University of Tennessee

Venture Living Learning Community Impacts First-Year Students with Alumni Mentoring Program

May 14, 2014

Venture Living Learning Community Impacts First-Year Students with Alumni Mentoring Program

This spring, first-year business students participating in the Venture Living Learning Community took part in a new mentoring program in which they were paired with  alumni from the UT College of Business Administration. The program was designed to engage students with professionals from different business disciplines to help them explore their major interests and to learn about industry as they begin their pursuit of a business education and career. Throughout the term, the Venture students had three points of contact with their alum: February—meet-and-greet; March—informational interview; and April—site visit. Fourteen college alumni took part in this program to mentor the 63 students participating in Venture this year.

Two first-hand perspectives on the mentoring program are below.

My Experience in Venture: Alumni Mentoring Program

Hannah Dunbar

Johnson City, TN

Major interest: Management

As I made my final decision to attend the University of Tennessee, my parents were emphatic that I would declare a major if I attended a large university. Once I realized that I would major in business, I did some research and discovered the Venture Living Learning Community.  Joining this business community has greatly impacted my college experience, and I would be lost within the university without it. The connections I have made in Venture have helped me gain admittance into the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi as well as the Greg and Lisa Smith Global Leadership Scholars honors program.

I would advise every freshman majoring in business to join Venture upon arrival to the university. Not only does Venture help students personally connect with advisors, offer study groups for advanced classes, and have guest speakers from organizations such as Dixon-Hughes Goodman, but Venture has an Alumni Mentoring Program that teaches freshmen how to interact with business professionals in the local area.

During spring semester of their freshmen year, Venture students are matched with alums in their major and, through the course of the semester, interact with the alum about his/her company, conduct an interview, and participate in a site visit of the alum’s company. Networking is a necessity in the business world, and this program boosts students’ business connections.

My alum, Jonathan Emkes (’11) from DeRoyal Industries, was very helpful throughout the semester and offered guidance in a variety of areas. DeRoyal, located in Powell, Tennessee, is a global manufacturing company for healthcare products and plastics and has factories in Europe and Central America.  Mr. Emkes was a Greg and Lisa Smith Global Leadership Scholar and majored in management at UT. By being matched up with a management major, I learned what the major entails and what to focus on in my upcoming years.

The business world has become more competitive in the last few years, so knowing how to differentiate myself from others is crucial. The best advice Mr. Emkes gave me was to travel abroad, learn a new language, and develop a new skill that would set me apart from a pool of applicants. The Alumni Mentoring Program also taught me how to interview and how to prepare thoughtful questions ahead of time.

During our interview, Mr. Emkes talked about his workday at DeRoyal and mentioned how the private company is small enough so that you can have a relationship with the chief executive officer, yet large enough so that you can advance if you work hard. By learning about the differences between public and private industries as a freshman, I am better able to explore the different sectors of the business world and help determine what I want to do in the upcoming years.

The DeRoyal site visit, meanwhile, brought the classroom to life. I am in my second semester of college and have barely taken any core business classes, yet I have seen the supply chain, production facilities, and accounting department at an international company and have met with its human resource manager. During the site visit, I saw business in action and the mechanics behind what makes this company so successful. DeRoyal strongly emphasizes the wellbeing of its employees, and it was intriguing to see employees excited to work and how they gave back to their community. I will be sure to keep in touch with Mr. Emkes as I continue with my college career, and I am very appreciative of him showing me his business.

The Alumni Mentoring Program is one of the many privileges of the Venture Living Learning Community. The help I have received from my advisors has made this experience worthwhile and has given me an advantage over other students. By being a part of Venture, I have developed professional communication skills and confidence that I do not believe I would have acquired elsewhere. Learning how to conduct oneself appropriately in a professional setting can be very intimidating for freshmen, yet Venture’s guest speakers along with the business plan project have helped me elevate my level of professionalism.

Because of the Alumni Mentoring Program, I have matured and accomplished so much during my first year of college. I am forever grateful for this experience in the Venture Living Learning Community.

