piece of garbage. If you haven’t yet, go back and delete it.

With more modern technology, you can create a website with little-to-no difficulty using a combination of HostGator (web hosting) and WordPress (Content Management Software). I recommend following THIS GUIDE to creating your professional website.

I did, and then I slowly improved. You can take a look at my finished copy atwww.ludwiggerdes.com

One thing that I do (albeit less frequently than I would like) is write articles and publish them to my self-hosted blog. A quick Google search of my name will show you that my personal website is one of the highest-ranking results, just behind my LinkedIn profile and the work I’ve published for LinkedIn. That’s because original content is king.  You can use this to your advantage just as easily as I have, and boost your own ranking in Google searches.

Regardless of whether you blog or not, the most important part of your website is the message behind it, and the brand promisethat it displays. Again, be creative and original.

“Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.” – Warren Buffett, Investor and philanthropist

 Building your personal brandWarren Buffett, CEO Berkshire Hathaway

4. Stay Active

So you have successfully created your professional presence on social media, a professional website for yourself, and cleansed the Internet of all traces of your unprofessional self.What’s next?

Well, now comes the hard part.

You need to stay active online. Not for a grade like some college courses require. I meanfor the sake of your future career.

You should endeavor to contribute to online communities, because other community members will take notice. However, you shouldn’t contribute by not contributing (e.g. spamming LinkedIn groups with questions you don’t actually care about).

Your personal brand is only viable if you maintain it. If you don’t strive to maintain it, then you are in essence telling potential employers that you don’t take pride in your work, and that you can’t be relied upon.

So you need to keep up with your social media presence, your professional website, and the online community that you are a part of.

If you don’t, then you may have already ruined your chances of getting your dream job.

Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken.” – Oscar Wilde, Author and Playwright


Ludwig Gerdes is the social media marketing strategist for Northern Illinois University, as well as the 2014-2015 President of BASA, NIU’s Business Administration Student Association.

Do AWESOME Stuff

2014 04 17 JW Image 40 1024x682 Do AWESOME Stuff

Zach with NIU Business Dean Denise Schoenbachler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a guest post (a student profile really) of a conversation I had with freshly-minted NIU business alumnus Zach Fiegel, pictured with NIU Business Dean Denise Schoenbachler. This story reflects Zach’s NIU experiences as he described them to me just prior to his graduation on May 10, 2014.  It’s important to mention that Zach wanted this article to reflect the accomplishments of a wide range of fellow students-friends who Zach collaborated with during his time at NIU. I hope my writing reflects this. Congratulations, Zach, on the start of your next series of adventures! Thank you for the great conversation as always and for not hesitating to sit down with me when I approached you — even at the 11th hour in the semester!

 

Do AWESOME Stuff … live a BOLD life

“Every experience can be life changing. It really can.  It’s up to each of us to approach things that way,” NIU Business senior Zach Fiegel says, echoing the perspective of a visionary or an entrepreneur.

It’s not a stretch for Fiegel and his friends who are fellow students in social entrepreneurship to have a sense of those waters.  They immerse themselves in an entrepreneurial mindset – in the idea of changing the world, transforming themselves and others for the better – as a matter of course, and they do it as a team.

Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs changing the world Do AWESOME Stuff

NIU's Collegiate Association of Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs changing the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case in point:  as members of the student organization NIU CAUSE, with Fiegel its president, the group put everything they had behind a colleague’s idea to provide other students with financial help.  They raised $2,500 this semester and created a $1,000 annual NIU CAUSE student scholarship, while donating the remaining $1,500 to three different NGOs.  Earlier in 2013, Fiegel and another team of students in a social venture class won $10,000 seed money for their business concept and then shortly afterwards invested those funds in a social venture located in Nigeria.

It’s in that spirit of boldness that Fiegel applied blindly for a summer internship with the NBA, an organization whose interns and new hires tend to hail from Ivy League schools.  Fiegel disrupted that pattern by landing a spot in the program.  Then after the internship, he applied for and was accepted into their New York-based associates program, which serves as entrée to an NBA management career.  Fiegel begins the associates program this summer after he graduates in May with an NIU degree in marketing.  He hopes one of his professional rotations includes NBA Cares, the unit that manages the social responsibilities of the league and the league’s efforts in high schools.

Zach NBA1 Do AWESOME Stuff

Zach with fellow NBA interns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was on the eve of his next series of bold adventures that Zach and I caught up for a student profile.  In our conversation, I asked Zach to share his reflections on his NIU experiences overall, as well as what he’s learned both in and out of the classroom.

