A Shot at the Big League
ABOVE: The opening spread of "A Shot at the Big League" from the Fall 1997 issue of Coastal Magazine
A Shot at the Big League
“I’m exhausted,” says one senior to another as they enter room 118 of the Wall Building for their next class. “Me too, but I finished my policy paper and I’m about halfway through--” Another student enters. “God, I’m tired,” she says, then launches into a detailed report on this paper and that project. Two more students come in, both bushed and both all business.
Even though this is the Tuesday after spring break, it’s obvious that these students are tired not because they’re recovering from a week’s bash on the beach; they’re hungover from studying. And though they complain of fatigue, they’re too busy, too focused for it to show. In fact, they seem remarkably self-possessed and articulate for undergraduates under mid-term pressure.
These five students—Daniel Aronson, Binni Baldursson, Tammy Bazin, Jamie Lucas-Scialdone and Miguel Patiño—are the first class of Wall Fellows.
“The Wall Fellows program grew out of a series of conversations which the late Craig Wall Jr. initiated almost three years ago with President Ingle, Pete Barr and me,” Bill Woodson, director of the program. “Mr. Wall was concerned that, in this age of increased academic specialization, institutions of higher learning might tend to ignore the development of the ‘whole man.’ He feared that we might be losing sight of certain skills and values without which even our best students, no matter how bright they are, will find themselves disadvantaged if they aspire to executive positions in major corporations.”
In developing what eventually became the Wall Fellows program, a board of advisers—Peter Barr, William J. Baxley, Clay Brittain Jr, Fran Gilbert, John C. Griggs, Wall and Woodson—interviewed more than 20 chief executive officers of Fortune 500-level companies and service organizations to find out about the type of people they were looking for to take their places and lead their companies in the next 10 or 20 years. “What we found as we distilled their responses,” said Woodson, “is that they felt that most of the candidates for employments in their firms lacked leadership skills, the ability to think strategically over a long-term basis, and a very intangible quality that we’ve come to call ‘presence.’”
Based on their findings, the board of advisers created a multifaceted two-year program designed to help Coastal’s top business students acquire the extra capacities which will give them a better shot at “the big league”—significant companies in major metropolitan areas. At the center of the program is a three credit per semester undergraduate course devoted to nontraditional topics such as interpersonal skills, personal health and appearance, business and social etiquette and ethics, foreign languages, music and art, and personal finance and planning. This rigorous course in intended to groom the students for the programs pièce de résistance—summer internships at major companies in the U.S. and abroad following their junior and senior years.
In the classroom, Woodson drills and grills the students on communications skills, both written and oral. “At the beginning, we spend a good deal of time on grammar review,” said Woodson, “because while these students have basically good grammar, where they’re going their grammar has to be 100 percent reliable all the time.” In addition to writing reams of letters, memos, invitations and papers to punch up their writing skills, the students are required to give impromptu talks, without notes or preparation, on subjects Woodson draws out of a hat.
“This training has taught me to think on my feet, to reason through a situation mentally, and to be more articulate,” said Jamie Lucas-Scialdone, a finance major from Ellwood City, Pa. “Now I feel confident about making any kind of public presentation, which is an area where I was definitely weak before.”
In addition to daily doses of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, each student is expected to read a wide range of periodicals, including Forbes, Fortune, Architectural Digest, Business Week, Esquire, Men’s Health, Travel & Leisure and The New Yorker. They are also assigned readings from authoritative texts such as Jansen’s History of Art, Machlis’ Enjoyment of Music and Emily Post’s Etiquette.
Each Wall Fellow meets regularly with a tutor in a foreign language. “In business today it’s almost compulsory to speak two languages,” said Woodson, “and what we’re seeing more and more is that bilingual is standard and the real stars are the ones who are trilingual or multilingual.” Miguel Patiño, who grew up speaking both Spanish and English, studied French as a Wall Fellow. Dan Aronson earned a minor in German at Coastal and learned Italian through the program.
