Helping Freshmen Take Flight
The Haslam College of Business, home to more first-generation college students than most business schools, works to support this unique population with what they require to succeed. Introduced in 2017, the TakeOff program gives first-gen students targeted guidance as they transition to the university and the business school in particular.
“The main goal is simply to help first-generation freshmen take off in business and in life,” says Russell Crook, First Horizon Foundation Professor and Cheryl Massingale Faculty Fellow at Haslam. “In the process, we hope to gain more prepared and satisfied students and contribute to the university’s 90 percent retention goal.”
Led by director Pamela Sanchez (HCB ’16), TakeOff provides students with a smaller cohort, built-in peer mentors, and financial incentives for completing the program. Students also participate in professional development workshops, seminars, and onsite visits to local companies.
Every TakeOff student joins a customized version of BUAD 100, the freshman business course, that’s significantly smaller than regular sections. These cohorts of 20 students or less result in deeper interactions and more dynamic classroom conversations, and provide a chance for students to start connecting with each other and the Haslam faculty.
Freshman Braxton Anderson, who plans to major in marketing with a collateral in international business, says guest speakers from large companies have provided the group with connections and job opportunities he didn’t expect to make as a freshmen. “For me, getting more connected with people and networking have been the best aspects of this program,” he says. As a part of BUAD 100, Anderson’s cohort took a field trip to Bush Brothers & Company. “We got to see how the majors offered at Haslam work in a real business situation,” says Anderson. “That really made an impact on me.”
Throughout their time in the program, TakeOff students also benefit from opportunities to spend time with Haslam faculty and graduate students and get to know the college—an empowering combination of connections that sets them up for success.
TakeOff includes an emphasis on basic professional abilities, from business soft skills to résumé design. Students develop an elevator pitch, participate in self-assessments to identify their top skills, and engage in a four-course dinner to learn rules of etiquette.
“In many ways, the program helped me feel more prepared than my peers because of the things we did,” says Lailah Blackwell, a junior in finance with a supply chain collateral. “We participated in a lot of scenarios and role playing, and got an early introduction to business ethics.” Blackwell also took the opportunity to connect with a mentor, whom she still meets with today. “TakeOff was a really cool experience for me, and I hope to volunteer as a peer mentor for next year’s freshman class.”
Crook believes the TakeOff program is making a tangible, lasting difference in students’ lives. “The retention numbers provide evidence of that,” he says. “Over the past few years, I’ve been very fortunate to meet these young men and women and, I hope, make the university feel just a little bit smaller.”