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Networking trips help students land jobs

Accounting professors Christine Wright (far left) and Terri Walsh (fifth from right in the front row) and their students took a networking trip to the Orlando Magic in 2013. Student Devin Walker (center, back row) is now working for the Magic.

Devin Walker is passionate about sports – basketball, baseball, football, cross-country, you name it. The Seminole State College of Florida student wants to become an accountant, and his goal is to somehow combine that career with professional sports.

That’s why he’s thrilled to be working for the Orlando Magic – and glad he took advantage of the twice-monthly networking trips arranged by two of his professors.

Terri Walsh and Christine Wright, accounting professors at Seminole State, have expanded students’ access to local businesses via “networking trips” that establish face-to-face contact with potential employers.

Walsh says the College – from its industry-based advisory boards to the job placement resources offered by its Career Development Center – is focused on helping its graduates land jobs. The networking trips add another important element, she says.

“We’ve documented that over 200 students in the last several years have landed great internships and jobs with more than 35 local and national companies,” says Walsh, who is also Seminole State’s program manager for the accounting program. “It’s not about who you know but who knows you, and the networking trips make a lasting impression on the companies we visit.”

Graduates of Seminole State’s two-year Associate in Science (A.S.) accounting program had a perfect 100 percent placement rate, according to the most recent data. Graduates of Seminole State’s accounting certificate programs (accounting applications, accounting operations and accounting specialist) also had a 100 percent placement rate. 

Wright says that many college students don’t understand the importance of networking.

Without the personal contact that networking creates, Wright says, “you can end up being one in a stack of 1,000 resumes and no one is going to notice you.”

Walker says he went on five or six networking trips, but the one to the Orlando Magic headquarters really caught his attention.

“The Magic people talked to us about different opportunities the Magic has for students our age to get involved and work our way up,” says Walker, 20.

One of those entry-level opportunities was working on the events staff in the Amway Center box office. Walker applied, interviewed and was hired – with a little help from his professor.

Wright, who teaches accounting at the college’s Oviedo Campus, made a call to the Magic’s HR office to remind the staff that they had met Walker during a recent networking visit. Walker figures it helped a lot.

“It kind of gave me the little push that other people who were applying didn’t get,” he says. “I think that was definitely a big benefit to me.”

Walsh has been arranging networking visits for about eight years.

“I saw students who had a lot of drive and motivation to move up but didn’t have the access that a lot of other students do,” she says. “Some have never had the means to be in settings where they could meet people who might help them in their lives. These networking visits are a way to equal the playing field in some respects.”

In addition to lining up company representatives to talk to the students, Walsh follows up with the companies later.

“I ask for general feedback – how they saw the professionalism of the student group, what they thought about the students’ questions,” she says.

Students interested in accounting, marketing, sales and hospitality accompany Walsh and Wright to a variety of employers, including accounting firms, banks and hotels. Because most of the students are freshmen and sophomores, the goal is internships rather than full-time positions.

“Getting an internship isn’t easy,” says Walsh. “A lot of them become word-of-mouth, and a recommendation from somebody who’s trustworthy to the company.”

Building alumni connections

Many of Walsh's former students are now hiring managers to whom she refers students.

“We have at least three of Terri’s former students,” says Matt Holt, audit manager with McGladrey in Orlando and a Seminole State alumnus.

Although his firm doesn’t recruit freshmen and sophomores, Walsh’s networking trips to McGladrey “give them exposure and pique their curiosity,” Holt says. “Terri will tell me she’s got a student who’s exceptional, and I’ll log that away in my memory. If I come across that student in the future, I’ll remember this was one of Terri’s ‘gold star’ students.”

Anisa Stewart is one of those ‘gold star’ students.

A pre-med student at Seminole State, Stewart was undecided about what career she wanted to pursue – until she took an elective accounting class with Walsh.

“Accounting clicked for me,” says Stewart, 22, of Lake Mary. The networking trips “were extremely valuable because they showed you different places you can go with your degree.” With Walsh’s help, Stewart was hired for two internships after networking trips.

Now Stewart is wrapping up her bachelor’s degree in business administration-accounting at the University of Central Florida and planning to start on her master’s degree in the fall. She has an offer from one of the Big Four accounting firms to start work after she finishes her graduate degree.

If not for Walsh’s coaching and networking trips, Stewart says, “I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now.”

Similarly, Walker credits Wright and the visit to the Magic with showing him a way to combine sports and accounting.

“Getting a job here at the Magic was awesome for me,” says the Casselberry student. “Hopefully, I can continue to move up their ladder as I get my degrees and work in a professional sports environment. It’s a steppingstone I’m very happy to have right now.”

Seminole State offers 32 two-year A.S. degrees that prepare students to go directly to work. More than 90 percent of Seminole State A.S. graduates are placed into jobs immediately after graduation with an average starting salary of nearly $45,000. For more information about Seminole State’s degrees and programs, please visit the Degrees of Success page.

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