If you’ve noticed a recent rash of good manners around the campuses, maybe it’s because Student Life and Leadership Coordinators Mary Gerst and Stephanie Henningsen are working to make sure that students who are getting educated academically at St. Petersburg College are also being educated socially. “Given the College’s focus getting students tracked for careers,” Henningsen said, “we thought it would be good if students had training in behaviors to not only get jobs, but also keep them.”
After attending a leadership training, Gerst and Henningsen were inspired to create a training for students. They put their heads together and came up with was the Graduate Leadership Academy, and wrote and received a $3500 Innovation Grant to put it on. “The more you read and learn about the workforce today, one of the main points that employers make is that sometimes people may have education, but they lack in soft skills,” Gerst said. “It’s so important to learn customer service and how to be polite and how to act in a workplace setting, which is different than a college setting.”
They pulled a group of 12 students together for one Friday per month in February, March and April for the trainings, which included sessions on etiquette and diversity. The entire group took a Meyers-Brigg personality test to realize their own personality traits, as well as other types, and learn how to work together despite their differences. “Knowing your way of thinking and understanding others helps you figure out how you can work together for a win,” Henningsen said.
They also held a session where students went through mock interviews with “undercover” prominent community members, including Pinellas County Representative Kathleen Peters and News Channel 8 Anchor Jenn Holloway, who didn’t reveal their identities until after the interviews were over. “We wanted them to learn that you never know who you’ll meet or who you might meet or how they might help you,” Henningsen said. “You always want to be on your game.”
The sessions ended with a “mocktail” party with team-building facilitators, where they learned the art of the schmooze, including how to approach eating and drinking – while at the same time representing themselves as professionals. “We wanted them to be able to handle themselves if they went out with their colleagues or were at a conference and happened to have a cocktail hour,” Gerst said.
In addition to the Leadership Academy, they also do etiquette dinners with new SGA officers, and also some Lunch and Learn sessions to teach soft skills. They both agreed that preparing students for workplace etiquette is a passion project. “It is so important for students to realize that no matter what career they choose, they’ll always be leading, no matter what they’re doing,” Gerst said.