Student Professional Development Conference Prepares Students Entering the Workforce

Ready for the Real World?

John Downey took a day off work so he could guarantee attendance at the second annual Student Professional Development Conference.

Holding down a part-time job while attending classes full time at Kent State University at Stark, Downey of North Canton was intrigued by the conference’s theme, “Are you ready to take on the ‘real’ world?”

“It’s all about branding yourself,” said Downey, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business management in May. “In today’s working world, you have to think about your image and how you influence the takeaways.”

Many students agreed transitioning from student status to full-time employment can be a major adjustment. Learning to navigate through changing routines, developing new habits and simply “adult” consistently can be a struggle.

That’s why nearly 60 students and recent graduates attended the event held at the Kent State University at Stark Conference Center.

Aimed at providing attendees an edge in the workplace, the Student Professional Development Conference is unique to Kent State Stark. The event is designed to give students the tools they need to thrive in their budding careers, aside from the technical skills they learn in college.

The conference was organized by Kent State Stark’s Corporate University, which specializes in understanding what employers value in employees: initiative, critical thinking, communications skills and the ability to get along with co-workers.

The innovative, daylong program mirrored Corporate University’s professional development conferences, but this event – geared toward students and recent graduates – was held in collaboration with the offices of Career Services, Employer Relations and Internships, Student Life and Services, as well as External Affairs.

“This conference builds skills for the workplace. It takes student development a step further –from finding a job to I have a job. Now, how do I make certain I keep the job I have?,” explained Faith Sheaffer-Polen, director of the Corporate University. “This information is not just for work success but life success.”


At the event, students and recent graduates garnered tools to enhance their professional image, including getting a professional LinkedIn photo taken. They also learned how to improve their communication skills, stay financially sound, network and connect with other area young professionals.

Kent State Stark’s goal is to ensure young adults have the soft skills they need for successful entry into the workforce.

Conference presenters included:

  • Stephanie Werren, director of Leadership Stark County (LSC), and Jenifer Hill, LSC program manager, who helped students identify their personality strengths.
  • Phil Kim, D.Sc., associate professor at Walsh University, shared his personal story – from high school dropout to Ph.D.
  • Bob Pacanovsky, owner of the Vátion Group, shared insights on professional behaviors and creating a stellar first impression.
  • Amber Wallace, assistant director for financial aid at Kent State Stark, walked students through their own bank statements identifying “needs vs. wants.”
  • Mike Wheeler, chief legal officer and board of directors’ president of Patriot Software LLC, spoke about the power of networking.

Wheeler also told the largely millennial crowd to dispel stereotypes about the generation’s disdain for hard work.

“Work is called work because it’s not fun,” Wheeler said during one of four breakout sessions. “Know it is about excelling every day. What can I do with what I’ve been given?

“Work hard and parlay that into success.”


Rita Liu Tongtong, one of Kent State Stark’s 34 international students fall semester, said she learned the importance of making lasting connections.

“No matter who you are, or where you are, you can always share your story,” she said.

And technology makes that easier than ever. Still, today’s fast-paced, internet-connected world comes with pitfalls.

“Research shows that more choices actually lead to paralysis and inaction,” said Dr. Kim, during his keynote speech. He addressed a powerful rule of three:

  • Harness the power of focus and accountability.
  • Utilize the 15-minute rule to increase personal productivity.
  • Implement a simple and effective “One Word” goal-setting strategy.

For Megan McKita, a Kent State Stark student from Uniontown, harnessing the power of focus is optimal.

She’s job hunting, and with a May graduation date, McKita said she’s more prepared than ever to take on the real world.

POSTED: Wednesday, November 01, 2017 10:36 AM
Updated: Monday, March 27, 2023 07:41 AM
Melissa Griffy Seeton