Written by: 
Brittney Dear
Photography by: 
Michael Clements

Kim Fenneman ('97) was nervous yet thrilled as she walked into the office in her best power suit: a red jacket with black buttons, black skirt and black shoes. It was her first day of her IBM internship, the first corporate job she'd ever had, and the morning was filled with normal introductory activities: She got her picture taken for her badge, filled out some paperwork, then walked around to meet everyone on her floor.

What she didn't realize until after the meet-and-greet was that she was the youngest person on the team. She began at IBM when she was 21, while her coworkers had joined 20-plus years earlier. However, no one treated her any different -- although she was the newest member of the team, Fenneman came prepared with the skills she needed to fit right in.

That was due in large part to UNT's Professional Leadership Program. For the past 25 years, the program has offered leadership development and mentoring to students, as well as internship and job opportunities.

"The Professional Leadership Program helped me, as an introvert, get into the corporate world after college," says Fenneman, who majored in strategic management. "My coworkers had been at IBM longer than I had been alive. So going into a corporate environment like that and knowing how to network with people allowed me to not be as anxious. I felt like I could contribute, even though I was the youngest person on the team. After I graduated from UNT, I was hired on full-time to lead and manage a team. I attribute the growing confidence in my leadership skills to my time in UNT's Professional Leadership Program.”  

Fenneman was part of the first PLP class in 1994 with roughly 20 members, when the program was solely for business majors. Now the program, which holds meetings weekly, is open to students of any major.

Mentors and mentees meet as part of UNT's Professional Leadership Program
Mya Nguyen, a digital retailing major, speaks with a mentor at a Professional Leadership Program networking event in Dallas, sponsored by GAINSCO Auto Insurance. The event brought together UNT students, PLP mentors and GAINSCO employees.

This past year, there were 141 participants in the program and 141 mentors. Despite the changes over the years, one thing has remained the same: PLP is devoted to helping students find success in their desired field.

"The Professional Leadership Program is helping students become better leaders and more aware socially and mentally," says Rachel Cleveland ('18 Ph.D.), who served with the program for the last seven years and recently took a new position in higher education consulting in September. "And that level of growth is true for students, no matter what they're studying."

Trey Taylor ('95), a marketing graduate, worked for UNT alum Franck Bracken ('63) at Haggar Clothing, thanks to the Professional Leadership Program. Taylor was a member during the program's first year in 1994. And then as an alum, he returned as a board member from June 2009 to November 2010.

"PLP helped me secure a great internship, which turned to full-time employment upon graduation," says Taylor, who continued his marketing career at Keurig/Dr Pepper, Sonic Drive In, and most recently, his food startup Good Eats Food Co. "I believe this program helped my resumé stand out and was a 'seal of approval' to Frank. Aside from that, the program itself refined my interpersonal skills, gave me experience within several corporate settings and gave me self-confidence."

Students from many different majors are learning valuable skills.

"We get a lot of journalism, science and music majors, and they often get the most out of the classes because they're not learning some of these corporate-level skills in their classes," Cleveland says. "Often what they're hearing, they're hearing for the first time."

Additionally, the Professional Leadership Program helps students by giving them personal and professional connections with sponsors that set them up for success. The program's sponsors include Regions Bank, GM Financial, Peterbilt, PepsiCo FritoLay and Fidelity, among others.

"I looked into organizations and clubs that would benefit me, and when I heard about the PLP from a friend, I went ahead and applied and it was clearly a great choice," says Mashrooba Rashid ('19) who graduated in May with a finance degree and was immediately hired by Ryan upon graduation. "I learned so much and have so many connections that, even after graduation, I'm still in contact with Rachel and want to work with her. PLP was definitely a game changer for me."

One of the most important elements of PLP is the mentor component. The mentors are either alumni of the program or they're from partnering industries who are in the same fields as the students they're mentoring. Members fill out a form to describe what they want in a mentor, and PLP pairs the students with one whom they meet up with throughout the year.

"My mentor is more than just a mentor, she's a friend," says Rashid, who was mentored by Janae Denman. "I still ask her for general advice every now and then, and to hang out, too."

Students must be classified as a junior, senior or graduate student and have at least a 3.25 GPA to join the program. They also must complete an Online Mentor Profile, and an interview is required.

"Ninety percent of our students get a job or internship or go on to grad school after leaving our program," Cleveland says. "Our students are successful because they're always learning something. Many of them are coming back to mentor, so they're not just learning and walking away. They're learning and coming back to make sure other students learn those lessons also."

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