NIU CAUSE students give check to Northern Food Bank after making and selling 41 pizzas in one day in November 2013 Do AWESOME Stuff

NIU CAUSE students donate to the Northern Food Bank after making and selling 41 pizzas in one day in November 2013

“I’ve met so many awesome people,” Fiegel says, holding direct eye contact when he speaks.  His good nature invites dialogue.  His warm tone inspires confidence.   He values individuals and each person’s uniqueness – he states this explicitly and demonstrates it consistently.   “I’ve developed so many great friendships and relationships…had such great times doing important things.  Things I care deeply about and things others care deeply about.”

Zach and CAUSE friends wraps up the first annual Social Impact Summit Do AWESOME Stuff

NIU CAUSE student created Social Impact Summit in its first year, which realized more than 170 attendees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of those things includes a team effort to conceptualize a life-changing for-profit venture, then developing a full business plan around the idea and presenting the concept to angel investors in spring 2013.

To get there, Fiegel collaborated with individuals from across the university (business, engineering, community & civic engagement), each of them students in the social venture class in the Department of Management.  The course explores commerce in a different way and serves more as a business incubator than a traditional class.  Answers aren’t found at the end of the book, for example, and in truth, textbooks aren’t the focus.  Instead, the creative ideas of students are.  Students arrive in the course first by way of an interview process and then by invitation only before they dive into workshops and conversations of discovery with their fellow students, professors, and outside experts.  The context for all of this is to positively impact each component of a more complete business metric known as the triple bottom line or 3Ps:  People, Planet, Profit.

At its essence, the social venture class is about “breakthrough ideation” … a perfect environment for the likes of Fiegel and many other NIU students whose hearts and minds align with doing something meaningful.

“It was an incredible experience and not without challenge,” Fiegel laughs quietly before he continues to explain.  “We worked from a blank slate to come up with a for-profit social enterprise.  We brainstormed so many times… we had a lot of false starts, a lot of ideas we couldn’t fully corral.  The most challenging part was coming up with the ideas at all, then picking them apart, defending them, rethinking them, really holding them up and testing them.  The key metric we used – it may sound corny – but it really was this:  does the idea hold the promise to be life changing.  The idea had to literally change lives or we weren’t interested.  What came out of all that effort was a venture we called ‘Vitalert.’  Vitalert uses the cell phone as an instrument for change by alerting users to nearby danger.  It’s basically an app that combines features along the lines of Twitter and Google Maps.  We thought Nigeria would be the best market for its launch because Nigeria has an extremely high usage of cell phones and is also one of the most violent places in the world.  Nigerians typically learn about violence by turning the corner and walking right into it only because they don’t have timely information about existing danger around them or about bad situations that may be developing around them in that very moment.”

Even 525,600 moments – or a full year – later, Fiegel still speaks passionately about the concept.  He riffs off interesting stats like how more mobile phones exist in the world than bank accounts and emphasizes the group’s “a-ha” moment when they began to view the phone in a completely different way:  from a device for selfies to a life-changing, potentially life-saving instrument.  From his enthusiasm alone, it’s not difficult to imagine how the entire team won the angel investors over.  And in fact, that’s precisely what happened.  Four teams of four students presented their social venture concepts last May, each challenged to explain and defend the soundness of their ideas, business plans, marketing plans, and revenue models as well as the impact on the three pillars of People, Planet, Profits.    And in the end – after all the “really great presentations” and all the “really cool ideas, really cool stuff” – Vitalert landed the first place prize and a check for $10,000 in angel funding at NIU’s second annual Social Venture Competition.

The Vitalert student team wins angel funding to seed their social enterprise concept called Vitalert Do AWESOME Stuff

the Vitalert team and concept winning angel funding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m really competitive … all of us are,” Fiegel says, “but it’s interesting how rapidly every team came to support each other’s ideas.  We all listened to each other’s presentations.  After Vitalert won, our team received tremendous support from the other teams.  Somehow we were all competing but really in the end we were all collaborating.  That seems to be the way it is in the social spaces.  Everyone works really hard on a great idea.  All of us were inspired by the brilliant people involved in the social entrepreneurship sector because their ideas really do reach the breakthrough level.  And yet at the same time everyone is genuinely supportive of each other.”

