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. 

 

 

4 Ways to Study Smarter

Editor’s Note:  We recently asked students on our Facebook wall for their suggestions on how to have a successful semester.  Here are some responses, all of them great ideas in easily digestible pieces that range from using an app to the extremes of going off the grid entirely. Check these suggestions out and see if any of them work for you.

 

  • Make a to do list of smaller, specific tasks so even if things like traffic (or Netflix) prevent you from getting the whole list done, you can still feel accomplished about all the tasks you were able to check off.  ~ Chloe Pooler, NIU Business student
  • I use the SelfControll app for my computer. I block websites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Buzzfeed, PGA, and other sites that distract me from studying. I usually set it for 5 hours so I can be as productive as I can without distracting myself.  ~ Liv Stanger, NIU Business student
  • When I’m studying for an exam, I disconnect the internet so I’m not distracted. ~ Dave Guilford, NIU Business student
  • I try to look ahead at future projects and then I plan accordingly. I normally make sure that I have things completed by Friday night in order for the weekend to be a breeze. If I put it off it just bugs me the entire weekend.  ~ Clayton Dean, NIU Business student

Ladies who lunch: NIU alumnus-CEO sits down with NIU students

Crystal 235x300 Ladies who lunch: NIU alumnus CEO sits down with NIU students

Editor’s Note:  NIU Business freshman Crystal Higgins (pictured left) provides this next guest post. Crystal shares her experience meeting and talking with NIU alumnus and CEO Janet Pucino, who spoke about the glass ceiling in the corporate world.  …an incredibly timely topic given GM’s appointment of its first woman CEO.  

At the end of her post, Crystal also shares a bit about herself, along with her contact information.  

 

 

Bias Against Women in Corporate- A Book Discussion with NIU alum Janet Pucino by Crystal D. Higgins

I had the privilege of meeting Janet Pucino over a luncheon and book discussion, through my organization Women in Business Professions, back in October. This NIU alum has been the COO, CIO CTO and VP of some very high profiled companies, and is currently the CEO and founder of her own company Deep Canyon Media.

Pucino Ladies who lunch: NIU alumnus CEO sits down with NIU studentsJanet Pucino has worked in many different areas of corporate but has found one common thread in the climb to the executive board. Pucino has written Not in The Club: An Executive Woman’s Journey Through the Business World and mentioned that the common thread in the executive level had this sort of “boys club,” which is very exclusive especially with its practice of excluding women. Now I know this may sound like a clique or some high school cliché, but it is the unfortunate reality of corporate. The men in this exclusive club help one another succeed, and continue to stay at the top. For example, Pucino mentions in her book, that there are zero women on Apple Inc.’s, senior executive team, and only one woman is on their board. This is truly disheartening to know that even today, women are still not equal. Pucino was not only informative but enlightening into the unknown underbelly of the corporate executive world. She mentioned the difficulty that women have climbing up the corporate ladder, and wrote about the reality of a woman’s battle through corporate. Pucino’s novel didn’t male bash, but simply gave facts and helpful advice and tips on how to deal with the bias within a company or an organization.

During the book discussion I wrote down some of the many tips and advice that she had for currently employed women and for women that will be employed in the near future. So to my fellow women who are out there working hard, here are ten helpful tips to help you out in your career.

  1. Women have to be more qualified than their male counterparts if they’re competing for the same job; plain and simple that is the world we live in.
  2. When it comes to your career, keep your options open and keep your ideas about your career path open as well.
  3. “What gets measured, gets done.” That is one of Pucino’s utmost important factors, when it comes to showing how successful a person is or can be.
  4. In order to stay current in your field, subscribe and read the best articles and websites that are relevant to you.
  5. Involve yourself in the company you work for, but be picky about what organizations you join, and really invest your time.
  6. Do your best every day, regardless of the setbacks or circumstances.
  7. Don’t take a position in a company just because of the company itself. Make sure it’s what you want to do or it’s where you’d like to go.
  8. A lot of people that hire are looking for people who strive to progress, so try to update and improve your knowledge on the subject in which you’re working on or involved in. Also, stay up to date on what the company is doing too, by reading their newsletter.
  9. When things get aggressive or uncomfortable in a meeting between you and a male peer, leave the situation. Suggest to pick the topic back up at another time, and calmly remove yourself from the area.
  10. Many women are afraid to mention their desire to be promoted. They aren’t sure how to go about it, or when they should let their boss know. The best time to do so is during your performance review with your boss. Let him or her know that within a certain amount of time, you’d like to be in a management position.

