Top Gun event offers day of training, networking

(Courtesy Art) Students and executives at the Center for Professional Selling pose for a group photo during Top Gun Training on Friday, January 15.

By Eric Vining Lariat Reporter

Nearly 100 Professional Selling majors and corporate executives met for a half-day Top Gun Training last Friday at the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation to network over a formal lunch and series of workshops.

Top Gun Training, which has been hosted for Professional Selling students each semester since fall 2013, is a workshop that helps Professional Selling majors gain skills vital to their future trade as well as network with executives at 3M, Oracle, IBM and other major corporations.

“It’s an opportunity…for the students to network with business professionals, and also an opportunity to learn what it’s like to be a businessperson and experience different types of roles in different companies,” said Curtis Schroeder, a Baylor graduate and a member of the Center for Professional Selling’s Ambassador Board.

Friday’s training began with a formal networking lunch for students and executives to meet and mingle, followed by a series of workshops aimed to help students cultivate strong workplace relationships with superiors in both formal and informal settings.

Historically, Top Gun Training has covered a variety of topics aimed to equip students with unique skills and experience they can’t necessarily get in a classroom setting. Last year’s Top Gun Training was designed to better acquaint students with the challenges of operating in a multigenerational workforce.

“When you go into a typical workforce setting, you’re going to be working with four different generations,” said Dr. Andrea Dixon, Executive Director at the Center for Professional Selling and the Keller Center for Research. “All four of those generations had different experiences in their mindset about what constitutes effective communication and tend to define those concepts differently. It’s something that’s not necessarily covered in a particular course.”

While a major event for students majoring in Professional Sales, the Top Gun Training is only a single element of the broad and holistic education the Center for professional selling aims to provide for its students.

“Our goal is to get students experience in dealing with situations that will get them equipped to be in the workplace,” Dixon said.

Schroeder, who attended Friday’s Top Gun Training, is one of the Center for Professional Selling’s corporate executives, who act primarily as mentors for students within the program.

“I’m assigned to students as an informal mentor over the course of a semester, a year, or as long as they’re in the program,” Schroder said. “We meet regularly, a couple times each semester…to serve as a one-on-one resource.”

The Ambassador Board, along with the Center for Professional Selling’s advisory board, jointly act as executives and mentors to professional selling students.

“The advisory board members are typically our more seasoned executives,” Dixon said. “They typically have higher-level views of the sales function and business because of the experience they have…and they come in with a real strategic focus on what we’re doing.” Alongside their duties as student mentors, members of the advisory board also represent major corporations that invest their time and money into helping students become the best they can be.

“If you’re an executive giving up an afternoon of work and taking time to be here, you care about the development of students,” Schroeder said. “I think the people that are here are genuinely interested in helping students become the best they can be and help them find the path they’re looking to be on, in terms of a career.”

Unlike many areas of study at Baylor, students cannot simply declare professional selling as a major. Besides being a business major, students are required to have at least a 3.0 GPA, interview with at least three current professional selling majors, acquire at least three recommendations and attend an informational session held by the center.

Those who successfully enter the program, however, will find that both executives and fellow students are working toward a common goal.

“They’re part of a very, very collaborative culture…[and] who they are at an individual level matters,” Dixons said. “We try to help students to understand, inside and outside the classroom…that these are your colleagues. You’re not trying to compete with one another. These are the people that are going to be there when you need them to be there. We only win if we all win together.”