The Vitalert story would be compelling enough right there, but it’s what his team classmates and Zach decided to do with the $10,000 seed money that draws you in even more.

“After we won the Social Venture Competition, we took a hard look at ourselves.  Two of the members – Mike and Addison – were graduate students with jobs already lined up.  I was still in school.  I had another year to finish and so did Kaitlin.  I just really didn’t know if we could put enough into starting up a venture while completing school.  We all wanted to do justice to the $10,000 seed money.  So we talked about it as a team and voted and decided to invest the $10,000 in a worthy non-profit,” Zach shares.

Imagine it’s the beginning of May.  Classes are finished:  finals taken, grades reported, and barbeques begin to fire up.  But instead of kicking back entirely or travelling to a beach for a couple of weeks, you and your team members decide to develop a Request for Proposals.  Fiegel describes how he, Mike, Addison, and Kaitlin switched perspectives and roles in what seemed like the blink of an eye:  from pitching an idea for angel investor funding to evaluating a multitude of ideas as angel investors themselves.

“We created the RFP after looking at examples online.  None of us knew how to do this.  We listed the criteria we wanted the applicants to document for us.  Things like measures for social impact, sustainability, revenue models.  Then we researched and selected a group of finalists and sent the RFP to them.  So we’re reading through all these proposals – all really good, really excellent – and it made it difficult to identify a short-list of finalists, but eventually we selected 7-8 finalists.  Ultimately, the one that won was the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) in Nigeria.   YTF brings together education and technology to help provide opportunities for young people – basically kids – who find themselves in families at the bottom of the economic pyramid.  YTF appealed to the interests of our team because the venture has a focus in Nigeria, and we couldn’t imagine anything more impactful than helping kids to transform their lives so they can lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.”

Zach pauses briefly as if in thought, then adds, “Plus YTF describes itself as a place of ‘impatient optimists.’  That really resonated.  All my friends and I rally around the idea of being unreasonable enough to move past the status quo.  We feel a kindred spirit with Impatient Optimists.”

Indeed, Zach and his peers describe themselves as Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs who view the world in a vastly new way.  In a different enough way, in fact, that within days they somehow connected with an organization of Impatient Optimists located half-way around the world.  As he describes how this virtual meeting of the minds and hearts came about, Fiegel illustrates perfectly what the connected economy and the connected Millennials know all so well:  how very small, hopeful and very personal a very, very big world has become.

“I learned about YTF because one night I was particularly distracted by my twitter feed and came across a tweet from the various individuals and organizations I follow in the social space.  I clicked on a link in a tweet and read this article about a Microsoft executive who gave up a highly successful position to work with the Youth for Technology Foundation in Nigeria.  I was so fascinated by the article and the foundation that I researched the name of the former executive and sent her an email with our team’s RFP.  We stayed in contact ever since that first email.  Then when YTF’s proposal won, she was ecstatic; really thrilled that YTF had won the $10,000 funding.”

Sounds easy enough, right?  Like so many of his colleagues, Fiegel’s manner remains outwardly relaxed, yet conveys laser focus and a collaborative spirit that’s spiced with a massive dash of “why not?” Embracing transformation is simply who they naturally are even if there’s nothing simple about it.  Still, this young man from Chicago’s northwest suburbs lives, breathes, and walks the talk of “why not?”  He and his friends willingly roll up their sleeves to do the unbelievably challenging work of breaking through the status quo, and they do it for the sole purpose of manifesting something powerfully uplifting and powerfully important.

The first student made CAUSE pizza all possible because of a team effort between a great student idea a great group of students and a great pizza restaurant owner Arty of Pizza Pros Do AWESOME Stuff

CAUSE students making life-changing pizza as part of the group's fundraising efforts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why not? … to be sure.  And equally to be sure, an open and willing heart-mind connection provides a great deal of help, truth be told, is an outright prerequisite for anyone intent upon making a positive impact.

Only don’t ask Fiegel or his friends if this is the case for them.  Zach will tell you they’re all just regular people.  The thing is…Zach really is very down to earth.  His twitter bio includes this intention:  “My goal is to increase genuine smiles globally.”  He’s truly an unassuming guy who also happens to be caring enough, passionate enough, wise enough, and aware enough to know how life speaks to his heart and to be committed enough to blaze that trail in fellowship with friends the world over.  Plus, he and his friends have paid very close attention to those they count as the many trailblazers leading the way.  They range from his immediate family to a wide circle of close friends, professors and those individuals from a variety of countries and cultures who unapologetically and bravely live into their dreams no matter how large or many the obstacles.

