UIC Business program takes advantage of online learning with Zoom speaker series

The Institute for Leadership Excellence and Development (iLEAD) Professional Development Program in UIC Business discovered a big perk when classes moved online during the spring — the creation of the Professional Development Program Guest Speakers Series.

It was a two-week-long run of professionals sharing their work histories, advice and answering questions from business students enrolled in BA100, 220 and 420 — all via Zoom. From April 13-24, 13 guest speakers shared their expertise and answered hundreds of students’ questions, with audiences as big as 93 attendees. 

Stephanie Anderson 2018
Stephanie Anderson 2018. Photo by Julie Jaidinger

“It started with the idea of trying to bring in a few guest speakers for my own sections, and then it grew to the entire department,” said Stephanie Anderson, instructor in the iLEAD PDP. “It was a clear way to maximize the benefit of learning from the speaker, and everyone on the team jumped on board.”

The series was a way for students to learn about career experiences and also gaining first-hand exposure of what generosity looks like, Anderson said.

PDP faculty members, including Anderson and lecturers Jeff Wilson and Ranjit Souri, served as hosts, asking informational-style interview questions for about half an hour followed by another half an hour of questions from students.

Jeff Wilson
Jeff Wilson. Photo by Julie Jaidinger

This fall, the college hopes to do something similar with a range of interviewees to learn from, according to Wilson.

 “We advocate informational interviews and assign them to students, so this was a way to show how to conduct them in action,” he said.  

Students had the chance to interact one-on-one with the guest speaker by asking questions and relaying comments and ideas in the chat. And many of them later connected with the interviewees via LinkedIn.  

One of the biggest assets of the online format was that speakers were stationed around the world, from Burkina Faso in West Africa to Toronto in Canada to DC and Chicago — and more than half of them were UIC alumni.  

PDP Guest Speaker-Ashley Anderson
PDP Guest Speaker-Ashley Anderson. Photo by Stephanie Anderson

The series kicked off with an interview with Ashley Anderson, associate livelihood & economic inclusion officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Through images and slides, she shared her personal journey as a human (and animal) rights advocate.

“I was surprised at how far Ashley was able to get in her career by just the sheer power of networking and confidence,” said Sana Aktar, an information and decision sciences junior. “I thought Ashley’s endeavors throughout her career were really admirable.”

Souri Ranjit
Ranjit Souri. Photo by Julie Jaidinger

From Toronto, Nic Weststrate, assistant professor of educational psychology at UIC, gave an informative and inclusive talk.

“I was able to discover ResearchGate through him, which is encouraging because I love searching databases for market research advancements in business marketing and coding,” said Daniel Tomback, a business marketing and management junior. “He really did a great job of going into detail about his personal life and his professional life and always finding a balance and making it a conversation rather than a lecture.”

Guest speaker and UIC double-alum Matt Alex, a former principal at Deloitte and co-founder of Beyond Academics, said, “You don’t need to have all of the skills, you just need to have access to people who do.”

“The conceptual level, according to Matt, is way more important than the skill level,” said Michael Block, a business management senior. “Develop yourself into a leader, and then go out and surround yourself with the resources needed to be successful.”

Other speakers in the spring series included:

  • Bill Russell, former managing director and head of European futures, Citigroup
  • Alex Almazan, revenue management analyst, United Airlines
  • Caitlyn Ford, director, digital media & strategy, Empower
  • Chris Ulrich, body language expert & former domestic policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore
  • Pearl Patel – PHR, senior manager HR analytics & reporting @ Beam Suntory
  • Abin Kuriakose, director of ChicagoNext at World Business Chicago
  • Abhinaya Konduru, associate, M25 Group – an early-stage micro-venture capital fund based in Chicago
  • Shahbaz Khan, senior data scientist, Crowe
  • Marge Johnsson, executive director, innovation & growth center, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Eugene Fula, international tax manager, Grant Thornton LLP

Written by Morgan Lord, lecturer, UIC Business

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