The Wall Fellows: Bridging the gap between academics and business for 25 years
by Caroline P. Rohr and Wendi Lee
A quarter of a century ago, a businessman with strong ties to CCU had a vision and a hope: “Train students not for their first job, but for their last job.”
It was a vision that, as it became reality, started to fill a gap in Coastal Carolina University’s business training for students, and eventually became a launching pad for more than 100 careers that have in turn impacted thousands around the world.
In 1994, E. Craig Wall Jr. was a member of the first board of trustees for Coastal Carolina University and the chairman of Canal Industries. With one foot in academia and the other foot in the business world, he recognized a gap existed between the two. CCU business students needed better training and preparation in order to successfully transition to major businesses in cities like New York City, Atlanta, or Chicago.
Wall, along with Clay Brittain, former chairman of the Myrtle Beach National Corporation, and other key academic and business professionals, built a bridge to span the gap – the Wall Fellows program.
“Craig Wall was a visionary,” said Gina Cummings, director of the program. “He demonstrated how the idea of one man, supported by others with like values, can affect individuals, organizations, and communities for lifetimes.”
The Wall Fellows program is a uniquely designed, two-year program for juniors and seniors that prepares them for high-level careers in major U.S. and global corporations, though that isn’t its only purpose. The program is built on respect – respect for oneself, one’s colleagues, one’s organization, one’s family, and one’s community. Wall formed the program based on the tenet that business education divorced from the development of character is insufficient.
Wall Fellows have spent countless hours over the past 25 years focusing on personal development and giving back. They have volunteered for organizations such as the Food Insecurity Project; Teal Goes Pink; Food Recovery Network; Freedom Readers; and the Community of Tomorrow Research Project. Fellows also donate their time and energy to campus events such as freshmen Orientation, Discovery Day, Wall Connections, and the annual Economic Growth and Real Estate Summit.
The program challenges students to go beyond their comfort zones and work with people who possess different talents and skills, giving them the opportunity to work with others from various colleges, backgrounds, and organizations. This helps them gain confidence and learn teamwork, leadership, and life skills.
“The program is enriched by students from different academic backgrounds coming together,” said Krystin Dean, Wall Fellows Class of 2006. “Being surrounded by exceptionally intelligent, driven, passionate, talented classmates kept me on my toes. Everyone brought something different to the table.”
The preparation doesn’t stop there. A significant part of the Wall Fellows curriculum is classroom preparation for hands-on experiences. The fellows participate in a domestic and international trip each year, traveling to meet with leaders of American and global organizations, connect with Wall Fellows alumni from around the world, and immerse themselves in different cultures.
They plan, budget, and design an international travel experience as a class, and have traveled to Iceland, Ireland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, and more. During the trip, pairs of Wall Fellows create a presentation for one of the businesses they will visit regarding what helpful changes the company can make to improve their exposure and revenue. Part of planning for the trips includes researching the language, politics, customs, transportation, and money systems of the countries they visit.
In addition, as Wall Fellows, the students receive training and coaching to help them find unique domestic and international internships. Wall Fellows have interned for corporate heavyweights such as Rolls Royce, Siemens, Citigroup Global Markets, BluePrint Research Group, Tesla Motors, Turner Construction, Nissan North America, Wyndham, and more.
“Corporations and organizations that recruit the Wall Fellows are truly impressed with the level of professionalism and capabilities of these students while interning and when they graduate,” said Cummings.
Dean interned with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as a Wall Fellow, an experience that challenged her and laid the foundation for her future career in communication and marketing for nonprofits.
“I made a business plan in the development office [at the orchestra], even though I honestly didn’t know what a business plan was at the time!” she said. “When you realize you can do something you never expected, you feel ready and excited for the next challenge. I didn’t major in communication or marketing, yet that’s where my career led me, and I attribute that to being a Wall Fellow.”
Adaptability is perhaps something the original founder didn’t foresee being learned from the program, but it’s something the students are learning nonetheless.
“The Wall Fellows impacted my life by improving my adaptability,” said Madison Wolf ’19. “The program mimics work assignments, because deadlines can change and deliverables can be adjusted. This better equipped my classmates and me as we entered the workforce because we knew how to quickly adapt to changes and still produce a great final product.”
As the years passed, Wall’s vision continued to bear fruit. Corporations, like Bank of America, which donated $150,000 to the program in 2003, were starting to recognize the value of what the program was teaching students and how it was preparing them.
“In many ways, business becomes more of an art than a science the further you progress,” said John C. Griggs, former senior vice president of Bank of America. “Through this program, students learn what is demanded from top management in the world’s premier firms.”
Some of those global organizations include the likes of Barclay’s Capital in the United Kingdom; The World Bank in Washington, D.C.; DHL and Adidas in Germany; the European Commission and Parliament in Belgium; and NBC in New York.
Most recently, the Wall Fellows Class of 2020 traveled to Iceland, London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, meeting with the U.S. Embassy in Iceland and presenting their consulting projects to LYSI, Star Oddi, Ozio, and First-on-Tee. In Dublin, the students met with Colliers International to learn about real estate and Irish culture.
The 25th class of Wall Fellows was inducted on Nov. 1, 2019, during a ceremony that gives them a glimpse of what lies ahead. Dozens of Wall Fellows alumni attend the event, opening the door for connections to start forming and for current ties to be strengthened.
“The ceremony was a way to emphasize to us that we will get out what we put in,” said Class of 2021 inductee Ariana Monroe. “Being a Wall Fellow doesn’t end after school; supporting and maintaining a relationship with the Wall Fellows program is just as important as being a current Wall Fellow.”
More than one current Wall Fellow already feels the familial and legacy aspect of the program.
“While I am thankful and proud of personal accomplishments, the opportunity to represent my university and share the stage with such incredible friends is the greatest blessing,” said Allie Mitchell, Class of 2021. “We are a family. I realized in the moments after the induction ceremony that these memories and moments of recognition are highlights of my college career.”
While the payoff may seem great in terms of internships and job opportunities, Wall Fellows must put in the work to reap the rewards. Each class is held to a high standard outlined in the creed and code of conduct and adheres to a strict curriculum that requires one three-credit course each semester, personal coaching, mentor experiences, and community work.
The curriculum has three core areas of development: communication skills, behavioral skills, and organizational skills. These skills combine to teach the students how to manage complex projects and bring them to a successful conclusion. They must develop short- and long-term planning skills, the ability to conceptualize complex projects, develop and manage a personal agenda, and integrate that agenda with that of their colleagues.
In addition, Wall Fellows become accustomed to and adept at working in ambiguous environments in a strategically prepared manner. They learn experientially that life is about planning for encounters and that successful managers consider the various scenarios they may encounter within a given setting and are prepared for all contingencies.
Over the past 25 years, the program has grown not only in number of graduates from the program, but in programming and opportunities, as well as in reputation. More than 140 Wall Fellows alumni are impacting their communities around the world.
“I have had the pleasure of watching this program grow during my tenure at the University,” said David A. DeCenzo, CCU president. “The Wall Fellows program has consistently proven to be a strong organization on our campus and a champion for our local community. I know it will continue to be a program built on training its students to not only achieve personal and professional success, but to represent Coastal Carolina University with pride.”