But it’s the missteps and stumbles along the way that Satell believes are a major part of the growth process.
“Students need to know there is no magic,” he says. “They need to hear what really happened at age 22 and 25 and 28, not just about how successful these leaders are today.”
To bring those firsthand stories of early struggles to students, Satell proposed and funded a new project for F&M—Life After College Success Program.
“I got the idea while talking to some students, really bright kids,” says the philanthropist, whose son Matthew is a junior government major at F&M. “I realized the College does such a fabulous job educating these kids, but so many have misconceptions and a real disconnect with what comes next.”
The program’s objective is to help promising juniors and seniors “make the transition from college to life after college in a way that is faster, more effective and more meaningful to them.”
Satell’s idea reached a receptive audience. F&M’s Board of Trustees and President John Fry had already formed a task force to enhance and expand the programming offered through F&M’s Career Services, encouraging students to plan for their futures prior to their senior year.
“The threads just fell in place,” says Kent Trachte, dean of the College, who worked with Satell for more than a year to create and refine the program. “Prior to this program, we didn’t have a good concept to draw students into thinking and planning during their junior years.”
Using an intense writing, interview and presentation process last spring and summer, the team of Satell, Trachte and the Career Services staff selected 25 of the school’s most motivated juniors from the 118 nominated applicants. Five seniors were also handpicked to give a broader perspective.
This fall the program will run as fully envisioned, with 30 juniors joining this now-experienced, inaugural class of students.
“This is for the brightest and the best to get in touch with and find their own voice to guide the things they want to do when they graduate,” says Satell, adding that the program helps students focus on their future through preparation, awareness, insight, experience and contacts.
Gaining Firsthand Knowledge
The program offers students an opportunity to study the career paths of some of the nation’s top leaders and meet them face to face to hear about the mistakes that preceded their success.
“The core concept of the program is that students can learn a lot about what will help them be successful by interacting with highly successful people about how they made that transition themselves,” says Trachte. “Through hearing really interesting personal stories and reflections, the students can learn what worked and what didn’t work.”
Each speaker gave a presentation at a formal networking dinner and offered a brief history of his or her career trajectory, including challenges and road-blocks. Intense probing from the students followed. The dinners, which require students to do research as well as arrive appropriately dressed and ready to network, are an opportunity for students to practice professional conversations during the meal and then “sell” themselves at the dessert reception.
Each dinner presentation is wrapped up with a rapid-fire summation by each student of lessons learned. “We call it the lightning round,” said Tammy Halstead, the College’s director of career development and the program administrator of Life After College.
“I was impressed by how well the students prepared for my visit,” says Taylor. “They reviewed information from my company Web site and other media stories. They asked thoughtful questions to get at information most important for them to know.”
For his part, Taylor says he “tried to leave them confident that their F&M education would give them a solid foundation for anything they did in their careers. I wanted them to concentrate on understanding what they like to do and to appreciate that success is how they define it. I asked them to consider that they may find a great quality of life in any profession or job if they enjoy their work.”
Staring Down Obstacles
With a foundation in place and a passion for their work, students should be able to persevere, no matter what challenges they encounter, says Taylor.
“It’s hard for students to accept that they may have to fail in order to be successful,” says Trachte. “The speakers we bring to campus have all had some critical moments, some failures, that they had to overcome. They had to be resilient.”
“These peer-to-peer sessions, where students can influence each other, are where the best learning takes place,” says Satell.
“It’s where they learn the components of true success: how important values are, how important it is to be resilient, how important it is to be passionate about what you do.”
“I really take away something from every speaker,” says Brandon Clasen ’08. “It’s reassuring to hear about the speakers’ failures, knowing that they have succeeded the way they have.”
The program helps students polish a 30-second sales pitch for themselves and find strategic internships and effective mentors.
Organizers say some students initially had “wet fish” handshakes. But when the students traveled to the F&M Forum on Presidential Politics in Washington, D.C., and worked the room rather than sitting together in a clump, organizers knew the program was making a tangible difference.
Interacting with alumni is a key underpinning of the program. This year, three of the eight speakers were alumni and other alumni are offering students paid internships to enrich their experience and define their career goals.
Taylor feels the program benefits alumni as well, as it affords them the opportunity to support the College in ways that are not strictly financial.
“Alumni have much to offer students,” Taylor says. “Alumni can share the hopes, fears, opportunities, failures and successes they had as new graduates and give students confidence that while the future is never certain, they will find the success in life they seek, just like those who came before them.”
Satell has committed to fund the program for four years, after which he hopes the program graduates and others work to ensure it endures.
“This is a permanent need, so it should become a permanent program,” he says.
“It will be fun 15 to 20 years from now to see some of these students reach a great pinnacle in their fields and come back to share their experiences with the next generation.”