Leadership and mentorship are always important topics for students looking to enter the workforce or anyone looking to move up, and more than 100 students, staff and alumni were in virtual attendance at a 90-minute joint NIU JobsPLUS/NIU Alumni Association online conversation last week.
President Lisa Freeman, NIU Foundation Board Member Wheeler Coleman, ’83, NIU Alumni Association Board President Pete Garrity, ’71, MBA ’76, and NIU Student Trustee Madalynn Mershon took questions from moderator Jason Rhode, NIU executive director of extended learning, and those in attendance at “Stepping Forward: Insights for NIU Leaders,” on Wednesday, April 29.
Chad Glover, director of NIU JobsPLUS, said the virtual conversation was similar to the in-person programming JobsPLUS offers. “We try to bring together NIU students with others from across the NIU community to learn things they can apply immediately in their jobs, classes or other parts of their life and into their careers after graduation,” he said. “One difference is that the online conversations offer us the opportunity for individuals to join who wouldn’t be able to be at the event in person. Which, of course, is all of us right now.”
Despite students attending classes remotely, engagement with JobsPLUS has not suffered. Glover said more students participated in events in April than any month since the program began.
Coleman advised the attendees that finding a mentor doesn’t always have to be a formal process. “Look at people who are succeeding and scout out potential mentors,” he said. “Learn from and study people around you. If you want to work your way up in corporate America and follow somebody’s footsteps, find those who lead the way you want to lead and who engage in behavior that is helpful to the organization overall, and emulate those individuals.”
Freeman said she still relies on advice that her mother gave her when she was eight years old. “She said always try your hardest, learn from mistakes, take responsibility for your actions, treat others the way you want to be treated and respect others who are different from you. It was great advice then, and still applies.”
Garrity talked about the age-old question, how do you get leadership experience if you’ve never been a leader? “I did it by getting into community volunteering,” he said. “Find a non-profit and lead a group of volunteers. You’ll get experience and you’re learning in what might be a less pressure packed situation. You’re gaining expertise while working in a group and towards a common goal. That’s something you can apply in a lot of ways in business.”
When asked about how to continue to develop leadership skills, Mershon advised, “Don’t allow yourself to stop learning and continue to expand your knowledge. You should surround yourself with people who can fill in those gaps for you.”
Glover said that the overall theme of the event fits within the overall goals of JobsPLUS programming. “We like to say that career success is influenced by many factors, but two of those are what you know and who you know. What you know and who you know are focuses of JobsPLUS. Knowing how to become an effective leader and applying that in your life can help you become more successful. Spending time listening to, and learning from, those who are effective leaders helps immensely.
As Coleman said during the event, “Build relationships before you need them.”
To learn more about NIU JobsPLUS and upcoming program visit niu.edu/jobsplus.