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.”
Engaging high school students to spur urban civic start-ups and community involvement
Two Philadelphia high school students temporarily put their summer plans on hold for a unique afternoon activity: The students, from Temple University’s Urban Apps & Maps Studios, delivered a technology prototype presentation to a leading executive from Samsung.
Sharing conference-room space with Young-jun Kim, Senior Vice President of Design of Samsung Electronics and President of Samsung’s Art and Design Institute, the students unveiled Samsung Self, a platform they developed to incentivize youth to have an active lifestyle and reduce the health risks associated with obesity. A user’s every movement is tracked, including staircase climbing, walking, watching movies in front of a TV, and listening to music. Self connects various aspects of a busy youth’s life that can affect their health through digital rewards that could be applied to music downloads, for example.
“We see our area’s high school students as cultural researchers who are experts in tomorrow’s high-tech culture,” said Dr. Youngjin Yoo, Harry A. Cochran Professor of Management Information Systems at the Fox School of Business, and founder of Temple’s Apps & Maps Studios.
The Samsung presentation serves as just one example of the impact forged by Urban Apps & Maps Studios, a Temple university-wide, interdisciplinary program. Each year, Apps & Maps connects Philadelphia high school students with Temple faculty and graduate student mentors to encourage, develop, and found start-ups to transform urban challenges into products and services. To date, thousands of students, hundreds of mentors and dozens of faculty have contributed to the Apps & Maps Building Information Technology Skills (BITS) six-week summer program, according to Dr. Michele Masucci, BITS Director and Temple University Vice President for Research Administration.
“Before Apps & Maps was founded, I had come to the conclusion that we’d need to create an urban entrepreneurship movement, so young men and women can use the technology around them to create solutions, make a difference, and aspire to become lifestyle entrepreneurs,” Yoo said. “Apps & Maps supports that movement.”
Apps & Maps received initial funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, in the form of a $500,000, five-year grant in 2011. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation also funds the Apps & Maps Studios program to bridge students and faculty members across Temple University. Over the last three years alone, Apps & Maps has trained more than 450 local high school students and over 150 Temple students who worked with faculty members from Temple’s College of Engineering, Katz School of Medicine, and the Fox School, in conjunction with the departments of English, Computer and Information Science, Biology, and Geography and Urban Studies.
In this year’s BITS program, the high school students’ projects included: analyzing the impacts of and suggesting improvements for a proposed, elevated rail park in Philadelphia’s post-industrial neighborhoods; mobile apps, to connect food-truck vendors with consumers for more-efficient transactions, and to address urban littering; and mapping the customer experience of Pennsylvania Ballet attendees.
Over the summer, Cameron Javon Scott and his 11 teammates visited Comcast and met with Android Studio developers. Armed with knowledge and confidence, the team, under the supervision of Dr. Karl Morris, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Temple’s College of Science and Technology, developed the prototype for a mobile application called Foodocracy, which would bridge the gap between food-truck owners and consumers.
“Before I did this, I had no coding experience,” said Scott, a 15-year-old sophomore from Harriton High School in Bryn Mawr, Pa. “I joined this program and I knew what I might want to do for a career, but didn’t know how to get there. This program gave me knowledge and direction. I’m here because they saw my potential.”
Jamik Ligon lined up five summer programs in which to participate, including a video-game design program at his school, Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz High School, and a biomedical engineering program in Drexel University’s nanoscience department.
“I was willing to drop all of that for Apps & Maps,” said Ligon, an 18-year-old senior. “That’s what this (program) means to me.”