From Green Bay Packers to Italian cheese, UWL CBA faculty cross the state to connect with business alums, understand key skills needed in future
Many students tell UWL Associate Professor Adam Hoffer they are interested in using their business degrees to work for the Green Bay Packers after graduation. What advice should he give them?
“You need to immerse yourself in what you want to do — Get all of the experience you can and see where your passions lie.” Alumnus Brian Gutekunst, general manager of the Green Bay Packers.
Hoffer went to the source itself this summer, asking several alumni who work for the Packers, including the team’s new general manager, alumnus Brian Gutekunst, what advice they would offer.
Hoffer was on a College of Business Administration field trip Aug. 27 and 28 to four major Fox Valley area employers, organized by CBA Dean Laura Milner, UWL Development Officer Jay Scott and UWL Alumni Association Director Janie Morgan. Milner has organized other professional development events, including trips to Ashley Furniture and Harmony Enterprises.
“The CBA is always looking to build industry partnerships,” says Milner. “These faculty field trips provide faculty professional development, ensuring exposure to current business practices, as well as a two-way discussion with industry about what specifically they are looking for in our graduates and what skills they are providing to our students who participate in internships with them.”
CBA faculty and staff also toured facilities and learned what college experiences alumni found critical to their career success.
“We heard again and again about the importance of networking and connections,” says Maggie McDermott, UWL associate professor of marketing. “A key takeaway for me is continuing to work hard to connect students with businesses even though it takes a lot of work and time.”
Gutekunst got his first internship scouting for the Packers in summer 1997 from a word-of-mouth recommendation from UWL head football coach at the time, Roger Harring. Gutekunst had built a relationship with Harring as his assistant coach for two years after he injured his shoulder as a UWL football player.
“If it wasn’t for coaching for Roger as a student that recommendation wouldn’t have happened,” says Gutekunst. “To me, you need to immerse yourself in what you want to do — Get all of the experience you can and see where your passions lie.”
Many alumni highlighted the value of such career-like experiences in college whether through internships, volunteer work, study abroad, semester-long research projects or part-time jobs.
Krissy Zegers, ’02, Packers Hall of Fame and Stadium Tour manager, is involved in hiring many college students. She says getting relevant experience is the most beneficial thing students seeking employment with the Packers can do.
“If you want to do finance for Green Bay Packers, think about what background are you bringing to the organization,” she advises. “For lot our internships here, we have students who have had sometimes three or four internships before coming.”
The Packers staff weren’t the only UWL alumni to share how an internship and other work-related experience was a pivotal first step. Joy Langreder, ’93, human resource director for Schneider, a transportation and logistics services company based in Green Bay, says a UWL economics professor made her aware of her first internship. That opportunity to become a human resources intern for the City of La Crosse was the start of her more than 20-year HR career. She also studied abroad and joined multiple clubs at UWL.
“There was enough to choose from at UWL, and the things I did helped me to land my first job,” she says. “I didn’t realize I was building a resume at the time.”
UWL finance major Kirk Martin was an accounting and finance intern at Kohler this summer. Kohler, a manufacturing company based in Kohler, Wisconsin, is a great name to add to his resume, he says. Yet, he’s found the internship much more valuable than that. When an employee within his area transferred to another department, Martin was asked to step in to fill the position until a replacement was hired.
“I’m not just sitting in a cubical taking up space,” notes Martin. “This internship has given me experience learning to work with different departments within the company, and given me the opportunity to take on new responsibilities and test my skills.”
Connections for class
On the trip, faculty also made cross-departmental connections with one another and with employers. These connections are already resulting in ways to further develop their courses.
“I enjoyed getting Wisconsin-based examples for the classroom,” says Nese Nasif, UWL assistant professor of marketing. “I saw theory in action everywhere I went.”
Todd Koss, ’87, a UWL finance major who is now CEO of Grande Cheese, led a tour of the company’s new home office and research center. The tour concluded with meeting the company’s leadership team and alumni.
Many faculty commented how Grande Cheese was a model example of concepts such as employee wellness and work-life balance. Faculty appreciated getting to know what these Wisconsin companies are truly about so they can better relay the message to UWL students seeking employment.
“I feel like I know them now,” says Professor of Marketing Gwen Achenreiner. “The trip reiterated the strength of the community engagement pillar of UWL’s strategic plan.”
Andrew Stapleton, UWL professor of Operations & Supply Chain Management, says he appreciated the opportunity to meet alumni who were willing to give access to their executive board.
“It allows for building a mutually beneficial relationship and enhances my students’ learning, my research and outreach,” he says.
The CBA enjoys every opportunity to connect with all UWL alumni, but alumni in key positions can often provide the necessary support to build enduring alliances between their companies and CBA, says Milner.
Proof that student relationships are a worthwhile investment
Many alums could easily recall the faculty or staff member who played a big role in their life. The trip reiterated the importance of building student-faculty relationships, says Achenreiner.
Vicki Parker, ’01, says Paul Heckman, now a retired lecturer in English, believed in her and set her on her path — a customer service manager at Schneider where communication is about 80 percent of her job.
Amelia Dittman, the CBA’s former assistant to the dean, was a key player in Scott Van Zeeland’s journey. A 2011 graduate and military veteran, he stopped and started three times while at UWL for various deployments. Each time, Dittman helped schedule the classes he needed to complete his degree. “Nine out of 10 people would have quit,” he says. “Amelia worked the angles to get me the classes I needed to graduate on time.” Van Zeeland is now a carrier sales executive for Schneider’s Truckload division.
“She said focus on thinking of what you are trying to accomplish.”
Sandra Adkins, ’02, a risk manager at Schneider, a biomedical science major, recalls professors such as Anne Galbraith, associate professor of biology, who were “real and approachable.” They would take time for students whether reviewing a test or talking about future plans. Galbraith “didn’t sugar coat things, and I loved that,” says Adkins.
“A profound moment for me in college was with a career adviser,” says Dan Counsell, director of Mergers & Acquisitions for Kohler. “She said focus on thinking of what you are trying to accomplish. At the time, I wanted to major in everything.”
The advisor helped Counsell, ’05, see why focusing on finance and economics made sense as it fit with both his passions and goals.
Gutenkust hasn’t forgotten Harring or his UWL football team. Together, they won the NCAA Division III national championship in 1995.
His UWL football helmet is still one of the most prominent items behind his Packers office desk.
Employers highlight critical skills for hires
Employers highlighted many qualities they look for in student interns or recent graduates. Among the most frequently mentioned characteristics:
• A fit with company’s values
• Critical thinking skills
• Communication skills — written and verbal
• Knowing oneself, career direction