In fact, Zach had visited with several of them just weeks ago.

Zach in the NIU sweatshirt with his microfinance friends and class just before the Microfinance site visit in Mexico this past spring break 2014 1024x682 Do AWESOME Stuff

Microfinance class gathers in Barsema Hall en route to Mexico

 

Over spring break, Fiegel – along with his social venture classmates and professor Christine Mooney – travelled to Mexico, where they met several social entrepreneurs located in the more poverty-stricken area of that country.  To paint the picture of the impact this had on him, Zach uses broad brushstrokes.  He describes at length how eye-opening the experience was in terms of really understanding how big and very different the world is from what he originally thought.  When he shares why his perspective so dramatically shifted, you almost sense his memories of the trip revealing themselves right there in living color as if streaming in the air from YouTube.   He speaks about realizing how incomplete it is to think that life moves only in a straight line.  The idea of only two options – straight ahead or falling backward – pales in comparison now for him, now that he has seen a vastly more complex, vastly more dimensional world – almost, as Fiegel muses, “a “Rubik’s-cube” of incredible people of all kinds and incredible life experiences of all varieties.

Microfinance students travel to Mexico spring break 2014 1024x678 Do AWESOME Stuff

Microfinance students with social entrepreneurs in Mexico

“I’ve changed alot and I’m aware of it,” Fiegel admits as the conversation pivots slightly when he answers a question specific to his own personal transformation. “I may not know all of how I’m going to change – that’s what life is about, right?  But, I do know the world’s a big place with a lot of different people and situations, and I do know I don’t know everything and never will.  I’m lucky to also know I’m building from a strong foundation.  My family provided me with a solid base.  My mom and my dad are my heroes.  They were young when I was born, and they sacrificed so much so that I could have opportunities.  Dennis Barsema is a great role model, another amazing person who I aspire to be like and someone who is also very important to me…someone I now also consider to be a great friend.  My high school football coach, my high school basketball coach, my high school English teacher – all so important to me.  Really, there are so very many people I’ve learned from, who took the time and interest in me to help me grow.  The number one thing I take away from all of what they taught me is how important it is to help others.  One of my goals is to be a good role model to my brothers and sister.  My parents did everything they could so I could have more opportunities.  I’m so grateful to them and to everyone.  I think it’s important that I pay that forward to my younger brothers and sister.  That I pay it forward in everything I do.”

As he stands in the Rubik’s cube of life’s pathways and peers into the immediate future, the past, the highs, the lows, and the many unknowns to come,  Zach’s one recommendation – if he had only one to make – to a new student or really to anyone boils down to this:

NIU CAUSE and students take a selfie with NIU President Baker during a break at the 2014 Social Impact Summit Do AWESOME Stuff

NIU CAUSE students in a selfie with NIU President Baker at the 2014 Social Impact Summit, which realized more than 225 attendees

“Here’s what my friends and I always say:  do AWESOME stuff … with capital letters in the word ‘AWESOME.’  Don’t sit around.  Be proactive.  Take that first step.  Explore.  Whatever you put your interest or time into, put your best into it.  Sometimes the hardest thing is showing up.”

Fiegel pauses briefly, then smiles as if in appreciation to a whole lot of people and for a whole lot of experiences; as if with tangible excitement for the positively unreasonably bold things to come. Then, with an energy likened to quiet confidence and with all his friends right there with him in his mind’s eye to speak in one voice, he urges:

“Make yourself show up.”

 