During their first year as Well Fellows, each student works out with a personal physical fitness trainer twice a week. “It’s very clear that to be at the top of your form in business you must be at the top of your form physically,” said Woodson. A nutritionist also advises the students on the importance of eating right. “This sounds basic, but it’s very beneficial for college students, who tend to live on hamburgers and french fries.” During their second year, the students work out on their own and see their trainers strictly on a maintenance basis.
“We also spend a fair amount of time on personal appearance and how to dress,” said Woodson. “It’s one things to say ‘Here’s the look,’ but the students need instruction in how to acquire and execute the ‘look’ required of a business leader in today’s urban workplaces.”
Wall Fellows must devote at least six hours each month to volunteer work. “It’s important that the students recognize the symbolic relationship that exists between business and philanthropy,” said Woodson. “Cultural, educational and service organizations cannot survive in this country without the support and nurturing of business, and the business community has long realized that a world without these organizations and institutions would be intolerable. Also, the boards and committees of these institutions are often the neutral forums for discussion between business executives of different companies.”
During the summer of 1996, all five students held internships in New York City. “Except for what we learned during a brief orientation on the previous spring break, most of us knew practically nothing about the city when we arrived except the location of our apartments and offices. We were on our own after that, sink or swim,” said Jamie Lucas-Scialdone. “Now I feel that I can get around anywhere.”
Lucas-Scialdone, Baldursson, and Bazin interned in various divisions of the national headquarters of Cigna Healthcare Insurance. Patiño interned at Goldman Sachs, where he worked for the senior partner in charge of mergers and acquisitions in the media communications division, while Aronson was placed at Donaldson, Luffkin and Jenrette Securities Company and worked under the senior vice president of human resources.
“The summer internship was really important in that it gave me a sense of the competition I’ll be facing for the kind of jobs I want,” said Aronson. “Many of the other internships were from Harvard, Stanford and other Ivy League schools. Working with them, I knew I would have to keep my grades up and work hard in order to compete with them in the real world. It forced me to set my goals higher.” At the end of their internships, all five students were invited by their respective companies to discuss permanent employment after graduation.
One of the benefits of the program for the students is that it compels them to focus on what they want to do, on real-world terms, with their lives. During her senior year, Tammy Bazin decided that she could best use her abilities to help launch a branch office of her father’s business, L & B Freightliners, in Westfield, Mass. “I turned down the internship in Europe so that I could get started in a management training program for the new business, which I began the Monday after graduation.
Meanwhile, members of the second class of Wall Fellows have finished their first year of their summer internships, while five juniors began the program in August.
Two years ago, when the board of advisers was putting the finishing touches on the Wall Fellows plan, William Baxley said, “It’s a shame we can’t send every business student—every student at Coastal, for that matter—through a program like this.” His remark prompted President Ingle to request that another component be added to the program in the future. “We are calling it ‘community service’ because it will speak to and embrace the community that is Coastal Carolina,” said Woodson. “We are challenging the Wall Fellows students to come up with a plan which will allow them to take come of what they’ve learned through the program and the internships and pass it on to incoming freshman. We feel it would really help some of these 17- and 18-year-old students if they begin to focus on career goals in a more disciplined way as early as possible in their college years.”
“We brainstormed about how to involve freshman in the program,” said Miguel Patiño, “and came up with some ideas. We also formed a sort of big brother-big sister bond with the second class of Wall Fellows. Having gone through the first year, we were able to give them a hand from time to time.”
Organizers of the Wall Fellows program have set some ambitious goals, and since it is still in its infancy, the project is subject to growing pains. “We’re still growing as a program institutionally,” said Woodson. “We’re fine tuning, we’re changing some things, trying to be more responsive to what the students feel they need to accomplish and to the feedback we’ve received from the firms where the students did their internships. But we feel certain that we are heading in the direction that Craig Wall Jr. pointed us down. We’re positioning these kids for the long haul. In Mr. Wall’s words ‘We should be training students for their last job, not their first job.’”
Inside the story from the Fall 1997 issue of Coastal Magazine, the names of the first three Wall Fellows classes were listed