Written by: Makenzi Rasmussen (BS ’15) and 2015 member of T3
“SoHE has an energy that’s hard to explain,” says Jerry O’Brien, Executive Director of the Kohl’s Center for Retailing in the School of Human Ecology, (SoHE). “It’s a community on a much larger campus that ensures students are cared about personally.” This passion for students is evident in Executive Director Jerry O’Brien and Assistant Director Angie Badura’s work. “The best part of the job is helping students find their path and goals, and then assisting in attaining then,” they state decidedly. “When a student comes into my office with a huge smile, telling me they landed the job they wanted, that is the most rewarding part of our work.”
A “Typical Day” of Connecting Students
O’Brien and Badura provide invaluable career resources, dedicating their efforts to finding opportunities and connections for students who want to enter into the world of retail. “A typical day starts very early with checking clip sources—these sources give summaries about the current news of retail,” says O’Brien. “This helps us keep tabs on any changes or developments in the world of the industry.” These connections have allowed O’Brien to facilitate SoHE’s Retail Leadership Symposium, aiding students in learning more about the industry directly from C-Suite, executive-level professionals. Launched in 2007, the course draws in more than 100 students each semester with information about what it takes to become a successful part of the retail industry. Speakers have included UW-Madison alums Peter Sachse, Chief Stores Officer of Macy’s, Krista Berry, Chief Digital Officer of Kohl’s and retail innovators like Robert Behnke, co- founder of Fair Indigo: Style with a Conscience. The course works to disprove the misconception that retail is simply about store managing and buying. “It helps to expand their [student] vision of what their role in the world of retail could be,” explains O’Brien.
Preparing Students for Success
Guiding students at the very start of their college career, freshmen are welcome to visit their offices in Nancy Nicholas Hall and begin planning a path to help them reach their goals. Working one-on-one, they form individual and personal bonds with students that last well beyond their academic career. Through his experiences with Center for Retailing, SoHE 2014 alum Ben Saxon was able to set his career goals and land the job he wanted. “I became infatuated with the industry because of Jerry O’Brien and his department in SoHE. I was always interested in the retail world and they helped me understand the opportunities out there,” reflected Saxon. Even after graduation, Saxon’s connection with the Center’s advisors remained intact. “Jerry also helped me decide between two great job opportunities and has helped me during my first year of work, navigating the challenges of a new job. Without SoHE, I don’t know where I would be after graduation. They really did give me all the tools I needed to succeed.”
The faculty and staff in the Center for Retailing Excellence are focused on creating and maintaining a seamless, two-way connection between employers and campus partners, educating companies about UW-Madison resources and nurturing opportunities that support the student experience. Both O’Brien and Badura invest much of their day working with students one-on-one or in small groups helping to secure an internship, participate in a case study competition or be prepared for a job interview.
O’Brien and Badura’s guidance is not limited to only School of Human Ecology students, either. Students across campus including the Wisconsin School of Business and College of Letters and Science also seek them out in their pursuit of career goals. “Though I wasn’t a SoHE student, I felt as though I was just as part of the program as anyone else because of the support and respect I received from them,” recalls Sara Weber, Letters and Science alum. “Jerry helped me connect with countless people in the retail industry, and I was able to intern for the National Retail Federation after Jerry had recommended me as a candidate.”
For more information about the major or how you could get involved:
Angie Badura, Assistant Director