These ten tips were just a taste of what is inside of Janet Pucino’s book. I encourage both women and men, to read it, so that you can be more informed about the nature of the executive world. Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t easy, but Not in The Club: A Woman’s Journey Through the Biased World of Business, gives much needed insight into the corporate atmosphere. Janet Pucino’s book is a must read. I can guarantee that you’ll learn something to help further your success in the future.

About Crystal D. Higgins:

Currently a freshman at NIU, Crystal is involved in various activities on campus. She is on the Passport Advisory Board for NIU’s College of Business, the secretary of Women in Business Professions, and a member of CAB (Campus Activities Board). Originally a business management major, Crystal is considering a marketing major instead, and would like to study abroad in the UK in the near future. She would love to have a career in the media/entertainment field and wants to move to NY, LA, Atlanta, Houston, or downtown Chicago in pursuit of her career. For fun, Crystal likes to travel, watch movies, learn about other cultures and traditions, and spend time with family and friends. She also avidly listens to music, and thinks it would be a really cool experience to learn how to DJ! Although she has only just begun her college career, she is optimistic for what the future entails.

Crystal can be contacted at higginsdcrystal@gmail.com

 

“Living the Dream”

                As I enter the midway point of my first semester as a junior, thought I would take a look back at what has gotten me to this point. A simple phrase (as mentioned above) “Living the Dream” has been something I have said over this past year. What exactly is living the dream you make ask? Well in short terms for a while I wasn’t as willing to experience things in the sense of doing different things. I would find something that would interest me and only participate in that said thing. Without giving the idea of branching out to meet new people any thought.  For some odd reason during my sophomore year here at Northern Illinois, it all was about to change. Sitting in my EPFE 201 class with Dr. Cisneros I met two people who started the change for me at Northern Illinois University: Ben Clark and Jake Ferguson.

As we venture back into the days of NIU Cause (a social entrepreneurship student organization) days, I saw myself take on leadership positions and more opportunities with-in CAUSE such as social media, fundraising, and even physically making the pizzas every Thursday.  My next opportunity that was presented to me was club tennis. Now as you may already know from my first post here at Student Voices, I played tennis for four years in high school. Tennis has been an adventure for the last year as it has taught me many things in terms of recruitment, membership, finances and even community service over the course of a school year. One of my better friends at NIU became my vice-president of club tennis. It was a great opportunity for us to tour the Midwest with the rest of our club. We played in nine tournaments across four states and made lasting friendships with many club tennis teams. Now if that wasn’t enough it was time to get involved in the business world. The next few things on my plate were to attend guest speaker events such as Ralph de la Vega the CEO of AT&T or Elly Rohrer of Investours Mexico. The knowledge one can obtain from these guest speakers is priceless and is absolutely rewarding when it comes to real world experience.  The differences between each speaker make them unique in their own ways.  Rohrer is 25 years old but has seen so much of the world whether it be Colombia, Mexico and Latin America. She has experienced some of the most drastic changes in developed, developing or under-developing countries.

To sum up my experience here at Northern Illinois University it’s been everything I thought it would be and a lot more surprisingly. When I stepped into the College of Business four years ago for an open house I told myself that I was going to do an ELC project. The idea of gaining real world experience with top companies and professors is one of the best opportunities NIU offers.  When there is a multitude of student organizations that encompass all six majors here at the College of Business there is no excuse for not getting involved. It’s the best four years of your life and you’ll learn the most about yourself as you plan to make your way into the real world. I’m still not exactly sure what “Living the Dream” entails but I’m excited for what the future holds and grateful of all the memories I have had so far.

Failures

Last week I began a short two-part series about contributing factors to my success as well as my failures.  This is part two of that series and below I will highlight practices that have resulted in personal failure from my perspective.  I hope you can learn something from my mistakes and maybe take some time to self reflect as well.  Cheers!

Always present yourself in a manner suitable to meet someone new.  I dress slovenly on Mondays because I sit in an office and work on a computer.  However, what happens if a representative of a company I’d like to work for comes in to visit the dean in the office I work at?  It’s happened more than once and I continue to fall back on bad habits.  If only I would’ve taken the extra half hour to clean up before leaving my apartment, who knows how many more connections and opportunities I could have had in my academic career?

Forgetting to leave time for myself.  I used to have hobbies that included running, lifting weights, biking, and swimming. I took on so much in school that I left no time to pursue these activities.  Needless to say, I “let myself go” and caution others to leave time to take care of themselves before caring for the masses.  “When asked “What thing about humanity surprises you the most?”, the Dalai Lama answered:

“Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Falling into a routine.

