Parker Dunaway ’15
There were a number of students invited to come back to the Hill a few days early before the official start of the spring semester this year for the inaugural Professional Development Institute, or PDI, hosted by The Career Education and Vocational Reflection Office, President Howard, and a number of alumni and staff. The purpose of the weekend-long event was to prepare students “for success in life beyond the Hampden-Sydney gates,” according to an email sent out by President Howard. The program consisted of different sessions throughout each day geared towards varying subjects: corporate valuation, personal finance, entrepreneurship, formal dinner etiquette, and even how to dress professionally and why.
According to Lt. Col. Rucker Snead, Associate Dean for Career Education and Vocational Reflection, the idea for the PDI came up just last October. He went on to comment that ever since November, his office had been working intensively for the purpose of putting this new, fledgling program together. The main factor that went into the creating the program was deciding what went into the schedule. Col. Snead said that he asked himself, “What do we include? What sort of sessions would be of interest to the students—of need to the students?” President Howard mentioned the strategic plan when he commented on the creation of the “strategic plan calls for providing opportunities to connect the academic program with the ‘real world’ careers…” He went on to say that the PDI was a way to communicate invaluable information for that purpose. He also noted that the strategic plan additionally calls for involving our alumni in the lives of our current students, and, indeed, the sessions over the weekend included purposeful alumni involvement.
The series of the events spanned many topics. The institute began with a seminar on corporate valuation from Training the Street. Following the morning’s financial talks, students were invited to go out and watch the Tigers play W&L in basketball. That night, students were informed on a subject that we here at HSC might have found redundant: how to dress well. Tom Granger, the manager of the Richmond Tom James men’s fine clothing company, gave a presentation titled “Dress for Success,” in which he discussed the proper context for certain suits, what each suit means psychologically, and then was bombarded with a series of questions from curious HSC students.
The next day started off with talks from our very own Mark Meitz ’95, Director of Alumni Relations, and our Director of Human Resources, Barbara Armentrout. Both speakers addressed the topics of what to expect from HR offices at new jobs, taxations and personal finance in relation to salary. In the afternoon, students sat in on an alumni panel, which featured a wide range of graduates in different fields and discussed differing topics, such as how to define success and career challenges. Following that, students had the opportunity to listen to Chris Gergen, author of Life Entrepreneurs, give a talk about his story after college and into his career as an entrepreneur and educator. Many students considered this a highlight of the weekend, saying that Gergen offered insight into topics that take innovation and intelligence to pursue. The weekend ended with an etiquette dinner hosted by Tommy Shomo ’69. At the dinner, students were encouraged to talk and practice networking with alumni who were there. Speeches were given after dinner thanking Col. Snead and Becca Snyder for working tirelessly to put the PDI together, Tommy Shomo for giving a great presentation during the etiquette dinner, and Fred Thompson ’79 of Thompson Hospitality for sponsoring the PDI by donating all of the food and more throughout the weekend.
When talking to President Howard about how he thought the weekend went, he said, “I’m going to give it pretty high marks…the turn out was good…the sponsorship from Thompson Hospitality was nice… the programing was very good. People found different parts interesting.” President Howard gave a very positive review of those involved in the programming over the weekend, especially our “home-grown talent,” citing Mark Meitz and Barbara Armentrout, and our alumni.
When talking to students that participated in the PDI, there was a range of reactions. Alan Rice ’15 said, “Overall, I think it was very helpful. The world of finance is very cutthroat and a lot of firms expect graduates to be able to do tasks like corporate valuations…” Another student, Sydney Henriques ’15, spoke about the PDI in the same way: “I felt that it went well, and was successful… It was very informative, fun, and overall was a great program.” Travis Luck ’14 commented specifically on the alumni panel, saying, “I thought the alumni panel was helpful in shedding light on some personal experiences and stories of those who have come in and out of Hampden-Sydney and have wisdom of life and the ‘real world.’” However, there was some criticism from students. Two students individually mentioned that they would like to see more alumni involvement, while another student stated that he felt his field of profession wasn’t adequately represented. Understandably, Col. Snead’s office is going to take all feedback into consideration. This was the first year for this event; inevitably, there were going to be some bugs to work out.
On that same topic, President Howard and Col. Snead’s office both suggest that the PDI is something that will hopefully continue at HSC. There are many avenues that it may pursue in terms of specialization. Faculty involvement is another possibility that may be considered. After some reorganizing, the Professional Development Institute may become a vital part of the education of the Hampden-Sydney student.