This year’s freshman class at Maryland Smith kicked off their studies with a new pilot: the iSmith program.
It’s an innovative experience designed to prepare students for the workplace by building a personal brand and a narrative of their professional strategies and personal development as they navigate through their undergraduate years.
The “I” stands for “innovative, international, informed and influential,” and the program aims to help students identify their strengths, knowledge, skills and interests while combining them with what they’re learning in and outside the classroom. The outcome is a stronger understanding of their capabilities and the ability to communicate those capabilities to prospective employers.
“Today’s corporate partners and CEOs are telling us that in the new world of work, it’s going to be so complex that there isn’t a formula to solve things,” explains Victor Mullins, associate dean of undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Instead, students need to demonstrate that they have a set of competencies on top of the expertise they gained in their major.
A large part of iSmith is to strengthen this core set of competencies, which include communication, ethics, leadership, teamwork, quantitative and digital analytics, innovative thinking, global mindset, critical thinking and problem solving, and professionalism. “We wanted [students] to articulate their value through a competency, whether that’s from work-study, nannying, golf caddying, a competition, club or event – whatever they do,” Mullins says.
iSmith is powered with a web platform and app students can download, called Suitable. Students are encouraged to attend events, activities, competitions, clubs and other experiences – all tracked on Suitable. Students are rewarded for their participation and receive badges, and the most active students are featured on a leaderboard.
“iSmith made me even more interested and determined to attend as many events as possible,” says Thomas Petersen, a freshman from Silver Spring, Maryland. “It was nice to win prizes and appear on the leaderboard, but my best takeaway from iSmith was the experiences I had, the new information and business knowledge I learned and the people I met along the way.”
Freshman Katherine Robinson of Plymouth, Minn., found inspiration in a recent event titled “10Ks of Personal Branding,” led by Kaplan Mobray, a former Deloitte executive-turned-author and motivational speaker. “It was nice to see a clear model of someone who was most definitely a successful businessperson, but who also had a clear sense of self outside of the business world as well,” she says.
The impetus behind iSmith was to have students build this personal brand and be able to communicate their passions and skills to others. “iSmith is a wonderful virtual tool that allows them to spice up their narrative verbally and in writing,” Mullins explains.
In the past, he recalls, “I would stop students in the hallway and ask, ‘Tell me a little about yourself.’ They would say, ‘I definitely want to go into finance.’ But then they have nothing more to tell after that. With iSmith, I want to teach them to truly dig deeper and create a narrative on what they do, even if they’re undecided.”
–By Rin-rin Yu