Table Stakes for Today's Workplace

Applied learning experiences give Cameron School students a decisive edge in an increasingly competitive job market.

By Kristin S. Hanson

After graduating from the Cameron School of Business in 2013, David White didn’t head to New York to start climbing the ladder of a well-known investment fund. Instead, he stayed in North Carolina and started his own.

What made White – and his clients – confident that such a young man could deliver a strong return on their investments? As an undergraduate, White took part in the Student Managed Investment Fund, a real-dollar portfolio established at UNCW in 2011. Students involved with the fund spend half a semester learning how to evaluate securities and the other half applying what they’ve learned.

“Resumes of 21-year-olds have a tendency to look the same. There aren’t many differentiators, but the Student Managed Investment Fund is one,” says Professor Bill Sackley, who teaches the class connected with the fund.

The fund – and other applied learning opportunities like the Cameron Executive Network, Fed Challenge and the Center for Sales Excellence and Customer Delight – give UNCW alumni significant advantages in securing internships and employment after graduation. Increasing access to these programs for students is a top priority of Like No Other: The Campaign for UNCW.

“Hiring and training sales professionals is very expensive for organizations. Students who have taken sales courses and demonstrated what they’ve learned in competitions stand out,” says John Reed, director of the sales center. Tom Eggleston, head of talent for Live Oak Bank – a top employer of Cameron School graduates – agrees.

“Applied learning experiences aren’t electives anymore, they’re critical elements to entering today’s job market,” Eggleston says. “Experience with real-world tools accelerates the learning curve for new employees and enhances early engagement. The faster you can get a new college graduate engaged, the better.”

The Cameron School’s applied learning programs provide as realistic an environment as possible for students, sometimes without even requiring them to leave campus. In Sackley’s class, students are assigned one of the financial markets’ 11 sectors and expected to make investment recommendations for the portfolio to the entire class.

“You’re reading annual reports and looking at financials, then it turns into more of a discussion-based class, where you’re bringing your hypotheses and debating them with other students and Dr. Sackley,” says White, who co-founded Bradford Tolson Consulting with fellow alumnus Scott Tolson ’13. “I still use the process of diligently thinking through any investment by a dialectic method. We use it to find flaws and poke holes in our reasoning, just to make sure we’re making strong decisions.”

In the Center for Sales Excellence and Customer Delight, students have access to the Sales Lab, which features two conference rooms outfitted with two-way mirrors and video equipment that records both the seller and the buyer during a hypothetical sales interaction.

“It’s a bit scary the first time you’re in there,” says Frauke Schiefner ’20 of the Sales Lab, which she used both in her classes and as a member of one of the center’s sales competition teams. “You’re challenged to go out of your comfort zones in those experiences. There is plenty of room to make mistakes because you learn from all of them.”

That practice paid off when Schiefner’s team succeeded at the 2019 Pi Sigma Epsilon National Convention, where a company in attendance noticed her performance. Rite-Hite, an industrial equipment manufacturer in Wisconsin, sought her out for an interview and eventually offered her an internship at their Milwaukee headquarters. When she returned to her native Germany after graduation, that internship and her training as a Cameron School sales student helped her land position as a marketing and sales trainee at genua GmbH and a master’s student at Wismar University.

“When I interviewed for the job I have now, I talked about being in the U.S., doing sales competitions with UNCW and being so involved in the sales industry,” Schiefner says. “They were amazed. The U.S. is the sales country, having so much support is awesome. I’d never have gotten that kind of experience here [in Germany].”

Speaking of experience, students involved in the Student-Managed Investment Fund last fall had a veritable crash course in crisis financial management. They were tasked with steering the fund’s more than $1.8 million portfolio to safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, episodes of civil unrest and a contentious presidential campaign. At the time of the writing of this article, Sackley’s class was preparing for its final exam: a presentation of recommendations to the fund’s advisory board.

“This is fully realistic, and it’s something some of these students will be expected to do in their first jobs after graduation,” Sackley says. “Time will tell how their decisions play out, but I’m proud of what they’ve done.”

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Read more in the Winter 2021 issue of UNCW Magazine