During his 30 years as publisher of Atlanta Business Chronicle, Ed Baker heard the same story again and again from business leaders and companies looking to hire young recruits out of universities—students weren’t ready. Too often they had poor attitudes, were bad at time management, couldn’t communicate and lacked the soft skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
A Georgia State University alum, Baker joined forces with his alma mater in 2015 to help the Robinson College of Business create a better way for students to rise to their full potential, learn what it takes to prepare for a career, and attract the right kind of attention from leading companies ready to hire.
Supported by founding sponsor Georgia’s Own Credit Union, the Robinson Immersive Sophomore Experience—or RISE—provides sophomore-level business majors with the opportunity to be immersed in real-world business environments to accelerate their career paths and position themselves for success.
“I wish someone had sat me down and explained the importance of soft skills to me when I was starting out,” said Baker, Executive in Residence, Deans Office. “I wish someone had asked me what I was good at and what I was passionate about at this critical stage in college.”
Dedicated to rigorous academics and real-world skills, the cornerstone of the RISE signature program is BUSA 2300: Personal and Career Development, a 15-week, three-credit course that collaborates closely with the Career Advancement Center (CAC). Students selected for the program also participate in professional assessments, individual coaching sessions, mentoring, networking events and a speaker series featuring community and business leaders.
This innovative program was successfully piloted with more than 100 students taking BUSA 2300 and the impact has been tremendous, with more than 96 percent engaging in professional development activities as juniors, including case competitions, assuming leadership roles in student organizations and, most importantly, securing high-quality internships with world-class organizations between their junior and senior years.
Now RISE is growing to support Robinson’s Accelerate 2025 strategic plan. This innovative program illustrates Robinson’s commitment to be a global leader in preparing students from all backgrounds to lead and innovate in business and society.
"We focus on sophomores," said Baker. "Sophomores are beginning to figure out who they are and what they want to do." Engaging students interested in business at this critical stage accelerates their development and teaches them to see themselves differently, he added.
Students often don’t know the art of writing an email or a thank you note or have a command of business etiquette. Students in the RISE program learn the importance of building relationships and teamwork. It is also important for students to understand their own personal brand and to be challenged to see themselves as creative and innovative, Baker noted.
Iconic Atlanta business leaders make cameo appearances during the course, which is now offered during the spring and fall semesters. Erica Qualls-Battey, area general manager at Marriott International, and a notable Black female business leader, hosts an etiquette luncheon for RISE students.
"Students come into the program not fully realizing how essential soft skills are to their success. The RISE program helps them realize how important those skills really are," said La’Kesha M. Hughes, a senior undergraduate career counselor at Robinson.
“We have made it our mission to make the Career Advancement Center a one-stop shop. You can figure out your career path and gain skills while you are in college, so when you get into the world you are comfortable where you land. I think that’s the best part about it,” said Hughes. “Students need cheerleaders.”
The RISE program also was built with input from corporate partners and sponsors, making it a unique opportunity for companies looking to shape the future of business by helping to prepare motivated sophomore-level business majors for their transition to the workforce through internship opportunities, mentoring, corporate site visits, speaker sessions and more.
“RISE helped me with my communication—both verbally and written. As a marketing major, I cannot stress how important this has been to me in my career thus far,” said Billaé Blanding, a marketing major, Student Government Association communications director, and Georgia State Athletics marketing intern. “RISE gives you connections that are useful to your college career and overall network.”
Those connections came through for Blanding, who secured important internships.
“The IRTS Foundation Summer Fellowship that I participated in this year allowed me to make meaningful connections and fostered an environment for professional development. It was through my participation that I was selected to become an intern with Fox Sports and Entertainment. I can connect my teachings from RISE to the skills I used during my interviews and how I navigated expanding my network,” said Blanding.
The RISE program regularly engages Georgia State alumni, facilitating opportunities for them to talk to students about preparing for a career and living their dreams.
“The focus is on students and companies,” said Baker. “It started with companies complaining that young professionals weren’t ready for prime time. Today, Robinson provides employers with a diverse pipeline of talented students who are ready to add value from day one.”