"On the Job: Business internships become careers through Decosimo Success Center" Cheerful business students in Fletcher Hall.

Success stats

Three months after graduation, students from the UTC College of Business are asked to fill out a survey with questions about their current employment situation and satisfaction with their academic career at UTC, among other subjects. Here are some results from the UTC class of 2015-16:

  • Graduates with bachelor degrees: 387
  • Found fulltime employment: 73 percent; national average is 58 percent, according to the National Association of College and Employers
  • Average fulltime salary: $40,159
  • Average fulltime salary with 3.8-4.0 GPA: $51,000
  • Job offered prior to graduation: 78 percent
  • In job requiring a degree: 84 percent
  • Satisfaction with current job: 82 percent
  • Completed internship: 81 percent
  • Overall satisfaction with the College of Business: 93 percent

Source: Final Destination Survey for the College of Business

Ryan Ward got back from California a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a pleasure trip to Disneyland or Hollywood.

He was crunching numbers, digging through spreadsheets, consulting financial records.

“I was doing evaluations for the buyer, evaluating the seller, doing due diligence and other processes,” explains Ward.

In other words, he was making sure his client knew all the ins and outs, overs and unders of the business deal.

The trip to the West Coast — as well as visits to Atlanta, Knoxville and other cities around the Southeast — came as a result of an internship Ward landed through the Joseph F. Decosimo Success Center in the UTC College of Business.

Ward’s internship, in fact, was with the Elliott Davis Decosimo accounting firm. Once there, he didn’t make copies or file paperwork or fetch coffee; he dove right into substantive work for clients while being directed and learning from fulltime accountants and others.

“That’s kind of what I wanted to do. That’s how you learn the most,” says Ward, who will graduate in December with a degree in accounting.

“The more you’re in your comfort zone, the more you’re willing to step out and do things you wouldn’t normally do.”

Coordinating internships for students is a large part of the Decosimo Success Center’s goals, although certainly not the only one. When it opened for business in 2013, the center “had maybe 35 internships. We now have over 600 opportunities,” says Director Sue Culpepper, who spent 25 years in local banking before joining UTC.

And those internships often lead to fulltime jobs.

Once Ward’s fulltime internship was over, for example, Elliott Davis Decosimo offered him a part-time job as a company consultant to help clients with their accounting needs, including the client in California. In the fall of 2018, provided he reaches 150 credit hours by then, he’s been offered a fulltime job at the local company.

He says he’s absolutely certain his fulltime job would not have been offered if he hadn’t done an internship with the firm

Larger goals

Students stand in the Decosimo Success Center, spinning a multicolored wheel.

Seventy-three percent of business students who found internships through the Joseph F. Decosimo Success Center landed fulltime employment within three months of graduation. The national average is 58 percent.

Still, the Decosimo Success Center aims at a larger target than just internships.

“We want to assist students from both the academic side and the career side to get them prepared to be business-world ready,” Culpepper says. “The ultimate success is when they get that end-result job and get it in the field that they’re trained for and they’re excited about.”

Over its existence, the Decosimo Success Center has hit that “ultimate success” to a remarkable degree.

Three months after students graduate, they’re sent a survey that asks how they’re doing. Did they find a job? Do they like what they’re doing? Did the school give them the knowledge and tools they needed?

“We want to get a measurement of their satisfaction,” Culpepper says.

A total of 387 business students graduated in the 2015-16 academic year and 252 of them responded to the survey. Seventy-three percent of the respondents had fulltime jobs and 89 percent were in positions related to their degree, college records show.

While in school, business students can start internships as soon as they want, but they only get academic credits after they’ve already earned 60 credit hours toward their degrees. Numbers from the College of Business show many students are going after those internship credits — and the numbers are rising.

In the 2015-16 year, “174 students received academic credit for internships; this year was 242,” says Culpepper.

Outside interest

Impressed with the quality of UTC students, companies are now calling the Decosimo Success Center — instead of the other way around — trying to convince students to take internships at their firms.

Unum admires UTC business students so much, it approached the College of Business in 2013 and the two collaborated on the creation of the Unum Scholars program.

“We have seen high-caliber individuals who are prepared to work hard and make lasting contributions to many different departments,” says Eric Anderson, human resources program manager at Unum. “They are eager to learn, not afraid to ask questions and are dedicated to do their best work.

Currently, Unum has 48 UTC students enrolled in the Scholars Program, he says. Graduate and undergraduate students can participate, but they must be full-time students with a minimum 3.0 GPA and a graduation date no earlier than one year from date that Unum hires them.

“The Scholar Program creates a high-potential talent pipeline that grants the participants real-world experience, build a broad business network and earn year-round income while working for a Fortune 500 company,” Anderson says.

The Unum Scholars program is so successful, Culpepper says, UTC has been approached by Erlanger Medical Center to develop a similar program for the hospital.

Light-bulb moments

Jaclyn Wooten-York was there when the light bulb clicked on.

Career services advisor in the College of Business, she had accompanied a group of students to Elliott Davis Decosimo. The visit was organized to give students a close-up idea of what a real-world job might be like.

One student experienced a life-changing moment.

“I had a student who was kind of on the fence about what she wanted to do,” Wooten-York recalls. “They started talking about forensic accounting and she just kind of held onto my arm and said, ‘That’s what I want to do. It sounds so fun.’”

Those sorts of “light bulb” moments are one reason she enjoys working in the Decosimo Success Center, Wooten-York says. Before they get to college in their freshmen year, some students know they want a business degree, but they don’t exactly know how to get it or what to do with it. The center tries to steer them in the direction that’s right for them, she says.

As part of the process, the center offers an online assessment survey specifically designed for incoming business students. The answers help administrators and advisors learn about the student, from likes and dislikes to goals, worries and personality, Culpepper says.

“It’s pretty lengthy; it’s pretty detailed,” she says.

If they take the survey, students are required to send it to Decosimo Success Center administrators, including academic advisors who are with individual students from freshman year until graduation.

“We ask that they come talk to career advisors after they’ve taken it to talk about careers and talk about their strengths and weaknesses in various aspects and then points them toward careers in business,” Culpepper says.

 Wooten-York notes that she and others in the Decosimo Success Center “spend a lot of time with freshmen. We’re seeing them from the minute they walk in the door as freshmen and they’re scared out of their minds.”

But with the center’s help, “they’re growing so much and getting the confidence that they have when they leave for the summer after their first year. That’s my barometer of success,” she says.

“When the students get so excited and they see the meaning of what the Success Center is and why they’re here, that kind of clicks for them,” Wooten-York continues. “They’re: ‘Oh wow, I see now why you’ve been pushing me to do this.’ They connect the dots.”


Media Relations Contacts: Email Chuck Cantrell or call (423) 425-4363.

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