By Andrew Housman
The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce had a list of small business partners to organize.
Lennox Lamar’s data management skills turned out to be just what the Chamber needed.
Lamar applied his skills in June during a Career Activator micro-internship arranged by the Nicolais School of Business in a new program that elevated the career preparations of Lamar and a dozen other Wagner College students who come from underrepresented backgrounds.
The three-week-long immersive business program came thanks to seed funding from KPMG U.S. Foundation Reaching New Heights Grant Program, National Grid’s Project C-Workforce development grant and a generous donation from Wagner College alumni Pat and Marion Dugan.
According to Lamar, a senior marketing major who is also a 6-foot-5 Seahawks linebacker, the Career Activator boosted his self-confidence.
“You never know exactly what you’re going to do or where you end up, but as long as you prepare yourself, make the right connections, and treat everyone with respect, you’re going to be fine,” Lamar said. “That gave me a ton of confidence right there.”
Nicolais School of Business Dean Aarti Ivanic is a strong proponent of project-based learning that challenges students to solve problems away from the classroom.
“Thinking in an applied way, particularly when you’re working with a small business or nonprofit, you learn that there are a lot of hiccups along the way,” Ivanic said. “If you’re not exposed to that and you go out and start your first job and the expectation is that everything is going to be scheduled like it was in class, that’s a big gap from what your employer is expecting from you and what you’re willing to give.”
The program’s three-part itinerary started with workshops that gave students advice about topics like interviewing, LinkedIn, elevator pitches and identity in the workplace.
Marketing major Kate Thomas said that the identity workshop provided a space for the group to talk about their “hopes and dreams.”
“The whole program was a community,” said Thomas, a senior, who especially appreciated that each participant was paired with a Wagner alum to act as a mentor, offering resume and interview advice. “It was really nice having that person who was in my seat while they were at Wagner, who could tell me about their career path and how it’s okay to fall behind and not get the job after one interview.”
The program’s career visits were also a highlight for Thomas.
“As a student, walking through the different offices you get a feel for where you want to work after college,” she said. Her trip to the recruiting and human resources firm Solomon Page helped her make connections and eventually land an internship there after the program.
Similarly, Lamar discovered a new passion for financial consulting from his visit to UBS Wealth Advice Center.
“I saw that a marketing background can help in the finance world with guiding people towards making decisions,” he said.
In addition, students visited Amazon to learn about supply chains, the pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb to focus on data analytics, and the Staten Island-based firm JMT Media for guidance on marketing.
With the help of Director of Career and Planning Development Rosa Santana, micro-internships rounded out the Career Activator Program, allowing to students to build their resume, showcase the diversity of their skill sets and utilize their business education to serve the Staten Island community.
These two-week-long positions range from local businesses to non-profits, where students often work in environments that seem unrelated to their educational fields, such as finance majors taking on civic projects. Thomas worked on social media marketing for the Staten Island Zoo, while Lamar had his successful stint at the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce.
“It was great to understand how the future workforce thinks and how they strategize to get things done," said Darlene Blanco, the Chamber’s Head of Workforce Development.
On a more personal level, the Career Activator Program instills in its students, who come from underrepresented backgrounds, the importance of diversity and persistence in finding their place in the business world. Twelve of the 13 members of the first Career Activator cohort are student-athletes who devote many hours — in season and out — to their responsibilities as Seahawks, leaving little time for career development and internships.
On the heels of Career Activator’s success, other Wagner departments are considering launching similar programs.
Ivanic intends to run an additional Nicolais School of Business cohort in January during winter break. Next summer, she plans to expand the program to four weeks and incorporate a wider slate of partners. KMPG has already added another $50,000 toward the effort, bringing the total amount raised to about $180,000.
“Community partners, alumni and students were all talking positively about the experience,” Ivanic said. “We’re making new connections.”
Interested students should apply here.