Business Students Meet With Financial Services Executive

Expert: "Knox students are further along on the critical thinking spectrum"

October 14, 2011

Reporting and photography by Laura Pochodylo '14

Marilynn GravesKnox College students poised to enter the workforce were advised by a financial services executive that they need to be "someone an organization wants to invest in, because the organization is taking a risk on you." Students in the course Marketing and Society met with Marilynn Graves, Vice President of Senior Performance Consultant for Commercial and Business Banking at Fifth Third Bank. Headquartered in Ohio, the regional banking corporation has partnered with the College to give Knox students direct, in-class experiences with business leaders.

The partnership between Knox and Fifth Third grows from a desire to "make sure leaders come out of Knox's business program, students with an understanding of business beyond just the basic subject matter," explained John Spittell, professor and chair of the business and management program. Spittell and Richard Stout, professor of economics, have brought Fifth Third executives to meet with students on campus for several years.

Graves, who has more than 30 years of experience in banking, focused on upcoming experiences for many of the students: as job candidates, setting themselves apart from other job seekers; then as new employees, establishing themselves in a corporate environment.

Graves's presentation, "Establishing your Business Brand: Transitioning from Academic Leadership to Business Leadership," covered how to pair a business education with a liberal arts foundation. She discussed how establishment of a personal brand is more than getting a job; it encompasses what she called "soft skills" - personal skills that go beyond knowledge of subject matter or the job's technical details, and influence the first years of working.

"This is not about interviewing, or what a resume should look like. This is about developing leadership capability," Graves said. "Professors teach the nuts and bolts of business and economics, but your soft skills set you apart by establishing credibility and a personal brand."

Graves said that Knox's emphasis on conversational abilities and critical thinking skills provides advantages over students' experiences at larger schools. Graves has seen Knox up close and in action, because her daughter, Virgina, graduated from the College two years ago.

"Moving to deeper insights through critical thinking is a great attribute that Knox students already have. They understand that asking questions is not a weakness," Graves said. "You are further along on the critical thinking spectrum than your competitors, due to the classroom structure at Knox, and the nature of the school... critical thinking is truly a distinguishing factor."

Speaking to members of a generation raised on text-based electronic communication, Graves stressed the importance of conversational skills. Knox, she says, does a good job of producing students who can communicate face-to-face, because "at Knox, conversational skills are built into the curriculum."

"Conversation is an incredibly huge, but dying art. Knox students, however, have a leg up, because you know how to have a conversation due to the smaller class sizes," Graves said.

Graves' discussion on business beyond the technical subject matter focused around development of emotional intelligence, diplomacy, an understanding of the big picture, critical thinking, and integrity. Overall, in the process of establishing a personal business brand, Graves reminded students to "capitalize on the skills Knox has given you that large universities don't require."

Among those in the class, Danielle Erickson '14 said she could apply Graves's tips to her upcoming internship. "I think it was really relevant to people our age because we are frequently going into new situations with new people. We need to make good impressions, as well as find ways to blend into the environment."