Thursday, September 21, 2023

Growth in Najim Strategist program expands experiential learning opportunities for UTSA students

Growth in Najim Strategist program expands experiential learning opportunities for UTSA students

Participants in this semester's Najim Strategist program included Washington Navarro, CEO of the Entrepreneurial World; and students Mahmuda Sultana, Jahnavi Patel, Lauren Hall and Luis Valadez.

MAY 10, 2023 — Over 100 Roadrunners gained valuable professional experience through the Najim Strategist program this semester, with participation more than doubling compared to spring 2022. The eight-week-long program, which is organized by the UTSA Harvey E. Najim Center for Innovation and Career Advancement, gives students the opportunity to work directly with various organizations around San Antonio and teaches them transferable skills that make them more competitive candidates for the job market.

The growth of the strategist program coincides with an overall increase in projects and events for the Najim Center since its opening in 2020. The uptick in programs is also a key part of UTSA’s Classroom to Career (C2C) initiative, which promotes hands-on, career-focused opportunities for all students, and provides an advantage for their success after graduation.

Students participating in the strategist program are placed into teams and matched with a local organization to help solve a challenge they are facing. The teams conduct research and develop actionable solutions and strategies that their partnering organization can incorporate into its day-to-day operations. Each strategist team is comprised of students from different majors, academic levels and backgrounds to encourage an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to problem solving.

“It's truly a holistic developmental experience, and seeing these students grow as individuals throughout these eight weeks is amazing.”

The spring cohort of strategists concluded their projects with a two-day event, where each team presented their research and recommended business plans to their partnering organizations. Former Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who joined UTSA in a non-faculty role in January, and local entrepreneur and philanthropist Harvey E. Najim, the center’s namesake and primary donor, were also in attendance to support the students.  

“This program is so much bigger than just the projects, and we can see that these students are transforming from the first week to the last,” said Erica Clark, associate director of the Najim Center. “Students gain real-world work experience through these projects, but they also learn lessons in real time about conflict resolution, communication, empathy and how to effectively collaborate with diverse peers to succeed as a group. It's truly a holistic developmental experience, and seeing these students grow as individuals throughout these eight weeks is amazing.”

The Najim Strategists worked with seven local organizations this semester. One partnering company was Eat Drink Local Texas, which showcases local eateries, bars and events happening in San Antonio and across the state. Students working with the company were tasked with expanding its audience and increasing its collaborations with local restaurants.

The strategist team proposed selling a marketing services package to target small businesses and food trucks. The package would include services like advertising and social media management.

“This program really pushed me out of my own comfort zone. I was involved with a project based around marketing, and I never had any marketing experience in my life,” said Pranav Pillai, a first-year student in University College who worked with Eat Drink Local Texas. “At first, I didn’t know how this would help me in my prospective career of data analytics, however I realized that the skills I learned—like communication with executives and curating a well-presented idea—would be helpful in many corporate jobs including data analytics. Overall, it did teach me skills that I never knew I needed to learn.”

Other area organizations that participated in the strategist program include: 

The strategist team that worked with Community First Health Plans helped audit the insurance company’s phone systems, informing an updated call flow and scripts that will improve the overall customer experience.

“We had a great experience working with the Najim students. We were impressed with their professionalism, collaboration, varied perspectives and the fresh eyes they brought to our corporate challenges, which in itself was a big help,” said Judy Razo, executive director of corporate communications and experience at Community First Health Plans. “The Najim students presented real-world solutions to complex challenges. We were very happy working with them and look forward to applying again in the future.”

The Najim Strategist program runs each fall and spring semester, and is open to students of all majors and academic levels. Applications for the fall 2023 program will open at the end of May.

The Najim Center for Innovation and Career Advancement was established in 2020 by Najim with a $3 million gift to UTSA. The philanthropist wanted to create a space where all students could access resources for career exploration and preparation and discover experiential learning opportunities. Najim committed another $2 million gift in 2022 to expand the center’s reach and build its network in downtown San Antonio.

Chloe Johnson

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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