Upon encouragement by her advisor and Chatham University Business and Entrepreneurship Department Director, Dr. Rachel Chung, Management Information Systems major Kathryn Polaski attended the 2015 Forté College to Business Leadership Conference as the only participant from Chatham, and won the first place prize with her team!
Founded in 2001, the Forté Foundation aims to increase the participation of women in undergraduate and graduate business programs and encourage them to work in the business community. It describes itself as a “non-profit consortium” of leading companies and high performing business schools, helping women build professional networks to achieve their career goals.
One of the foundation’s efforts is the annual Forté College to Business Leadership Conference, being held at the end of October. The free, one-day conference is open to freshmen, sophomore, and juniors of all majors, not just business related fields, who are interested in building key skills needed to professionally operate in today’s workplaces. In addition to herself, Kathryn’s team was comprised of three other young women pursuing degrees in a wide range of subjects. One of her teammates studied Accounting at Babson College, another studied Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University, and the third studied Engineering at the University of Virginia. Throughout the day, participants had the opportunity to network with top businesswomen, build leadership skills, and learn what it is really like to work in a business environment while finding opportunities for summer internships and entry-level jobs.
The conference is interactive, with participants randomly placed into teams to simulate running a business. Last year, each group was given the same product to market and then sell. Each team determined if the product was luxury, generic, name brand. Roles included director for marketing, accounting, and operations, and they had to make decisions about product development and manufacturing, employee management, and business expansion. The panel of judges awarded Kathryn’s team with the first place prize!
The group project itself was a computer simulation, and the judges checked in at various points during the day. As the simulation began, the team had to decide on company roles; this was important as some decisions were made by individual team members, while others, like the product branding, were made by the group, since there were implications for the direction of the entire business. As it was all computerized, the teams also received real time feed back on the progress of their product as well. Towards the end of the day, the top three performing groups had ten minutes to create a PowerPoint presentation about their company and the status of the product. This, combined with the success of their product, were reviewed by the judges for the final standing of teams.
“The most important thing I took from the conference was to not be afraid to be a leader or have a voice,” said Kathryn. She emphasized that the business simulation was a reinforcing function for this to ensure her ideas and recommendations were incorporated. Other presentations provided tips on how to interact with company representatives while networking and in interviews as well. One of the many benefits of winning the first place prize is mentorship by female professionals from PNC Bank. While Kathryn is not attending the conference in 2016, she would encourage others to attend; the Forté Foundation does provide a travel stipend.
Forté College to Business Leadership Conference is just one of the many ways Chatham’s Business and Entrepreneurship Department supports students gaining practical experience and building networks for their future professional success.