HOW FIEGEL & FRIENDS SHOW UP IN THE WORLD

  • Budding Social Entrepreneurs & Angel Investors who, along with his student teammates, envisioned a for-profit, social venture called Vitalert.  Their business idea took first place in NIU’s 2013 Social Venture Competition along with seeding of $10,000 to bring their idea into reality.  The team then created an RFP, evaluated proposals, and invested the $10,000 in a social venture in Nigeria.
  • Co-founder, President (see next item) and co-member of NIU CAUSE, a university-wide student organization focused in the social entrepreneurship space that grew organically from 7 to 35 members in one year’s time.
  • President of NIU CAUSE for two years and humbly taking on the formal title even though Zach prefers to describe himself as “collaborator and friend.”  Zach explains:  “I worry about titles taking over the culture, spirit, and focus.  I had to be convinced titles were necessary.  Eventually, I came to recognize how they can help with structure.  But I don’t place my focus on them.  Trust, respect, and open-mindedness are what matter to me.”
  • Budding Sales Professionals and Pizza Pros, who brought life to a student idea that a really good pizza can change lives.  After a series of cold calls, the efforts of the CAUSE students resulted in a long-standing relationship with Arty, the owner of Pizza Pros restaurant in DeKalb, who opened early every week so Zach and his CAUSE colleagues could use the facilities to bake 20 homemade pizzas and deliver and sell them to their NIU customer base (selling them completely out each time, in fact).  “Arty has been truly amazing.  We’re so grateful to him for helping what must have looked to him like crazy kids,” Zach shares.
  • Budding Angel Investors who with all his CAUSE colleagues invested CAUSE pizza sale profits in 2013 in a social entrepreneur located in Mexico.  In 2014, they invested additional CAUSE profits in three other NGOs.
  • Budding Named Scholarship Investors who together with the CAUSE gang raised enough funds in 2014 to establish an annual $1,000 CAUSE scholarship for NIU students, thereby bringing to life an idea championed by one of Zach’s fellow CAUSE colleagues.
  • Activists all, these CAUSE friends, sold, baked, and delivered more than 41 pizzas in one day (and in between their classes) during NIU’s food drive and then donated the proceeds to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, raising enough funds to provide more than 3,000 meals to those in need.
  • Visionary CAUSE Tribe that co-founded and co-led from start to finish the university’s first-ever day-long Social Impact Summit (including lining up the keynotes, all nationally regarded in the field of social entrepreneurship, and marketing the event).  More than 170 individuals attended the first Social Impact Summit in 2013, and more than 225 attended the second annual summit in 2014.
  • Highly Engaged Students, Advisory Board members, co-ed Business Fraternity members, Club Sports members, Huskies Superfans…
  • All around regular people…

 

 

 

a world view from Ukraine to NIU

Maksym at the Grand Canyon  1024x575 a world view from Ukraine to NIU

Editor’s Note:  It’s not every day that you find yourself on the other side of the world.  But that’s the reality for Maksym, an NIU accountancy major and native Ukranian (and pictured above, at the Grand Canyon).  Maksym has lived in the US for the past four years.  He’s an “NIU native,” meaning he entered the university his freshman year.  Now a senior and on the brink of graduating in May, Maksym places his focus not only on his future but equally – and more intensely – on the unfolding crisis between Ukraine and Russia.  Technology serves him more as a lifeline than anything, these days.  He uses it at every opportunity to check news reports, emails, and social channels reporting on the situation in Ukraine.  His parents and siblings still reside there, thankfully in the northern area of the country somewhat removed from current tensions.  Nonetheless, Maksym and his family remain acutely aware of the rapidly changing world around them…from both sides of the planet.  I met Maksym through a chance conversation in the hallways of Barsema Hall.  I happened to be carrying a sweater with embroidery that, I would soon learn, resembled the national flowers and colors of Ukraine.  This prompted Maksym to introduce himself to me and from there a conversation developed about his country, the importance of a global outlook, and his experiences at NIU.  Out of respect to Maksym and his family, the following interview shares Maksym’s views primarily about the significance of a global outlook and his experiences at NIU.

 

Maksym’s Long view from the other side of the Pond

Michelle:   Thank you, Maksym, for going out of your way to introduce yourself to me and for agreeing to share some of your story.  To begin, I’m curious to learn how you landed at NIU – all the way from the other side of the world.

Maksym:  In high school in Ukraine, I began looking at universities – just like most high school kids do.  But my situation was a bit different.  The reason is I played tennis professionally when I was in high school.  This gave me access to a powerful resource.  There are companies in Ukraine and in Russia that help find universities for professional athletes who are also students. Their goal is to match the needs and interests of each athlete-student – both in terms of sports and in terms of academics.  This is how I found out about NIU.

Michelle: What was it like to be a professional athlete in high school…that’s such a young age.  Did you travel?

Maksym:  I traveled all the time.  I played professional tennis in Ukraine and in Europe.  Before I came to the US and NIU, I had traveled to about 15-20 countries.  Travelling is something I became accustomed to.  I began playing tennis at 9.  I started the sport more for fun, but then I became very good at it, and later when I played professionally, I traveled a lot not only to compete but also to practice in different cities for a month at a time.  In Ukraine where I am from there aren’t many places that support professional tennis players – that’s why I spent so much time travelling when I was growing up and also studying at the same time.  Different cities provided practice facilities for tennis, so I had to travel there to practice.  And then I also had to travel to compete.