Spending time on the wrong things.  I spent a lot of my time early on at NIU trying to make other people happy.  I took myself out of my way to offer an extra hand, brain, and set of eyes to people and more often than not, I was left with minimal if any reciprocation.  You have to understand that like in the stock market, there are certain investments you don’t make because there is little to no ROI.  Although you’re not losing your life savings in the stock exchange of life, you’re investing your time in these people and projects.  Time, as I understand it, is the most important thing you can give; unlike money, you can’t get it back.  Make sure you’re spending your time on the right people and projects otherwise you’ll find that frustration, stress, and confusion may find its way into your heart…and believe me, no one needs that.

Being busy.  There’s a friend of mine at the college of business who never refrained from challenging me to be better.  Regardless of the conversation, this individual always made me feel like what I was doing wasn’t good enough and although this sounds depressing, I welcomed the motivation.  If I had a surplus of free time, he’d ask why I wasn’t busy.  If I was busy, he’d tell me that there was a difference between being busy and being productive.  Really think about that for a second……go ahead, take your time.

Being busy vs. Being productive.  How profound and self explanatory.  I’ll leave it at that and let you make of it what you will.

Again, these are just a few points that I can recall from my experience at NIU.  Now we’ll ask you…what has contributed to you failing and what could you do better?  Leave your input in the comments below! 2.0out

 

Success

Over the past two years I’ve had my share of experiences.  I’ve had some success and a fair amount of failure as well.  With graduation quickly approaching I wanted to take some time to reflect on what contributed most to not only my successes but my failures as well.  This has been a great form of meditation and I encourage anyone reading this to do it as well!  I’ve learned a little bit more about myself in the process and want to share my thoughts with you in a short series of posts that will highlight my contributing factors to success, which you’ll read below, and my failures will follow in time.  Disclaimer: by no means am I saying that I always do these items below…but when I have, I’ve felt that I’ve achieved success in doing them.  Hope you enjoy!

When something hits your desk it doesn’t matter what level of importance it is.  What matters most is to recognize that if it affects somebody else, do it immediately.  You can wait till the last minute on a 10 page paper if you are solely affected by the grade on the assignment.  However, if somebody needs an email forwarded, help on a team assignment or a favor, do it.  You will be held in high regard if you can exhibit this behavior.  An old saying rings true “You can have everything you want, if you will just help everyone get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar

Keep in contact with people.  Send little texts, stay in touch through social media, or send a card once in a while.  Do this whenever you see something that reminds you of them.  Or if that’s too much out of your day just be personable and say hi to people you know (or don’t know) in your daily lives.  Nurture your friendships and keep your network open, one day these people you kept in contact with could hold the keys to open doors that you don’t even know exist yet.

Opportunities present themselves often at NIU, take advantage of them.  You get in-class presentations on the Experiential Learning Center, study abroad programs, student organizations, etc., but many people simply forget what they’ve been exposed to only minutes after it’s shown.  Write those opportunities down and research them further when you have a minute to yourself.  Pursue challenges and you’ll be amazed at how far you’ll go, not only at NIU, but in life itself.

Keep moving.  I learned this on distance bike rides and a backpacking adventure in the Smokey Mountains.  Even trying to ride my bike from my hometown to Wisconsin, every pedal I took, no matter how small, brought me closer to finishing my goal.  When backpacking we spent a few days going uphill for stints of 12 miles or more.  With each step in that cold and wet weather, we were that much closer to reaching camp. For those of you who want to give up and are overwhelmed by work that is seemingly insurmountable, take a second and remember how to eat an elephant…do it one bite at a time.

I encourage you to add your own keys to success in the comments below.  As I said, keep an eye out to read a little bit more about my failures and how can you avoid making the same mistakes I’ve made in my university career. 2.0out

Making Waves with CAUSE

With all the news lately about NIU CAUSE  and their upcoming Social Impact Summit, we took some time to interview Sophomore Rob Willer to figure out what all the fuss is about. 

What is CAUSE?

CAUSE stands for the Collegiate Association of Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs.  The organization is a bit complex and for the sake of brevity I’ll provide this link to their about page rather than reciting all their motives, goals, and projects ( http://niucause.com/about-niu-cause).

How did you get involved?

Well there’s a few reasons.  My old CA (Zach Fiegel)  is the current president of Cause.  He had talked to me about the organization a few times before but one day in class I was talking to a few students who were in the honors program.  They mentioned the Cause meeting that night and they invited me to come.  I wanted to get involved in the actual business program and I thought this was my chance.  Zach pointed to me in a meeting and asked if I had any thoughts on a certain topic and I thought that was really cool.  Since then  I took over the role of Social Media, then treasurer and now I help wherever I can.

