First Steps to a Professional Journey

Aarti Ivanic, Ph.D., Dean of the Nicolais School of Business

The Career Activator program is the first step in a student’s professional journey while at the Nicolais School of Business and Wagner College. A 3-week residential program, The Career Activator, is designed to help business-school students, early in their academic journey, activate their careers, develop their business acumen, skills, and professional identity. 

Wagner College | Nicolais School of Business KPMG Foundation logoNational Grid: Project C logo Funded through grants from the KPMG Foundation, National Grid, and Wagner College alumni, Pat & Marion Dugan, the first cohort of students was activated in June 2023. The program focused on students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds (ethnic minorities, female-identified, first generation, LGBTQ+, etc.) in the business world. In order to participate, students completed an application that included a cover letter, resume, and a recommendation letter. Thirteen sophomores and juniors with concentrations in business administration were selected as Career Activators. 

Over the course of three weeks, students participated in professional development workshops, company visits, a micro-internship with a Staten Island non-profit organization or small business, and a book club. Additionally, all students were partnered with a Wagner College alumni mentor in their field of study. 

Wagner College | Nicolais School of Business Elvis Santos conducting a professional workshop for the Career Activators First Steps to a Professional JourneyProfessional Development Workshops & Book Club

The workshops covered topics such as resume development, charting out career goals and paths, LinkedIn tools, personal branding, and presentation skills. Since the program was focused on students from traditionally underrepresented groups, students participated in two identity-related workshops to explore the nuances of their individual identities and how they may play out in professional settings. Students read “Expect to Win” by Carla Harris and had weekly discussions about how to incorporate various strategies into their professional lives.

Company Visits

Students visited UBS Wealth Advisory, Bristol Myers Squibb, Amazon, Solomon Page, and JMT Media, to get exposure to various business fields, business functions, and new working models.

Through in-depth conversations with business leaders, students learned about topics like the evolving role of business, financial management, data privacy and data-driven decision-making, the pharmaceutical industry, supply chain management, marketing, and media, and the recruiting process. They were introduced to career paths, skills needed for professional success, and made invaluable contacts with business leaders at all levels of the organizations.

Activators networking with the Community Partners in the Union Hall building at Wagner College First Steps to a Professional JourneyMicro-internships

A key aspect of this program is a 2-week micro-internship with a local non-profit organization or small business. Micro-internships are short, focused projects designed to provide students with specific skills and to help community partners address business problems that they may not have time to complete. The students worked for 20-hours per week either at the company’s location, on campus, or in a hybrid model. Students were paired with a non-profit organization or small business, who applied to be part of the program, based on the needed support and the students’ existing skill set and opportunities for growth. Topics included data gathering and analysis, social media marketing and content creation, human resources onboarding processes, and community outreach, to name a few. In addition to business skills, students developed interpersonal skills and meaningfully engaged with members of the Staten Island community. 

Activators connecting with their alumni mentors First Steps to a Professional JourneyAlumni Mentors

Each Career Activator was partnered with an alumni mentor, an accomplished business leader in their field of study. Students and mentors interacted at multiple touchpoints and discussed career paths, necessary skills for professional success, and how Wagner students can distinguish themselves in the marketplace. Students established and grew their professional network and developed a relationship with an industry leader who can serve as their ‘go-to’ ally for professional guidance. 

Program Incentives

Students and community partners were given monetary incentives to participate. On-campus room and board and program materials were provided to students.

Program Support

The program was supported by two grants and an individual donor. In sum, the program received $103,000 in grant funds. The program was facilitated by the Dean of the Nicolais School of Business, the Director of Career Planning and Development, and an Academic Administrative Assistant. The Office of Advancement was involved in procuring the grants. 

Long-Term Program Goals 

The Career Activator program is the first step in preparing students for future internships and full-time employment. We envision students participating in this program between their Sophomore and Junior years in College. Using the skills learned and combined with classroom knowledge, students will be able to springboard into a full summer internship between Junior and Senior years after which they move on to full-time jobs. 

The goal is to build a sustainable program and implement two cohorts of 10-15 students per year. The current focus is on students from underrepresented backgrounds to ensure that they are able to receive the skills and training they need in order to be successful in the workplace. Additionally, the goal is to expand the business school’s network of community partners and alumni and to ensure that our students are contributing both time and talent to the Staten Island community, positively impacting economic growth, while deepening relationships with our alumni and identifying and establishing new opportunities for partnerships.



To learn more about how you can participate in the Career Activator program, as a student, a community partner, a company, or an alumni mentor, please visit our website.