Sunday, May 11, 2008

JWN: A VIP Student Experience

The VIP Profiles and the Student Experience

By: Joseph W. Norman

It is about that time of the year for me. Or, rather, it is about that time of my life. On May 17, 2008, I will complete my undergraduate experience at the State University of New York at Geneseo, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English. Often, when I say that, I hear a variety of quips like; “Good luck getting a job,” “Sucks to be you,” or, “What are you going to do with that degree? Teach?” Well, I’m proud to say that none of these particularly apply and that is due in large part to The VIP Profiles.

First, what defines the student experience? Many, in fact most, attest that it is predominately an academic campaign. If we look through this lens at the effect of The VIP Profiles on my experience, the result is pure, unadulterated failure. Since the inception of the eZine on January 21, 2007, my GPA has dropped by approximately half a point. I have “successfully” gone from a 3.63 in my first semester to a solid 3.0 (or slightly below) the last three semesters. On par for this last one too!

Am I proud of this? Not necessarily. But, I have learned a few things about how to have a rewarding student experience. With that in mind, I am proud to say SUNY Geneseo has been an exceptional outlet for my life pursuits. With its focus on a comprehensive liberal arts curriculum (and affordable price), it promotes both classroom excellence and co-curricular involvement. This combination makes up most of the elixir that has left me with a Geneseo love affair.

So, if I claim the experience has been rewarding, but I “failed” academically, then what was it? It was a matter of personal development. The unique mix of activities at Geneseo helped me figure out a large part of who I am, what I want to accomplish, and what I bring to the table in my efforts to complete those goals. This creates the first challenge of describing the college experience for me; “How do you balance academia and life experiences?”

I’ll admit that I am hyper-responsive with things that strike passion in my veins. At the outset of my college career I removed myself from most extra-curricular activities (with the exception of Cross Country and Track) in an effort to excel in the classroom. My first year was an academic success as I posted a 3.53 cumulative GPA at its closing. Not a bad start.

What I learned after that first year though was the importance of being proactive in college and the power of your relationships on personal and professional development. (Insert VIP Profiles plug here).

Now, let’s take a step back from my personal experience and look at a systemic issue in higher education. Educational institutions tend to train employees but we live in a capitalist system in the United States which rewards entrepreneurs and business owners. This paradox throws a wrench in the spokes on the tandem bicycle of college, jointly ridden by academic success and professional development.

The question is, “How do we empower (and effectively place) the future employees and inspire (and train) the prospective entrepreneurs with the same system?”

Back to my experience. I learned a large part about the entrepreneur in me through the relationships I developed and the extra books I read. For those of you still in college, I did in fact say, “extra books.” It comes back to being proactive. You can’t just do enough to get by. You always have to push the limit and take one extra action for YOU everyday. That could be an athletic pursuit or a chapter of a book that covers a subject you are passionate about.

Both of these extra actions have been intimate parts of my life in college. My training as a student-athlete for three and a half years taught me much about competition, camaraderie, and hard work. Meanwhile, my passion for leadership, personal, and professional development led me to Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Black Book of Connections which inspired The VIP Profiles.

After I co-founded the eZine with Ben, I truly began to find myself. Again, back to the paradox, this was completely an outside of the classroom pursuit. It might as well have been the noose enabling my academic suicide. However, it empowered me to seek out and learn from passionate people. In the beginning it happened unintentionally, but I have since learned that this is the (seemingly lost) art of finding good mentors. Looking back on my experience this was the most critical point.

First, it was Cynthia Oswald, President of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce. Her generosity of time, energy, and resources has taken second fiddle only to her infectious positive attitude and her living example of effective organizational leadership. Then it was SUNY Geneseo President Christopher Dahl, who I learned countless lessons from through both personal conversations and outside observations. Also, I’d like to add for the “English degree nay-sayers,” Dr. Dahl is a Professor of English at Geneseo and a scholar of Victorian Literature.

As the scope of VIP influence spread itself past the Livingston County lines, I got to know Chris McVicker, Chairman and CEO of The Flanders Group. Words can barely describe the impact this man has had on me. The life and business lessons I continue to learn from Chris make up a tremendous part of who I am and who I will become. Also, you can thank him for about half of the VIPs we have ever featured. He is a great connector!

Now, thanks to an introduction from Chris, I am pleased to mention David Mammano, Founder and CEO of Next Step Publishing.

This is a special relationship in regards to this reflection because David and I are working with another competent and confident colleague, Shaun Walker, on developing a business focused on exactly what this essay is trying to articulate, the college to life transition. More on that to come!

So, what have these tremendous relationships meant to the student experience? They have put me on the path towards letting my life speak. And, isn’t that what college is all about? We study and bust our tail in an effort to get on the right career path (which is hopefully synchronized with our passions).

Again, I’m hyper-responsive. Thus, as I learned from these relationships, I began to search them out with more vigor and intellectual curiosity. Was my approach the correct one? Maybe. But, more importantly it helps me pose this question, “How can students balance the “paradox”?

The answer to that involves a balance between the proactive search for mentors and a concept which I call the “4.0 box.” When I’m beating on doors with my rather bold personality and my offer for VIP status, some of my colleagues are holed up in the library pounding out school work. Which approach is correct? That depends on a person’s objective and I can only speak from my own experience.

This I do know for sure though. Being in college doesn’t mean you’re removed from the real world. The fulfillment I’ve received from interacting with passionate people leads me to believe that a balance between the “4.0 box” and a VIP guy’s lifestyle is an essential component to an effective student experience. Why?

Three reasons. 1) The discipline you develop with your studies can be applied to another (more important) subject, YOU, 2) The professional relationships you proactively pursue create a support system for your career path, and, 1+2=3) A disciplined approach to building genuine relationships will help you discover your passions and develop a clear picture of the path you can take to pursue them.

Since the beginning of my college experience I have believed whole heartedly in the importance of effective communication. This led me to pursuing a degree in English; despite the abuse which asserted that English majors can’t find jobs. My passion for entrepreneurship and personal development inspired the creation of The VIP Profiles with my good friend and colleague, Ben DeGeorge.

Now, my hyperactive approach toward building and maintaining genuine relationships has taken me to the next step in my post undergraduate career…and I’ll let the suspense build on that one.

To sum it up, I will end with a quote from Steve Jobs; “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” My hunger led me through an English degree towards a career in business and entrepreneurship, while my foolishness helped me ignore those who said that can’t be done. And, most importantly, SUNY Geneseo gave me an outlet to succeed with my rather unconventional approach to the student experience.


Joseph W. Norman, resides in Geneseo, NY, and is Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of The VIP Profiles. He offers lectures and keynote talks on leadership, personal, and professional development and is always up for a business lunch.

Joseph can be reached at or 607.743.8569.

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