Career development class gives UAH students real-world experience before graduation

Zach Beaman Brittany Kruse

Seniors Zachary Beaman and Brittany Kruse gained real-world experience in the College of Business Administration’s career development course taught by Dr. Cynthia Gramm.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Internships are indisputably the best way for college students to gain workplace experience before graduation, but there are myriad reasons why they might not be feasible for everyone. "Career Development," an upper-level management course offered by the College of Business Administration at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), is designed to bridge that gap.

"Not all of our students have the time for a full-fledged internship, while others are uncertain about what they want to do, which can make it hard to find an internship," says business professor Dr. Cynthia Gramm, who teaches the course. "So we wanted to find a way to help this particular group of students get business-related experience to better launch themselves into the job market."

The course is divided into two parts. For the first half of the semester, the students refine their career goals and learn about the job search process. "I teach them a little about labor economics and we talk about salary negotiation and benefits so that they will have realistic expectations and demands," she says. "And I have them build a profile on LinkedIn that they then use to find, and do a career exploration interview with, an alumnus."

The students are also tasked with doing a variety of self-assessments, from personality tests to SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analyses, to determine how they rank as a prospective employee. "They analyze themselves like a business trying to market a product," says Dr. Gramm. "It gives them a great deal of insight into what they’re lacking and the steps they can take to overcome that."

I have a much better understanding of who I want to be in the business world and what I want to achieve in the long run.

Brittany Kruse
UAH business student

For the second half of the semester, the students are divided into groups based on their career interests and then matched with a local business or non-profit that will allow them to gain practical experience in that field. "I usually mix the groups so that there are more advanced students with those who have less experience or fewer classes," she says.

This spring, senior management majors Zachary Beaman and Brittany Kruse were among the 25 students enrolled in the course. Despite already having real-world business experience – Beaman directs a non-profit mission dedicated to feeding low-income families while Kruse runs a Facebook group that sells boutique clothing – both knew they still had much to learn.

"I wanted to gain a better knowledge of potential future careers and identify my strengths and weaknesses for future jobs," says Kruse. And indeed, she adds, "the gap analysis taught me a significant amount about myself. It made me examine myself on a deeper level, and it also opened my eyes tremendously to what I really want in the future."

And the same is true for Beaman. "Even though I already had a job, having the proper knowledge and tools to be able to market yourself is important," he says. "And gap analysis and development plans can not only help you get a job, but also decide about hiring someone or even who to contract with."

Because of their common focus, the pair was matched with Melissa Musgrove, owner of Foliage Design Systems (FDS) of North Alabama. Musgrove started the interiorscape company in 1996 and is an active member of the Huntsville area business community. "I put them together with an entrepreneur, because you wear every hat in terms of the business side of it," says Dr. Gramm.

Dr Cynthia Gramm

Dr. Gramm teaches the students to "analyze themselves like a business trying to market a product."

Michael Mercier | UAH

Thus, instead of having set roles, the project was "really more of an experience," says Beaman – one that gave both students a front seat to the risks and rewards of owning your own business. "I learned very many useful things, including that you can never do enough to stay current with the times," he says. "I also learned that attending business events and networking are key."

Kruse agrees. Over the course of the project, she says, "I met some very influential people, and I received advice on starting my career that will help me tremendously." Though perhaps the most important thing she’ll take away is the time investment required of an entrepreneur. "Being an owner of a company is not a full-time or a part-time job," she says. "It is a 24/7 job!"

With graduation around the corner, the pair will soon be putting these valuable lessons into practice as they pursue their respective business ventures full time. They still have much to learn, of course. But now, says Kruse, "I have a much better understanding of who I want to be in the business world and what I want to achieve in the long run."

It’s even possible that both may one day return to serve as mentors to future students in the course. After all, the unique blend of instruction and experience is certainly an approach that Beaman hopes to see continue long after he’s graduated. "I honestly believe," he says, "that this class should be offered in every college."



Dr. Cynthia Gramm