MAY 19, 2022 — The Harvey E. Najim Center for Innovation and Career Advancement at UTSA is giving undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to gain real-world, paid experience in the workforce with its Najim Strategist program.
Working directly with various organizations around San Antonio, the program teaches students transferable skills and gives them hands-on experience that will make them more competitive candidates for the job market.
Participants work in small groups on a project in partnership with a local business. Combining classroom knowledge with on-the-job learning, the students conduct field research and develop inventive, viable solutions to challenges facing their partnering organization.
Each team of strategists includes students from a wide range of academic majors to encourage an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving.
“Our program is unique because this is not a simulated project experience. The organizations we collaborate with are actually implementing some of the solutions that our students develop during the program,” said Erica Clark, associate director of innovation and career advancement for the Najim Center. “We have worked diligently to form partnerships with local companies that want to give UTSA students a chance to work on real projects in our community.”
The Pearl, a popular dining and shopping destination just north of downtown San Antonio, is one of eight local organizations that partnered with the Najim Center during the spring semester. Students worked with the Pearl’s hospitality division, researching effective employee recruitment methods, worker incentive strategies and innovative technologies to improve customer transactions and employee shift management.
“This program gave me a great opportunity to work with a well-known employer in San Antonio and tackle issues they were facing,” said Jamal Hasty, a cybersecurity major and Najim Strategist who worked at the Pearl. “My team consisted of other students from diverse backgrounds, which was awesome, and each of us brought something unique to the group.”
After successfully piloting the strategist program with two projects in Fall 2021, the Najim Center increased its projects lineup to nine for Spring 2022. Nearly 40 students completed projects with organizations across the city this semester, including:
Gwendolyn Shepard, a junior studying cybersecurity, worked with a local restaurant, The Good News Burgers. She and her team helped build a social media and marketing plan to support the restaurant’s expansion to a second location. The strategists created customer incentive projects including a loyalty program, discounts for military members and lunch hour specials.
“I learned many new business strategies from the restaurant’s owner, such as how to set price points accurately and how to effectively market to your target demographic to increase revenue,” Shepard said. “I’ve owned my own hair salon for 11 years, and the knowledge I’ve gained while working as a strategist has helped me improve my own business.”
The Najim Center was established in 2020 by local entrepreneur and philanthropist Harvey E. Najim through a $3 million gift to UTSA. Najim wanted to create a space where students could find resources for career exploration and preparation. He also wanted to help advance the university’s Classroom to Career Initiative, which focuses on expanding experiential learning opportunities to ensure students are career ready post-graduation.
UTSA hopes by 2028 to have 75% of students take part in hands-on learning opportunities by the time they graduate.
“The strategist program lets students discover their career potential, build their network and learn what it takes to run a successful organization,” said Rachael Fletcher, senior associate director of experiential learning for the Najim Center. “These students are learning skills like project management and problem-solving in real time, and these skills will easily transfer to life after graduation.”
Moving forward, the Najim Center plans to offer 10 projects each fall and spring semester as they continue building partnerships with more San Antonio organizations.
The Najim Strategist program is open to undergraduate and graduate students across all majors and disciplines, and there is no GPA requirement.
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