Proactive Professionalism: Competitive Advantage Alum Shows What’s Possible When You Just Go for It

College is a time of excitement, of exploring interests and deciding what path to take in life. Yet, with hundreds of majors to choose from, decisiveness is not always easy. In fact, 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as undecided, while 75 percent change their major at least once. Cherish Dean fell into the former group.

When it came to selecting a college, Dean was set — the University of Michigan-Flint (UM-Flint) (although, she’ll be transferring to Ann Arbor in the fall). When it came to a major, though, she says she “was majorly undecided.” It wasn’t until her freshman orientation, when students were asked to break off into their respective areas of study that, on a whim, Dean found herself following the psychology majors. “I liked psychology, so I decided to give it a try,” she says.

Cherish Dean
Cherish Dean

Her interest in psychology was sparked in a high school AP class. “It was a matter of loving the subject matter and also loving my teacher for the class,” says Dean. “She was super enthusiastic about everything with regard to psychology, and I feel like, sometimes, when you have a teacher in that sort of environment, it just makes it even more infectious.”

As time went on, her whim proved to be much more than that. Dean found herself truly enjoying and appreciating the variety that psychology provided as well as the solid foundation it gave her to ultimately launch a career in industrial organizational (IO) psychology — a field that she says is best described in this way: “If business and psychology had a baby, it would be IO psych.”

“I really feel like I got lucky with my choice of major,” says Dean, who is now a sophomore. “Every class I’ve taken, every new thing I’ve learned, I’ve become more and more confident in pursuing it — which I feel like, as a young college student, is something that not everyone [can say], so I’m very thankful for that.”

As much as having this direction has helped Dean, it’s been her will to achieve that’s had the most significant impact. Taught from a young age by both her mother and her high school track coach, Carlos, to push herself in order to get where she wants in life, Dean has unrelentingly pursued opportunities that will get her there.

Professional development, networking and skill development are all things she consistently seeks out. So, when Dean learned about Competitive Advantage, The Consortium’s Undergraduate Program, as a member of the LEAD Scholars program — a scholarship community through UM’s Alumni Association — the experience sounded right up her alley. “I consider myself very proactive,” she says. “If I have any opportunity that comes my way, I try to take advantage of it.”

What intrigued Dean most about Competitive Advantage was the opportunity it provided for professional development and networking with big-name companies. “Having the opportunity to learn from these professionals and from other students, and to have the chance to build up my skill set in that way, that was something that was very appealing,” she says.

Even before the start of the two-and-a-half-day conference, Dean participated in online workshops led by representatives at sponsoring companies, one of which was designed to help students craft and refine their elevator pitch. After working on, practicing and getting some pointers on hers, Dean went so far as to seek out that particular workshop leader in-person at Competitive Advantage, where he was happy to provide additional feedback. “I was like, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you remember my name, but I’ve been practicing my elevator pitch,’” Dean says.

Like this interaction, the conference itself proved to be everything she hoped for and more — a “life-changing” experience, she recalls. “Everything there was so impactful and energizing,” says Dean. “All the [representatives from the] companies that I had the chance to talk to were so nice and so willing to [talk] about their path, how they got there, what they were doing and just really be honest about what it was like working at that company.”

Beyond the skill-building and recruiting components, Dean discovered another powerful aspect of the program. “It probably wasn’t until attending Competitive Advantage that I realized how much value there is in just networking with fellow students. There were people from across the country, and they all had such diverse backgrounds, which I really appreciated,” she notes. “Getting to be around all these other students who are also very driven was a really energizing environment for me. I learned so much talking with them.”

Cherish Dean at Competitive Advantage
Cherish Dean at the 2019 Competitive Advantage conference

Dean says the experience also helped further solidify her decision to pursue IO psychology while also introducing her to career paths that fall under that umbrella. “It’s where I had my first direct exposure to human capital management and human capital consulting, because they had a panel with people from Deloitte, McKesson and Liberty Mutual Insurance,” she says. “That was definitely very eye opening for me.”

The session that perhaps piqued her interest the most was on personal branding and was led by Liberty Mutual’s Jacquitta Pool. Dean says she was impressed and influenced by Pool’s emphasis on being punctual, polite, responsive and professional in all correspondence, even informal LinkedIn messages. Following this session, she actively sought out Liberty Mutual during the Competitive Advantage career fair and was invited to sit with the company’s representatives — along with other invited students — at dinner that evening.

“I had the chance to [listen to them] talk about their experience at the company, their stories, different reasons that all of us ended up at that table,” says Dean. This is where she learned about a program at Liberty Mutual called the Student Diversity Symposium and was encouraged to apply — and ultimately did.

“I had the opportunity to do that program and had a very positive experience. It was a chance to bring together a diverse array of students to kind of showcase the company to us,” Dean says, adding that the most empowering aspect of the event was a panel with representatives from each of the company’s employee resource groups. “Seeing that they had this commitment, that they had these reps who were able to tell us about their experience working at the company and being part of those groups, how that affected them, and being able to be authentic at work was a very positive experience.”

Dean ultimately applied for and was offered a human resources internship at Liberty Mutual’s headquarters in Boston, which she is excited to complete this summer.

While her professional journey is just beginning, Dean acknowledges that she has already learned so much. She’s gotten where she is by being proactive and going after what she wants, and she encourages others to get over their fears and indecision and do the same.

“Reach out to people and just say, ‘Hey, I noticed that you did an internship with such and such company. I’m working with them this year. What was that like?’ Or, ‘Hey, I see you work at this company. I’m thinking about applying there. What’s the company culture like? What’s your favorite thing about working there?’” Dean says. “Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk with people, because a lot of people are more willing to share than you think.”

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