Zero to 70: Student Group Quickly Gets Up To Speed
Feb. 23, 2011
A new business group for students at UT Dallas has become a case study in how to make a successful organization out of nothing in less than a semester’s time.
Last August, the UT Dallas chapter of Phi Beta Lambda was merely an idea in the mind of Dr. Jeanne Sluder, a senior lecturer in the Organizations, Strategy and International Management area of the School of Management. The collegiate division of Future Business Leaders of America promotes leadership and career-development.
When Sluder put out the word that she needed help, three students answered her call.
Phi Beta Lambda representatives at the National Leadership Conference in New Orleans last November (left to right): Alexis Davis, treasurer; Dr. Jeanne Sluder, adviser; Heather Geiger, co-president; Nicholas Xavier Arenas, co-president; Sana Ali, vice president; and LaToya Castleberry, secretary.
Within a month, the group’s national office had given global business junior Heather Geiger and accounting juniors Nicholas Xavier Arenas and Sana Ali the green light to create a chapter. By the beginning of this semester, it numbered 70 members, rivaling in size some much older UT Dallas student organizations.
“We get people emailing us every day asking how to join,” Geiger said.
An accomplishment of this magnitude was a first for Geiger. The transfer student had been a member of an established sorority at her former school. With Phi Beta Lambda, the co-president and her peers had a blank slate with which to work.
“It wasn’t just that we started a student organization,” she said. “It was that we got a chapter established at UT Dallas on a national level. That’s really rewarding.”
The FBLA-PBL organization, based in Reston, Va., has been in existence since 1940 and has more than a quarter-million members.
“There’s something for everyone,” chapter Vice President Ali said. “If you want to raise money for a charity or do community service, you can. If you want to compete, you can do that. You can harness your soft skills, you can network, you can get potential jobs.”
The national organization avidly supports the March of Dimes, having donated more than $15 million to the charity.
The FBLA-PBL focus on service meshes well with Sluder’s nurturing style. As faculty adviser, she has won the respect and admiration of students, some of whom go so far as to call her a second mom.
“They get so excited about the things they get to do, they don’t realize that the connections they’ve made are going to benefit them down the road,” Sluder said. “To me, the most important thing is giving them those opportunities.”
“The main thing we really focus on is what it takes to be a leader,” Arenas, chapter co-president, said. “Everyone can be a leader, but it takes practice. We talk about soft skills, professionalism and ethics.”
Ashley Martin, a business administration senior, was eager to join an organization focused on general business, and she shared others’ excitement about being able to make an immediate impact on a new group.
“If you join an organization that’s been around for 10 or 20 years, they’re kind of set in their ways,” she said. “Being a part of something that’s just starting ― that was appealing to me because I have a say in how things go forward.”
Phi Beta Lambda is using the money from a Valentine’s Day fundraiser to help send members on a trip to a state competition in April. “Whoever wins there gets to go on to the national competition in June,” Sluder said.
Beyond that, the founding Phi Beta Lambda leaders have gotten a taste for big thinking. They want to quickly immerse themselves in the intricacies of the competitions so that they can gain enough experience to be able to host one in the future.
“Dr. Sluder, Nicholas and I talked about hosting a state competition soon,” Geiger said. “We want to put UT Dallas on the map as a place to hold competitions because it’s a perfect school for it.”
For more information, contact Dr. Sluder at 972-883-4793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The story was reported and written by free-lance contributor Jimmie Markham.