So what exactly is your title/duty in the organization?

Treasurer, pizza maker, pizza seller, promoter, social media…you name it.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the upcoming Social Impact Summit.  What’s that all about?

A lot of organizations have been putting on these conferences lately and they involve schools and businesses around their area. We thought, all of these other schools and groups are doing it, why can’t we?  We really want this to be an opportunity to students and businesses to network as well as promote awareness of a socially responsible mindset.

The website states that there are three goals in mind.  To Educate students and social practitioners about the applications of social entrepreneurship, to Inspire students and social practitioners to find ways to enlarge their societal and environmental impacts or just plain get started in the social space, and to facilitate Networking among students and social practitioners who are passionate about making a difference and changing the world.

Who is coming out?

We have two keynote speakers, Chuck Templeton and Megan Kashner along with numerous other companies and social incubators.  Over 130 students are coming out as well and you can still register at NIUCause.com and click Register Today!

1st annual implies that it will be a recurring event….any details on next year’s summit?

One step at a time…we’re putting the final touches on this year’s event but we hope that in this next month once we’re done reflecting and taking a breath, then maybe next year we can hope to get some new businesses/speakers and reach our goal of 250 participants.

Was orchestrating this event more work than you thought?

Definitely, but it’s been very rewarding!  It’s been nice to interact with a bunch of these companies online as social media guy for NIU Cause and get them all together in the same place.  I see lots of the companies that are participating tweeting about how excited they are.  It really feels great that there are  people out there that are as excited as we are.

What skills did you develop from this?  What lessons did you learn?

Teamwork: at first there was just four of us going out to find sponsors for the event.  Then we started dividing the responsibilities out to more members to get more people involved.  You get a little overwhelmed at the beginning because you see all these people so involved but it’s actually pretty easy to find a place, just ask questions during meetings and jump in where you can!

How can students get involved?

Come out to one of our weekly meetings on Tuesdays from  5-6 pm in BH 227.  There’s no application… just show up.  Students can also follow us on twitter @NIUCAUSE  or on facebook for more updates!  http://www.facebook.com/NIUCAUSE

Rob also writes for CLNS radio and the Northern Star.  Keep an eye out for his articles online and in print as the baseball season gets underway!

Experiential Learning Center

When I was a prospective student I went from website to website and toured many colleges.  When I took my tour of the NIU College of Business I saw the campus, I saw Barsema Hall, and I spoke with faculty but the thing that stood out most to me was undoubtedly the Experiential Learning Center.  As defined by the college, the Experiential Learning Center connects teams of NIU students with organizations to tackle real-world business issues. From software evaluation to emerging market analysis projects, students serve as consultants addressing non-mission critical, cross functional business issues.  The program is also competitive entry, which was highly attractive to me as well.  When they say they only take the best of the best students from the undergraduate and graduate level, that is a program that I definitely want to involved with.

Each project lasts 16 weeks and spans across an entire semester.  Students are given the chance to apply for projects of their choice and they may apply for as many projects as they are interested in, there is no limit!  Once they’ve submitted their applications, the faculty coaches will select who they want to interview for their respective projects.  If all goes well and the student is a fit for the project, they will be invited to join an Experiential Learning Center Team.

I applied for every single project in the fall of 2011.  I was so anxious and wanted nothing more than the opportunity to get involved.  I interviewed with 5 of the 8 project leaders and thankfully, after a few days of nail biting, I was selected to join a project for spring 2012.

I got so much out of my experience.  Over the 16 week period I earned real world experience.  I felt as though I was an employee of my client company and I communicated on almost a daily basis with executives at said company which was the 15th largest private U.S. company at the time.  Every week I would manage conference calls with my client by making agendas, working through action items and project planning schedules.  I created a professional survey from scratch with the assistance of faculty advisors and marketed the survey to earn intelligible data for our final recommendations.  I learned how to be a leader since we were asked to lead student meetings in a rotation.  With over 15 hours of work going into the project each week, I was forced to manage my time and learn how to delegate and prioritize to meet deadlines.  At the close of our project, we compiled a final report which led to the eventual acceptance and implementation of our 7 step recommendation.  I learned how to control and leverage time in a meeting, and I learned more about business communications than I did in some classes!  I honed my presentation skills and built confidence after presenting to countless VP’s, Presidents, and other C-level executives at our final client meeting.

Nick LoVetere, our previous student blogger wrote the following in one of his final posts from the spring 2012 semester.