Michelle: Sounds like a world view comes naturally to you.  Did you find it difficult to fit in at any of these places?  Even at NIU…was it easy or challenging or somewhere in between to fit in here? 

Maksym:  I am very used to being immersed in different cultures, different places, with people from all types of backgrounds.  So, no, it wasn’t hard at all for me to be comfortable in those different cities when I was young and practiced tennis there, or even when I competed in different countries.  The hardest part was missing my family.  My family stayed in Ukraine.  I traveled with the professional tennis team.  Those trips were very focused.  I suppose I grew up fast that way in terms of, you know, having an open perspective about different places and cultures, different people.  With that experience, no, it wasn’t hard at all for me to fit in at NIU.  Plus, I came here knowing what I was doing, what my focus was.  I came here to study accountancy and I came here to play tennis.  I lived in the dorms my first year here.  I had a really good roommate who was also an athlete.  He is majoring in law.  He is from the US but he is very open-minded about different countries and different backgrounds.  He became a good friend who made it easy to fit in because he wasn’t at all judgmental about someone from a different country.

Michelle:  If you had only one recommendation to make – to a new student or anyone, really – about travelling abroad, what would it be?

Maksym:  It’s really beneficial to have the proper mindset.  Being open-minded to other places, other people, other experiences.  It’s so important to realize that there are other ways to do things, to acknowledge that people even think differently and that that’s not always a bad thing.  When you travel abroad, really experience the culture, even the food.  For example, don’t look for a McDonald’s or something that you already know.  Try something new. 

Michelle:You’re about to graduate in May?  Have you been on the NIU tennis team all four years of your time here?

Maksym:  I was on the NIU tennis team for three years and really enjoyed it, but I had an injury and so now I am the manager of the NIU women’s team.  I also want to help the university’s Tennis Club.

Michelle:  I’m sorry to hear about the sports injury, but I’m glad you found a way to stay involved with the sport. So you’ve been on a team and you’re leading a team.  How would you describe good leadership and a good team?

Maksym:  Leaders have to be responsible.  A dictator isn’t a leader…they think they are but they aren’t.  That type of leadership style takes away from others and avoids responsibility.  A good leader is responsible and helps others succeed.  A good leader also stands by their word.   I can tell a strong team by how good the relationships are between the people on the team.  They don’t necessarily have to be friends at all.  But they have to trust each other.  They are honest and respectful with what they say and they back up what they say.  Good team members admit when they can’t do something and they find help.  There is a saying in my country that translates into “You live age and you learn age.”  It basically means you live through a period of time and while you go through life, you are always learning.

Michelle: What’s been your most meaningful experience here at NIU and just in general?

Maksym:  My most memorable experience at NIU is sports-related.  It would definitely be winning the 2012 MAC championship for tennis.  That was so awesome.  (Edtior’s note to readers:  If you’re like me and had no idea NIU got the MAC championship in tennis in 2012, check out the hyperlink to an NIU Today story on it!)

Outside of NIU, it may sound odd, I don’t know, but in January of this year I traveled to Arizona. 

Maksym at the Grand Canyon2 576x1024 a world view from Ukraine to NIUI saw the Grand Canyon and actually stayed at the Grand Canyon overnight.  It was an incredible experience seeing it.  I don’t know if I can put it into words.  But seeing that place changed the way I see the world – in terms of what people value.  I was so engrossed in the moment.  I stared at a clear sunset.  It was perfectly clear.  It all looked so unreal.  I was so engrossed I watched the light changing and the way it reflected in the canyon changing until it was completely dark and it was morning.  The sunset is really almost impossible. 

Maksym visits the Grand Can 1024x768 a world view from Ukraine to NIU

I’ve never seen that image like what I saw at the Grand Canyon anywhere.  It was so quiet, so awe-inspiring that you can’t help but feel yourself removed from the routine of life. 

I know that experience changed me – it’s difficult to phrase clearly how.  How much the impact will be, I don’t know yet.  But I know it will be.  Right now, even though I’m looking for work and hope to pursue a master of accounting science if I get a tennis scholarship or graduate assistant position, I can say the experience changed my perspective.  I see the world differently now.  It really made me realize how incredible things can be and how important it is to pay attention in the moment, no matter where you are.