Getting involved with Illinois State University’s Business Week is going to be easier than ever this spring as the 42nd annual event moves to an online format in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programming will take place March 22–25—a month later than normal—and will include an array of opportunities for students to hone their business acumen from the comfort of their dorms or apartments.

Weronika Rybarska, one of three mentor program coordinators for Business Week, is looking forward to the new virtual format. The human resources management major said, “(Because Business Week is online) more students will have the opportunity to attend the events and still gain the same experience as if they were on campus. It is a hard transition for many, but we are ensuring that the virtual format won’t take away any aspects of this event. It will only add more opportunity.”

She also noted that even though the planning team is tackling new challenges to make the switch to online, its members are exhibiting the “same type of dedication” as their predecessors in years past. This year’s Business Week team began meeting in September and consistently gathers at 7 a.m. once a week to discuss plans and reimagine the structure of familiar events.

“Some events are going to be pretty easy to adjust, and some are definitely taking more planning. I think the toughest event all around will be the professional development dinner,” shared Business Week president Amanda Anderson, a senior advanced marketing analytics major.  

Steve Vandiver, executive director of marketing and communication for the College of Business, admitted transitioning the schedule of events to an online format is a “daunting” task, but he is “really impressed” with how the student-led Business Week committee has risen to the challenge.

“I’m proud of them. I think they’re learning a lot of things that are going to take them far when they get out (of ISU).”

Steve vandiver

“I’m proud of them,” he said of the team members. “I think they’re learning a lot of things that are going to take them far when they get out (of ISU).”

The new date and delivery format are not the only changes for the program this year. For the first time, Business Week will include diversity and inclusion events. A virtual panel titled Authenticity and Natural Hair in the Workplace will be held in late January, and a second event is set for March 24 as part of the main Business Week schedule of events.

Lauren O’Donnell and Kai Johnson, senior and junior integrated marketing communication majors respectively, are the joint coordinators for this aspect of Business Week. The latter student explained the goal of adding this type of event is to make sure “all students feel included” and to help students learn more about these important topics.

“The knowledge gained from our events will be relevant not only in the workplace but in everyday life because diversity and inclusion are about the respect and empowerment of all people and creating a space where all are welcome,” said O’Donnell.

Johnson added, “The diversity and inclusion events are going to be great this year! They will be filled with topics that you can learn and gain insight from. You don’t want to miss these events!”

In addition to this new direction, Business Week 2021 also will offer a full slate of its signature events, such as a professional development dinner, transition seminars, trivia nigh and a keynote address. True, the activities will look different with the online format, but the team members emphasized that the high standard of quality Redbirds have come to know and love about Business Week will still be evident.

“Each event is designed to give students the chance to meet alumni, learn a new skill like personal finance from a professional, or become educated on important topics such as diversity and inclusion. Our main priorities are our peers and making sure we are providing the best resources to help everyone reach the end goal, which is getting that first full-time (job) offer,” shared Adrian Kuzbik, an advanced marketing analytics and integrated marketing communications junior.

Nicholas Koutris, a mentor program coordinator and junior Finance major, added Business Week is as an “opportunity for students to gain exposure to the business world.” He also noted, “Students are able to get out as much as they put into the program, and it provides fantastic opportunities to learn and network with fellow Redbirds!”

Kuzbik went on to explain how he sees his role as the vice president of professional development on the Business Week executive board as “an opportunity to give back to the organization that has given so much to me.” In particular, he has enjoyed taking part in the Business Week case competition and mentor program.

This latter event is one of the cornerstones of the Business Week tradition at ISU. The mentor program pairs an upperclassman with an underclassman so that Redbirds can learn professional skills from their peers. Rybarska explained the program gives younger students “a strong foundation” and points them toward success, while giving upperclassmen the opportunity to give back to ISU.

Mentor program coordinator Peter McElmeel described this aspect of the Business Week program as a way to give students “resources to begin to create networks, build skills learned outside of the classroom and receive and give guidance to their peers.”

“As an underclassman, going to these large events can also be daunting, so having a peer guide you through it can help these younger students feel more confident when meeting other peers, faculty, and professionals at the events,” the senior business administration major continued.

Anderson noted she is impressed with the “level of inclusivity” in such Business Week events as the mentor program. She enjoys seeing how the week of activities brings together College of Business students from all majors, backgrounds, and ages to learn about such topics as professional etiquette and resume tips.

The members of the planning team cited numerous benefits of actively participating in Business Week and described the program’s impact on them personally.

“Business Week has helped so many students develop skills that they wouldn’t learn in a classroom setting. Business Week has helped me get comfortable with things like networking and interviewing. Being involved in Business Week can help you get out of your comfort zone and has been a highlight of my college career at ISU,” said Maggie Hutchison. The senior finance major added she has learned the importance of collaboration and teamwork in her role as vice president of logistics for the planning team.

Danielle Gearhart, a senior marketing student who serves as vice president of marketing for Business Week, described how being a part of the program has taught her “how to be more professional, proficient and an overall better student.”

As Vandiver observed, “If there was ever a year to get involved in Business Week and be a part of it, this is the year to do it.”

While life may not look normal these days, actively participating in this type of programming is perhaps more important than ever before. As Anderson predicted that the current pandemic situation has the potential to help make students “much more adaptable and innovative” in the future. Business Week offers abundant opportunities to foster those skills. It can also serve as a valuable talking point to bring up during interviews for potential internships or jobs.

“Employers will be wondering what you did all of COVID in quarantine, and while I’m sure people are still busy with classes, now is just as good a time as any to get some activities on your resume” Anderson observed. “Show that you took advantage of being stuck at home and that you didn’t just sit on your couch watching Netflix all day and you tried to learn new skills that will be really applicable in the workforce.”

Urging her peers to mark their calendars and plan on attending Business Week, Gearhart said, “Times are hard, but continue to persevere and make the most out of your time no matter what. Get involved and network!”

The application window for next school year’s Business Week team will open in March.