Transformative training

The Networks Program has changed the way State teaches all Sycamores and along the way transformed business students into the best-trained leaders on the biggest professional stages. 

Leaders aren’t born.

They are developed through programs like the Networks Financial Institute in Indiana State’s Scott College of Business.

“The four-year career and professional development leadership program is a comprehensive education that not only provides students with a rigorous series of leadership seminars and workshops but also gives students hands-on experiences to engage with and learn about business through industry visits, a mentorship program and experiential learning opportunities,” said Rebecca Wray, Networks Program director. “It’s an intensive and in-depth program focused on developing future financial services and business industry leaders.”

Simply, it’s the best business education in the state.

Founded in 2003 with a $20 million grant from Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation Lilly Endowment Inc., the Networks Financial Institute aims to be the higher education thought leader on financial services, financial education and insurance operations, regulation and structure. The institute is a destination campus for high-achieving students to develop strong leadership abilities through intensive co-curricular programs and become highly valued graduates who have a choice of job offers in the industry.

“NFI has contributed to the Scott College’s continued accreditation by the highly regarded American Association of Colleges and Schools of Business, which less than 5 percent of the world’s business programs earn,” Indiana State President Dan Bradley said. “This generous endowment grant has helped Indiana State develop a national reputation for leading the discussion of the main issues facing the insurance and financial services industry during its annual Insurance Public Policy Summit.”

The insurance summit, which was held for the 13th year this spring in Washington, D.C., is a forum for the discussion of regulatory trends and emerging issues in the financial services industry with key public policymakers, regulators, industry leaders and academia.

“It has been my honor to be invited to speak at the NFI Insurance Summit over the years,” said Leigh Ann Pusey, president and CEO of American Insurance Association. “The summit brings together prominent voices in the insurance industry, and it is an event that thought leaders in insurance public policy view as ‘can’t miss.’”

The summit allows people in the financial services industry to hear firsthand from the policymakers and regulators who are making the decisions that impact the industry.

Rebecca Wray

“This year, one of the big issues talked about was what is going to happen with the National Flood Insurance Program,” Wray said. “At the summit, we heard directly from Sean Duffy, R-Wis., chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance of the House Financial Services Committee, on a bill that is being proposed and what’s being discussed. He shared information about the bill and asked people in the industry to share their thoughts and feedback directly with the policymakers creating the bill.”

Each year, eight Networks Scholars also have a chance to attend the summit and network with professionals in the financial services industry. One student is selected to speak about the Networks Program and the experiences they have available to them as scholars.

“A work ethic, intellectual ability: These students had that before they came here, but often they never had a professional role model to help polish them or an opportunity to hone their skills until they were Networks Scholars,” Wray said. “We want them to have skills that set them apart from other job candidates. I know we succeed, because I hear from employers who hire our scholars and they come back asking for more candidates.”

What the Networks Program provides for business students, Wray said, are valuable opportunities to learn about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses and help them to build a network of professionals before they graduate from college.

The students also have the chance to plan for the future by discussing what life has in store for them in their post-graduation lives, as they examine the results of self-evaluations and assessments through one-on-one coaching with the Networks Professional Development Program education team that includes Wray, Kim LaGrange, the program’s faculty advisor and management instructor, and Michelle Reeson, assistant director of the Networks Professional Development Program.

Those opportunities helped catapult alumna Chelsea Abanathie, ’14, into her position as a supply chain specialist with Charter Wire in Milwaukee. She credits her early success in business to the Networks Program.

“The Networks Program allows you the ability to challenge yourself in a safe environment. There are major and minor leadership opportunities, as well as group assignments that allow you to get out of your comfort zone before you get into the real world and have too much of a rude awakening,” Abanathie said. “I had amazing leadership opportunities that I was able to leverage in my interviews to show operations experience. I had worked as the operations team leader for the annual Ethics Conference and had to schedule rooms, people to monitor rooms, as well as other aspects of the day. This was the culmination of several leadership opportunities Networks allowed me to have and the one I am still the most proud of.”

The Networks Program allowed alumna Kristen Booe, ’10, to increase her confidence level by continuously pushing her  and helping her realize that she had the skills to navigate uncomfortable and challenging situations, especially with the guidance of a trusted mentor.

“I was fortunate enough to be aligned in the mentorship program with Mike Alley, who was the president of the ISU Board of Trustees at the time and very active on campus,” said Booe, who earned her degree in management and now works at Deloitte Consulting in Terre Haute. “He supported my goals, provided invaluable guidance and connected me with multiple opportunities and industry professionals during and after my job search. He is an advocate for me to this day and a source of valued advice.”

Michael Hickox, ’13, knew the Networks Program would offer opportunities for him to grow as a professional, but he never expected the level of overall growth and development he received during four years.

“The most valuable influence of the program, as a whole, is the personal and professional development of its students,” said Hickox, who graduated with a degree in finance and management and serves as a loan officer for First Neighbor Bank in Toledo, Ill. “This helps former and current scholars alike to better influence others in any capacity we serve in.”

The Networks Professional Development Program’s successes with career readiness opportunities and experiential learning have paved the way for a new emphasis on career readiness for every student on campus.

The Bayh College of Education Scholars to Teachers (BEST) program was created to provide future educators with similar career readiness and experiential learning opportunities. This fall, the university will also formally incorporate career readiness competencies into the undergraduate majors and foundational studies course work, and all students will complete the career management tasks required to earn the Sycamore Career Ready Certificate.

“These experiences help attract new students and directly contribute to our explosive enrollment growth of more than 30 percent during the past nine years,” Bradley said. “We have seen a 34 percent increase in degree production among our Hoosier students and a 14 percent increase in on-time graduation rates. Since 90 percent of our alumni reside, work and raise families in Indiana, this has a measurable impact on the state’s workforce and economy.”

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