Kevin Si hadn’t even left the interview room in October 2014 when he was offered the internship he coveted at computer software company SAP. And the Fox School of Business student has a pretty good idea why the decision was made so quickly.
“For most of the interview, we weren’t talking about my previous internship experience,” said Si, a senior. “We were talking about my leadership experience.”
Si has plenty of that, thanks to Fox’s renowned student professional organizations (SPOs). Si has served as the director of finance and the president of the International Business Association (IBA), before this year assuming the role of president of the College Council, which oversees all SPOs.
And while it’s often been difficult balancing those extracurricular responsibilities with his internships and classes, Si quickly learned that SPOs, which focus on professional development through guest speakers, visiting different companies’ headquarters and more, are imperative in helping college students like himself get adequately prepared for the real world and ultimately land their dream jobs.
“I think being a part of an SPO and being a leader within it adds to your street smarts,” Si said. “It gives you those soft skills that you need, skills like communication, networking, teamwork and leadership. Those are extremely important.”
David Kaiser, Fox’s Director of Undergraduate Enrollment Management and the administration member who oversees Fox’s SPOs, won’t argue with the importance of soft skills. He can also attest to how badly they are needed for today’s college students – a generation for which, he noted, “communication can be an issue at times.”
“You meet students who will barely look you in the eye when you shake their hand,” said Kaiser, MBA ’14. “And three or four years later, they’re a leader in the school.”
For Kaiser, witnessing personal growth is the most rewarding part of the job, and he’s seen more students get those out-of-classroom opportunities as Fox SPOs have grown in size and stature.
According to Kaiser, there are roughly 2,300 undergraduates in 21 active organizations. Students usually find the SPO that best aligns with their major, which represents about a 1,000-person increase from when he started in his current role more than 12 years ago. Many of Fox’s SPOs have earned national praise.
For instance, Fox’s Sigma chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, a professional international fraternity for risk management and insurance majors, has won the Edison L. Bowers Award in 16 of the last 20 years, which annually goes to the fraternity’s most outstanding chapter.
“They’re obviously one of the better groups, but we have a lot of groups that have been very successful,” Kaiser said. “When we have groups competing on the national level and succeeding, it makes the students and the school look good.”
One of the big reasons for Gamma’s success is its commitment to community service, as it recently hosted a financial literacy seminar to educate area high school students on personal finances. Prior to that, Gamma raised more than $11,200 for Brave Hearts and Young Minds, a charity that supports children who have lost a parent.
Of course, charity is a big component of all of Fox’s SPOs, as it is for the College Council, which collected 2,000 pounds of food for Philabundance last fall and $3,000 for Relay for Life in the spring.
“It requires professional training to get students in the mindset of giving back to the community that they are a part of,” Kaiser said, noting the students’ passion for fundraisers. “Part of our sales pitch is getting them to understand it’s not just about academics. It’s different from high school. Companies want well-rounded students with developed interpersonal skills, developed professional skills and developed soft skills. And you really can’t get those other skills strictly by being in a classroom.”