Astrid Kerschbamer ’21, a health promotion major at University of Lynchburg, said her goals for participating in Leading Off Campus, a new leadership program for area college students, included gaining confidence and networking skills, and possibly some help finding an internship.
Past the midway point in the program, in early October, Kerschbamer said she’s seeing progress. “I have gained confidence and business techniques I know I will use in my career,” she said. “I also have learned that most people did not have a direct path to the career they have now and that eased my mind, as I’m not really sure what I want to do next, after college.
“I have also been given a mentor and after my first meeting with her, I know I will always have someone in my corner, teaching me new things and giving me advice for my next steps in my career.”
This fall, a half dozen University of Lynchburg students, along with students from two other local colleges, are participating in Leading Off Campus, a new program that aims to combat the “brain drain” that can occur in communities when college graduates leave for job opportunities.
Leading Off Campus is sponsored by the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, an organization that promotes economic growth in the City of Lynchburg and the surrounding counties. It was modeled after Leadership Lynchburg, another Alliance program that has been training area leaders since 1977.
Participants meet once or twice a month at Lynchburg-area businesses, including Centra, BWXT, and others. It not only gives students the opportunity to learn from local business leaders, it also could give them a leg up when it comes to getting a job after graduation.
“They’re getting to know some companies around the region and making contact and networking with companies that they hopefully will intern with or get their first professional job at in the next 12 to 18 months,” Christine Kennedy, the Alliance’s chief operating officer and executive vice president, said.
Leading Off Campus also incorporates the “NACE 8,” eight career-readiness competencies identified by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The NACE 8 includes communication, teamwork and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, leadership, professionalism and work ethic, digital technology, and global-intercultural fluency.
“[These are] are the skills that businesses and employers have indicated make for successful employees,” Kristen Cooper, associate dean of students at Lynchburg, said. “The NACE competencies have also been adopted by the Division of Student Development at the University of Lynchburg.
“The development and growth in each NACE competency area will give the program participants an advantage during the job search process, but also as they enter the workforce. These skills will allow the program participants to be strong new professionals.”
The Lynchburg students involved in the first cohort of Leading Off Campus come from a variety of majors and class years. Each applied for the program and all have expressed a desire to stay and work in the Lynchburg area after graduation.
In developing the program about a year and a half ago, the Alliance enlisted help from University of Lynchburg student and political science major Marc Propst ’19. At the time, Propst was a project management intern at the Alliance.
“Marc helped build out the program and session modules through an experiential internship with Leadership Lynchburg,” Kennedy said. “This included everything from convening a planning committee to flesh out sessions as well as program recruitment to drafting a budget.”
Propst, who has since been hired as the Alliance’s interim office coordinator, described the project as “one of the most important that I have ever completed,” and said it was “built by a college student for college students. The program is aimed to teach college students how the real world really works.
“The soft skills that students need to have in order to work within a team, writing emails, critically thinking. All of these skills are complemented by the connections that are made at this program as well. Students have the ability to meet, interact, and build connections to community movers and shakers that are committed to the investment of the students in the region.”