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An Overview of iLEAD PDP and More with Lecturer Jeff Wilson

Work the Room 2019

Networking is an art that, if done strategically, can lead to long-lasting connections and better career prospects. To some, this skill comes naturally. Others may find communicating in professional settings to be a challenge. The Institute of Leadership Excellence and Development (iLEAD) at UIC Business employs improvisational theatre techniques and experiential learning activities to prepare students for workplace success.

For first-year students, the iLEAD Professional Development Program (PDP) consists of BA 100 and a signature Work the Room event. Both are revered by students, as well as the alumni who volunteer. Pawel Szelsiki, MSA ’13, stated, “I’m impressed by how this professional presence course turned into an amazing thing for UIC. I’m proud to participate [in Work the Room] and foster something that we didn’t have a decade ago.”

Lecturer Jeff Wilson shared what first-year students can expect to gain from this one-of-a-kind program.

In the iLEAD PDP program, improvisational theatre techniques are used to help first-year students develop their soft skills. Why is this such a critical part of the learning process?

What we’re trying to do is break down social barriers and get students comfortable with talking to each other. At the same time, this method teaches students how to network as well.

Experiential learning plays a large role in the program. What are the most popular activities used to help students realize their key strengths?

Our final project for BA 100 is an informational interview. Students are asked to speak with someone, that they may not be familiar with, about their working life and about their career path.This type of experience is amazing because it breaks the ice. It is also incredibly useful for undecided students. For example, if marketing sounds interesting, talk to someone in marketing and see what they say about their work. Then talk to more people in marketing. Keep doing that. Keep refining. Two things happen in informational interviews. One, you’re getting a lot of information as the interviewer, as the student. The other thing is that people like talking about themselves. So, when the interviewee shares their life story, they’re working with a student and feel good about it. The magic, I think, of the informational interview is that they just made a 30-minute investment in you. People like to see their investments pay off and may think, “Who do I know that could help them?” Or “Do we have any opportunities here that they might be interested in?” It’s amazing how some of these informational interviews turn into internship opportunities.

iLEAD’s Work the Room event is a chance for BA 100 students to practice their networking abilities. What differences do you notice in their confidence as a result?

Our alumni spend a few hours of their day to talk with our freshmen. One of the reasons they do this is because, for some of them, they had this opportunity also. Some of them are recent grads. So, one of the big “aha’s” is that it’s relatively easy to talk to the alumni. They want to help. It’s the same for this event or if you’re reaching out to an alum through LinkedIn. Fairly often, you’re going to get positive answers from people you’ve never met because they remember what it’s like to be a student. The takeaway is getting comfortable reaching out to people and asking questions.

Work the Room 2021

What was your favorite moment from the most recent Work the Room event?

The way we did the event was give attendees a topic to discuss and then they would break into small groups. I got to participate and watch people’s experience. My highlight was just seeing our students actively asking questions and being honestly curious. You just see the lights go on in their eyes.

How is Work the Room expected to evolve this year?

It’s important to have events in person. I would like to move back to that. But the cool thing about a virtual work the room is that there was someone from Australia. We had people participate from several other areas in the United States, such as San Francisco. I think it’s good to have the flexibility of using virtual media, and I would like to see a mix.

Jeff closes by leaving students with an important piece of advice, “Anytime you’re in one of these classes, be all in and you’ll have an amazing experience. If you come in and pour yourself into the material and play along with the improv games that we do, you will come out a better communicator. You’ll be more comfortable in the things that you find uncomfortable. Public speaking, perhaps.”

*Please note that in addition to BA 100 for first-year students, there are specific PDP courses required for transfer, sophomore, junior, and graduate students. Learn more by visiting the iLEAD Professional Development Program page.