Back in the spring of 2008, a Chippewa Valley Technical College student named Casey Ricci was comfortable with what he had learned in the Business Management program, but he also knew what made him uncomfortable.
“He told us the students learned a lot in the Planning Your Business Management Career class, and it was a great class, but they didn’t know much about how to talk to people they didn’t know,” Business Management Instructor Grace Rich recalls.
With graduation looming for the students, it was a skill they’d have to learn fast in whatever employment setting they found.
In spring 2013, students from that same class are looking forward to next month’s graduation a little better prepared, thanks to Ricci’s observation.
Rich, with fellow instructor and now Associate Dean of Business Jeff Pepper, responded by starting a networking segment to the class. It begins with a speed networking exercise with volunteers from area businesses and organizations. That session was held Tuesday, April 2.
“Our intent is to teach the students social business networking skills in a safe setting,” Rich says. “Then we take them to the (Eau Claire Area) Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours to practice in a real setting.”
That session took place Monday, April 8.
For the practice session, the instructors invite business people matching the number of students in the class. The students are told to dress for a business setting but are not allowed to bring a resume. Although skills developed may help in job interviews, it is not an interview practice session, but something more informal.
Students sit down with the volunteers and talk for five minutes, then switch tables and talk with a new volunteer, meeting as many of the business volunteers as they can in the allotted time.
Rich says when she first tells the students about the exercise, they are less than enthused.
“Their reaction is like, ‘Ok, how can I get out of this?’ They don’t want to talk with people they don’t know,” Rich says. “But after the first round, it’s hard to get them to move on.”
Finding out they can present themselves well in such conversations builds confidence, which is the point.
Heading into the exercise, the students had varying ideas of what they might get out of the experience.
“I hope I get insights into communication, and how to get a job, mostly. I’m going to be looking for a job when I get out of school. This is my last semester,” said Tim Baier of Eau Galle.
Michael Anderl of Chippewa Falls wanted to hear what the business representatives had to say.
“I want to learn how some people fell into the careers they have, how they got their start,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like this.”
Others had less of a sense of urgency about learning how to find a job. Anne Wold of Menomonie and Lance Genrich of Bloomer are each heading to UW-Stout to further their education next fall.
“I hope to meet some people and help decide what I want to do after graduating,” said Wold. “I’m excited to talk to everyone. I like the wide variety of people here.”
“I hoped to meet some people and make connections,” said Genrich.
“I enjoy working with the students at CVTC and helping them improve their skills,” said Steve Walker, a district manager with Cengage Learning, an international learning materials company. “It’s a great project they do for these students to help them get acclimated to business.”
“I wish my university had put on an event like this,” said Jim Meyers-Welch, a sales representative with Cengage Learning.
Dan Lyksett of Eau Claire Press Company, which publishes the Leader-Telegram, was one of the business volunteers.
“It’s about what the students will get out of it,” he said. “This campus is a big part of our community. Any time we can give a little of our time to help the students, you have to do it.”
The event succeeded in changing some attitudes. Mike Stearns went into it thinking it had little to offer him. “I would say my opinion changed. I feel this event was the best event of the semester so far. I only wish it could have been longer so I would have met with everyone and not just a few.”
“I had a blast at this event. At first I was really nervous about meeting a bunch of random people, but by the time I was done meeting with the first person, I found I was talking more than the time allowed,” said Matt Soppeland.
“This was a really awesome experience,” said Wold. “They offered very valuable networking advice and taught us how to always be networking no matter where we are or what position we are working in.”