My Experience with the Venture Alumni Mentoring Program

Rebeka Carson

City: Knoxville, TN

Major: Business Exploratory

 Growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a part of a business. Every aspect of business, such as creating products, designing packaging, developing advertisements, and analyzing profits had always intrigued me. In high school, I became especially interested in the psychology of business: understanding why consumers purchased certain products and utilizing that information to sell more of those products. However, on the first day of orientation at UT, I began to question if I even belonged in the College of Business Administration.

            In one day, everything that had been clear to me became uncertain as I started questioning future careers. No longer could I see myself working a 9-to-5 office job at a mediocre company. I didn’t understand how someone could work in one profession for 40 years and then retire feeling satisfied. I began to panic as I didn’t have an answer to the recurring question attached to meeting every new person: “What is your major?” Respectable, safe careers—such as nursing, engineering, or finance—were completely uninteresting to me. After 19 years, I should have had the slightest idea of how I wanted to spend my adult life. Unfortunately, I only knew what I didn’t want to pursue. Parents and mentors would reassure me with the blanket statement, “You have plenty of time to figure it out,” but I felt incredibly discouraged with my lack of excitement and clarity regarding the next four years.

            Evaluating my options and trying to decide if it was best to stay in the Venture Living Learning Community—I had registered in the early summer when I was still blindly certain I would be the next best business woman—I spoke to an academic advisor. He recommended I stay committed to Venture for the fall semester, as business was something I had been interested in for the majority of my high school career. I conceded, as I hoped staying in Venture would make me fall back in love with business.

            Ultimately, Venture offered me a multitude of great opportunities. From attending corporate business presentations to meeting the dean of the College of Business Administration, the Venture program has opened up a lot of doors for me that would otherwise have probably stayed closed.

            One aspect of Venture for which I am particularly grateful, though, is the experience I had with the Alumni Mentoring Program. Dadrien Barnes (’12), an accountant at Y-12 who graduated from the UT College of Business Administration, was one of fourteen young alumni who volunteered to work with Venture. Serving as mentors and invaluable sources of information, these young alumni allowed us to pepper them with questions regarding their careers and college experiences, while offering us great advice. I chose to partner with Dadrien, as I was currently enrolled in Accounting 200 and found it surprisingly appealing.

            Meeting Dadrien at a Venture-sponsored dinner, I immediately was able to relate to him. He, too, was not sure what he wanted to study in college until he took Mrs. Anderson’s accounting class. He elaborated on his current job, future goals, and offered advice about studying and test-taking. One month later, we met to further discuss the UT accounting program, the benefits of graduating with a degree in accounting, the different types of accounting careers, and tips on networking.  I was reinvigorated, and his passion reminded me of the way I used to feel about business.

            Due to security reasons, our group was not able to make a site visit to see what Dadrien does on a day-to-day basis.  Luckily, my group was paired with another alumnus and we were able to live like accountants for an hour. We learned about tax season and the services accountants perform for their clientele. Although our alum’s office was a traditional office setting, I enjoyed the office’s professional atmosphere.

            Working with alumni through Venture was a great opportunity for me to see what graduates do on a daily basis in our fields of interest. I’m grateful for making a connection with a few of the alumni and am thankful for the opportunity to meet these young professionals. It’s my sincerest hope that Venture continues to work with these alumni as Dadrien helped me discover an unexpected interest in accounting. With him as a reliable and relatable contact, I see a viable path into the UT Master of Accountancy program, and I’m once again eager to learn more about business.

 A special thanks to the following alumni participants:

  •  Dadrien Barnes, B&W Y-12
  • Jay Cobble, Providence Commercial Real Estate Group
  • Luke Chill, Commercial Bank
  • Jonathan Emkes, DeRoyal
  • Megan Fielden, ORNL
  • Josh Huffaker, South College
  • Drew Johnson, Axle Logistics
  • Megan Johnson, ORNL
  • Carter Meissner, PerfectServe
  • Stuart Oakes, TIS Construction Division
  • Barrett Simonis, Pugh CPAs
  • Whitney Simpson, Pilot Flying J
  • Jay Sitgreaves, AvuTox
  •  Kelsey Wilson, Jewelry TV