“If I had even just one more year in college there are some things I would do that I wasn’t able. I was recruited to be part of the Experiential Learning Center but due to scheduling and the academic path I chose, far too many people said it was too much work to handle (and I’m the kind of person who takes on everything, so it says a lot when you’re told more than once not to do it). One more year, and I would be the first to apply and tell every faculty coach why I should be on their consulting project.”

Don’t miss this opportunity!  The deadline to apply is only days away!  You may browse projects at http://www.cob.niu.edu/elc/projects.asp and once you’re ready to dive in and take the plunge visit https://applyelc.niu.edu/login/?next=/menu/ to apply.

Keys to Success: Defined by Students

A few weeks ago I got to thinking about what makes someone successful at the NIU College of Business.  I wanted to seek out someone to ask how they achieved their success.  Then it dawned on me…no one person alone can answer this question because there are so many unique experiences that can be had here at the college of business.  Instead of asking one person, I decided to take my question to the streets of Facebook.  I asked fans of the NIU College of Business for their input and requested that they complete the following sentence: I’ve achieved success by_______.

I want to thank students who shared their input.  You may view their responses by following this link http://on.fb.me/ZKSyXO.  Take a moment to reflect on the meaning of their answers, although they are brief there really is a lot of insight when you look a little deeper!

Suiting up

Getting “suited-up” has numbered benefits.  For one, it clearly and immediately communicates to an audience the goals, mindset, and personality of the the person that’s dressed to impress.  Annika Shelly, writer, stylist, and lecturer at the Wall Street Journal adds, “It’s about trust and credibility. The reptilian part of our brain tells us to trust what we see more than any other sense. And trust what the person is wearing.”  It also proves a personal level of respect for the occasion.  Taking extra steps to dress up for your date or cleaning up nice before going to work will show others that you’re taking your role seriously.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/85broads/2011/04/13/dressing-the-part-job-personal-branding/

Indeed, dressing the part can absolutely make you not only look more professional but it can boost your confidence as well.  Heavy influencers in the corporate world agree.  Take Neil Patel for example.  By the age of 21 he was named one of the top influencers on the web according to the Wall Street Journal.  In a reflective blog post he states, “A friend of mine kindly suggested that I spend a bit more money on my wardrobe, pay more than 10 bucks for a haircut, and get a decent pair of shoes…With my new clothes, a somewhat decent haircut, and nice pair of black shoes I made a break through. At first I noticed that people were more willing to talk to me when I went to conferences. I also noticed that during my business meetings people took me more serious.

http://www.quicksprout.com/2011/09/12/why-you-should-dress-to-impress-%E2%80%93-the-roi-of-fashion/

Not missing a single day of class

It may seem silly to remind you to go to class. But it won’t be quite so obvious as you settle into college life.  Although it may seem difficult at times to forego your beauty sleep for academic discussion, you must realize that you have access to some of the most accomplished experts in their field, and moreover, you are paying a large amount of money to have their attention and support. Don’t waste it.

By not taking shortcuts

Put in the hours, it will pay dividends down the road.  Actually learn your material.  Realize that you need to invest yourself fully in your education.  One respondent to our poll even said that they studied on Friday nights!  Now that’s dedication!

By getting involved in organizations

Becoming a part of the community is of the utmost importance.  It is important not only to your mental and social health, but it also helps you achieve academic and career related success. Your relationships add value to you and can help you get your homework done, they can help you in developing team skills.  You could even step up to lead a group project, and activities in organizations give you something to focus on even if other academic stresses get you discouraged.  Best of all, joining organizations can help you earn valuable skills that you’ll need in your future career.

By asking the right questions

Heck, they don’t even have to be the right ones.  Each question that is asked is relative to the person asking the question so how can you identify which question is “right” and which one is “wrong” anyway?  For example, if you are a marketing major like I am, you may have a question if a problem involving physics is given.  Others with that background may find the questions I ask to be silly or unnecessary but because I have yet to earn that knowledge, the question I asked was justified.  So going along with what this student mentioned, simply reach out to someone for help and advice, especially as a student.  Professors, professionals and others are often times more than willing to lend you a hand or offer wisdom from their own experiences and knowledge banks.

Networking

College is probably one of the most diverse populations of people that you will live and work with during your entire life.  There are countless majors, backgrounds, and creeds that attend our beautiful college and to not make connections with them and keep in touch would simply be foolish.  Not only do you have access to a vast number of students but we are also granted access to numerous professionals through networking events, class visits, and recruiting fairs.  Actively seek out people to build your network.  Whether it be fellow students, or professionals, the people you know should be treated as valuable assets in the professional world.