Project Lead Gives ATU Business Students a Head Start

Project Lead ATU Fall 2022
The Arkansas Tech University School of Business hosted its inaugural Project Lead seminar at Chambers Cafeteria West Dining Room on Sunday, Aug. 14.

Thirty-eight students from the Arkansas Tech University School of Business launched their fall 2022 semester by participating in a seminar entitled Project Lead on Sunday, Aug. 14.

Highlights included team-building exercises with Dr. Phillip McClure, a facilitator and speaker based in Fort Smith, and a message about identifying and capitalizing upon personal strengths from Michele McWilliams, an Arkansas Tech alumna with 25 years of experience in education and multiple certifications in coaching leaders, individuals, teams and organizations.

Project Lead is made possible through a grant from the Loyd Foundation, which has made a five-year commitment to the initiative.

“I was nervous to walk in today,” said Megan Christensen, an ATU freshman from Alma and participant in Project Lead. “I didn’t know anyone who was going to be here. Once I got here, I sat down with a group of people and just started talking. It’s the beginning of making those connections, meeting people who can help and knowing there are people who are there for you.”

Christensen, who became a realtor at age 18, will major in business data analytics at Arkansas Tech.

“I like numbers,” said Christensen. “Long term, I want to do process improvement and project management from the business side for a manufacturing company. My mom was an engineer, so I was always around engineering growing up. I’d like to be involved in that, but from a business perspective.”

ATU freshman Alexis Lara’s business interests are in sales. She and Christensen met and became friends during the Project Lead seminar.

“I love to speak to people,” said Lara, who is from Maumelle and plans on majoring in marketing. “The older I got, the more I realized how much I love people and talking to them.”

Lara discovered early on that ATU was a place where she found her fit.

“I loved Arkansas Tech when I came for a visit,” said Lara. “I looked at a few other colleges, but I just knew…I came here and I literally love this place. It’s a great town. I’m very big on personal connections. The more connections you have, the more successful you can be. That’s what you need in order to get places.”

Jad Salaita was also among the Project Lead seminar participants. A native of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Salaita earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree from ATU and is beginning his pursuit of the ATU Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in business data analytics this fall.

“I liked how interactive everybody was,” said Salaita when asked about Project Lead. “The engagement and the energy was really great. I gained a lot of knowledge about interviewing and how to ask questions, and I feel like my communication skills got way better.”

Project Lead was conceived by Kathy and Randy Loyd of the Loyd Foundation and Dr. Russ Jones, dean of the ATU College of Business and Economic Development, as a way to help Arkansas Tech business students become better connected to each other.

Jones expressed gratitude to the Loyds for their investment of resources and energy in Project Lead.

“The key we focused on the entire day was engagement,” said Jones. “Don’t just go to class and then go back to your residence hall. The ATU School of Business is very fortunate because we have an activity for students every Wednesday, all nine months. It ranges from guest speakers to building a resume to dress for success…all of those things.”

Moving forward, upper level student ambassadors from the ATU School of Business will be paired with freshman Project Lead participants. Funding is provided for networking lunches, which allow older students to share their wisdom and knowledge with younger ones.

“When these upper level students get into the business world and these freshmen become upperclassmen,” said Jones, “the upperclassmen will reach forward to the alumni and ask which classes they wish they had taken and what they wish they had known before they got into the workplace. Those upperclassmen can then reach back to the incoming freshmen and let them know what to be prepared for. The idea is to have contacts where you are headed who have gone down the same path you are and are willing to share what they have learned.”

After her first day in the program, Christensen already felt connected to that mission.

“I loved learning to communicate better,” said Christensen. “That is something I struggled with when I was younger. I’ve always been very shy. Learning how to open up and guide conversations…often times small talk can be awkward. Learning how to guide a conversation and have it be an effective conversation is so important.

“I really like the idea of being completely self-aware,” continued Christensen. “Know your strengths, know your weaknesses and learn how to make your weaknesses your strengths. There are so many things I can work on and there are people (at Arkansas Tech) who can help me and give me good insight.”

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