The knowledge and skills learned in the classroom are a necessary component of a quality business education.

But what makes a Warrington education extraordinary is experiential learning—learning by doing. These hands-on experiences enhance the Warrington experience, and their impact remains with alumni well into their careers.

Here are four Warrington alumni whose personal and professional lives were forever impacted by the College’s experiential learning initiatives.

Making his case

Learning business fundamentals in the classroom may be enough for some, but Mark Sollenberger (BSAc ’09, MS ISOM ’11) yearned for a more enriching experience beyond theory and textbooks. He found it by participating in case competitions throughout his undergraduate and graduate degrees.

“The main reasons I got involved in case competitions were to learn more business-world applicable skills than what we learned through coursework and to showcase those to potential employers,” Sollenberger said.

The competitions, sponsored by Big 4 accounting firms KPMG and PwC, tested his critical thinking skills, ability to work successfully in teams, public speaking capabilities, and aptitude in providing sound, actionable solutions to business problems—requisite skills for his job as an IT Strategy Consultant for IBM Global Technology Services.

“The skills I learned through case competitions are far more applicable to what I do on a daily basis,” said Sollenberger, 29. “Fortune 100 companies call our group when they don’t know what to do and we have to come up with customized solutions to help take their business to the next level.”

Sollenberger’s experiential learning at Warrington didn’t end there. While pursuing his Master of Science in Information Systems and Operations Management (ISOM), he became President of UF’s chapter of the Association for Information Systems. Sollenberger played a key role in engaging companies like Grant Thornton, Protiviti, Ultimate Software, and Crowe Horwath LLP to hire ISOM students. He also coordinated résumé and cover letter workshops, mock interviews, and other career preparation seminars to ready ISOM students when networking with potential employers.

“Your current peers will become business leaders,” Sollenberger said. “Finding, connecting, and maintaining relationships with those on the same trajectory as you will provide invaluable benefits as your career progresses.”

Connect with Mark on LinkedIn.

Journey of a Lifetime

Study abroad can provide Warrington students a decided advantage in their careers or a cultural awakening.

For Dahlia Kadri (BABA ’11, MIB ’15), her journey to Egypt provided both.

“I chose Egypt because I was seeking something a little off the beaten path,” said Kadri, 26. “My father is Egyptian, and I wanted to explore my heritage. I also studied emerging economies in the MIB (Master of International Business) Program and was eager to gain firsthand experience in one.”

Kadri originally planned to spend only four months studying at the American University of Cairo, but she’s been in Egypt for about 1 ½ years. She is currently serving as an intern in Microsoft Egypt’s Corporate Citizenship and Philanthropy division focusing on youth education initiatives. Through the efforts of Kadri and her team, Microsoft Egypt has helped develop the technology and soft skills of more than 450,000 Egyptian youth. Kadri has also played a key role in launching Egypt’s first Social Innovation Hub for Women.

“Personally, this has been one of the toughest and most amazing experiences of my life,” Kadri said. “I've learned and taken on many of the cultural nuances of Egypt, and even my accent has changed. I've learned to be more understanding, patient, and grateful for cultural, religious, and even business etiquette differences.”

Kadri, who was in medical school before switching gears to business, said she is incredibly grateful for the skills the MIB Program provided her. She said she could not envision having her current position without it.

“The MIB program helped refresh my business skills and opened doors to the international experience I have today,” Kadri said. “Completing feasibility studies in emerging markets and developing an international marketing strategy in my Global Strategy and International Marketing courses, provided foundations for which I built my real experiences.”

Connect with Dahlia on LinkedIn.

Helping Bloomin’ Brands bloom internationally

Todd Hales (MBA ’14) desired an experiential learning opportunity with impact.

How does advising a Fortune 1000 company with $4 billion-plus in annual revenues sound?

That’s the type of real-world experience Hales received as a consultant for Bloomin’ Brands, the Tampa-based, casual dining company that operates Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill among other well-known restaurants.

Hales and his fellow UF MBA students worked on two projects—one evaluating expansion to China while the other was a broader analysis of international markets such as India and Russia. Hales’ team presented their findings to Bloomin’ Brands executives, and some members were eventually hired to assist in the company’s rollout to China.

“The opportunity to dig into a real-world project was exciting,” said Hales, 34. “Plus, [the presentation] was really valuable because it got me comfortable presenting at that level, which was brand new for me.”

Hales said he was leaning toward a career in consulting when he entered UF MBA, but chose finance after being exposed to the project and the program’s curriculum. He is now a Manager of Strategy at Ryder System, Inc., in Doral, where Hales said he incorporates many of the same tactics he utilized during the consulting project.

“The great thing about UF MBA was the opportunity to try different things, and experiential learning is a great platform for that,” said Hales, who also competed in multiple case competitions at UF MBA. “And you could get a job out of it. You can’t say that for any other class.”

Hales found his experiential learning activities so impactful that he’s helping create a project at Ryder for UF MBA students.

Connect with Todd on LinkedIn.

Converting to consulting

Estelle Atkinson (BS ’16, MIB ’16) had heard positive things about GatorNest, the experiential learning course offered by the College’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center. One friend loved the hands-on experience of dealing with local companies while another landed a job through the connections they made.

GatorNest’s impact for Atkinson was even greater…It completely shifted her career track as she pivoted toward small business consulting.

“I really enjoy seeing how my work impacts the clients I work with,” said Atkinson, a Strategic Development Associate at Crosslinear Consulting in Gainesville. “That’s what GatorNest is: Working directly with the client and helping the local community.”

Atkinson teamed with three other master’s students from the Hough Graduate School of Business to provide a strategy for the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce’s newly created Tech Council, which was formed to promote growth in Gainesville’s technology sector. Over six weeks, the team solidified the Tech Council’s mission, vision, core values, performed a benchmark analysis of U.S. cities with thriving technology hubs, and conducted a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) Analysis for the Tech Council’s success in Gainesville among other duties.

“That was a big learning experience for me,” said Atkinson, 23. “That was the first time I ever had to present something to a client. I’m happy to have had that experience while still in school.”

Atkinson said she doesn’t regret her decision. She believes helping Gainesville’s small businesses is the perfect launch pad to her career.

“It’s like the perfect rotational program, I am exposed to different industries, different companies, and tackle different projects every day,” Atkinson said. “This is one of the most rewarding jobs I can imagine coming out of college.”

Connect with Estelle on LinkedIn.