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Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - Alumni help SBA students ACHIEVE greatness

Business students can learn some of the most important lessons in business from a rich source,  one that OU's School of Business Administration taps regularly -- successful alumni.

In fact, alumni are at the very heart of SBA’s ACHIEVE program, a three-year mandatory career preparation and exploration curriculum for OU's business students.

These alumni frequently visit ACHIEVE events, imparting the life lessons they learned after graduating, teaching everything from how to network effectively and eloquently answering the toughest job interview questions to finding the right internship and offering career planning advice.

Seeds of success

Introduced in 2008, ACHIEVE has grown and evolved. By including every SBA student, ACHIEVE is now a cornerstone of how the SBA delivers a student-centered education while complementing the integrative thinking, global understanding and experiential learning that takes place as part of the school’s curricular and extra-curricular programs.

Its goal is to equip graduates with hands-on skills that round out their business education, enabling them to deliver value starting with their first day on the job in any global business, says Judy Martin, education coordinator for SBA's Center for Integrated Business and Research Education (CIBRE).

Continually increasing alumni participation in the small group lessons has proved valuable -- for the students and the volunteers.

“I wish they had a program like this when I attended,” says ACHIEVE volunteer Scott Bittinger, Accounting ‘88, OU's first-ever All-American in men’s basketball and senior manager of finance for aftermarket and specialty products at American Axle & Manufacturing in Detroit. 

Bittinger has mentored several business students through ACHIEVE, giving them each one-on-one attention where he instills in them the understanding ”that networking continues even after you get your foot in the door of an organization,” he says.

Using his own career advancement as proof, he explains to students, “You should be networking after you get the job, too, because those relationships can lead to even bigger, better jobs."

Career exploration, business understanding  

ACHIEVE also helps SBA students understand the various career paths available in the business world, allowing them to explore areas of interest and learn about careers they may not have known about before. An interactive, engaging game-based activity Martin calls ”Business Buzz” -- modeled after the popular television quiz show Jeopardy! -- starts this education by acquainting freshmen with the majors and minors in the SBA.

Throughout the three-year program, students focus on different areas that sync with their progression toward graduation. In their first year in the program, students learn financial literacy and network. In the second year, they assess careers and research potential employers. In the final year, they identify their strengths, practice mock job interviews, and work with alumni on crafting a two-minute pitch to sell themselves to a company. 

“This program really takes students to the next level,” says Colleen Webb, president, Michigan Business Education Association. “The connection students have with business leaders working in the job force, especially in their career areas, is helpful because they can see how what they are learning in the classroom is actually used in the field.”

A competitive edge

That’s exactly the idea, Martin says, and “the SBA feels so strongly about giving its students this edge in today’s workforce that it funds the required no-credit classes each year, so students don't have to pay tuition for them.

”In today’s economy, with a 14 percent unemployment rate, getting an edge is what it’s all about. “I wish more of today’s workforce had such training,” Webb says.

OU senior Meghan Chamberlain, a marketing major minoring in international business management, has been part of ACHIEVE since its inception. “ACHIEVE has already helped me succeed through the mock interviews and resume building sessions,” she says. “Without ACHIEVE, I would not have the comfort level or confidence that I do in interviews.” 

”The alumni in the program make you realize the potential of an Oakland business degree,” she adds, observing that they are a source of inspiration for her and other ACHIEVE students.

Giving and receiving

For volunteer David Hopkins, Marketing ’99, ACHIEVE is an opportunity for him to give back to his alma mater and make an impact on future generations. 

“It’s my turn to help because I remember those who helped me,” says Hopkins, a manufacturer’s rep in the auto industry for Damy International Inc., the Rochester Hills-based company he owns.

Hopkins also stresses the importance of networking to the students and delights in seeing someone take his advice to heart.

”When a student contacted me after I spoke (at an ACHIEVE event), I was happy to help her,” Hopkins says. ”I arranged for her to go on an interview for an internship, and she got the offer. So far, she's the only student who contacted me (outside the program).”

Bittinger emphasizes he gets more back from the students than he gives.

“I encourage all alumni to get involved and help these students reach their full potential. It’s so rewarding. I get so much personal satisfaction in helping them,” he says. ”It’s so amazing how smart, how cool and how motivated these Oakland students are.”

To volunteer or learn more about ACHIEVE, contact Judy Martin at (248) 370-3273 or    


By Rene Wisely