‘Year Two, Brand You’ initiative fosters sophomore growth


John Rindy and students on sophomore retreat

Slippery Rock University sophomores participated in last year’s inaugural “Year Two, Brand You” self-development retreat at McKeever Environmental Learning Center. The 2016 event is scheduled for April 1-2.

Feb. 11, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In a wooded environmental center 25 miles north of Slippery Rock University, an oasis has arisen where SRU sophomores attend retreats to develop their personal brand.

SRU's "Year Two, Brand You" program, now it its second year, sends sophomores to the McKeever Environmental Learning Center for an overnight experience with their peers and SRU career education and residence life staff. Students receive self-development training to create a marketable persona that they will continue to evolve as they travel the road toward internships, graduation and employment.

The retreat is for students in SRU's Sophomore Experience Living Learning Community in the residence halls. The next retreat will take place April 1-2, with at least 15 participants staying overnight in cabins on the 205-acre McKeever grounds.

While the term branding has long been associated with companies, today almost every individual has a personal brand, according to Shama Hyder, bestselling author of the Zen of Social Media Marketing. "The question is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but if you choose to guide and cultivate the brand or to let it be defined on your behalf."

Branding, in the most general sense, she said, is how you want others to see you.

Business guru Tom Peters popularized the concept of personal branding in an article first published in Fast Company Magazine more than 10 years ago. Peters' wrote, "Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You."

"It's important for students to begin to more deeply consider their personal brands - in other words, to answer the question, 'Why should I hire you and not the other five people I just interviewed?'" said John Rindy, director of career education and development who attends and helps teach the retreat.

"I always say, you have to go to your 'quiet place' to do something like this, and 'Year Two, Brand You' is that quiet place," he said. "McKeever is so peaceful and such a great place for this sort of branding retreat."

McKeever, owned by the state and administered by SRU, is a retreat site that includes cabins, classroom buildings and five miles of trails.

The retreat starts Friday night with a dinner in the McKeever dining hall. After dinner, a prospective employer talks in depth about the skills needed in the workforce, why they are needed and how students can build those skills.

"How can we expect students to know all of this and synthesize all of this unless they actually hear from an employer in a quiet, intimate setting?" Rindy said.

Next they begin a series of assessments that continue into Saturday. Rindy said students are asked to consider their openness to change, interest in entrepreneurship and personal work values.

After down time for food and movies, an SRU graduate talks to students about his or her career success. After additional assessments, Rindy said students write a personal brand statement for themselves that they deliver in the form of a 30-second "elevator pitch." Professional and University staff offer feedback.

Rindy said "Year Two, Brand You" helps students focus on the big picture of career success.

"Students are so deeply engaged in classes, studying, organizations and field trips, by the time they get to us to build a resume, they have done so many things, but they often have not taken the time to consider all of those experiences and to reflect upon the skills, knowledge and abilities that are now marketable parts of their professional persona as a result of all of that activity," Rindy said.

Targeting students during their sophomore year has great advantages.

"Sophomore year is a pivot point for not just success in your college career but just in life in general. It is a huge turning point," said Maggie Pfaff, an SRU marketing major from Bedford who participated in the retreat last year. "It is a time when a lot of people are starting to really form opinions about where they see themselves in the future, both career and life wise, for the first time."

Pfaff, a community assistant in Building E, said hearing from professional speakers helps students build for their futures and that the retreat is a "wonderful time to be able to connect more with some of the people who live on your floor in a stress-free, camping sort of environment."

"I went last year for the first one, and I was so happy that I did, it was a really nice break from how crazy school can get," she said. "I did also learn so much in the short time that it was. The way it was formatted, I didn't really feel like I was just sitting in a classroom in a different place, and I learned skills I still use when I interview and search for jobs."

Cathie Sadler, SRU assistant director of residence life, said SRU obtained a $1,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Employers, a collaborative organization of career development and recruitment professionals, to fund meals, transportation, speakers and gifts for participants.

"There is a lot of research about students in their second year feeling forgotten by their institutions. It's crucial that we provide a means for these students to continue to succeed here at SRU. We want them to be well prepared to graduate and we hope that this program will help them develop holistically into productive citizens," she said. "What we're providing is all about self-development and what students need for success."

Sadler said the 30-second elevator pitches are especially useful, because they teach students how to present themselves if they happen to encounter someone with whom they need to make a good first impression.

"It's the culminating piece at the end of the weekend," she said. "What are your strengths, and how do you, in 30 seconds, introduce yourself in a memorable manner?"

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 | gordon.ovenshine@sru.edu