UCF Students express concern for entering business careers

UCF students prepare for careers in business in the midst of a pandemic. 

Anthony Bencomo, 44, first got his feet wet in the retail industry in 1997 with his business, Knightmare Apparel.

"I think the experience of starting and dealing with Knightmare Apparel became a great learning experience which helped me create the foundation for my Deli Fresh Threads brand now," Bencomo said.

Knightmare Apparel sold UCF sports merchandise for five years until Barnes and Noble gained the rights to sell UCF merchandise. 

Bencomo then created a sandwich apparel business called Deli Fresh Threads in 2012, inspired by Orlando being the sandwich capital of the U.S. Deli Fresh Threads also promoted other local restaurants in the community by hosting monthly eat ups. However, once the pandemic hit Central Florida, business plummeted for Deli Fresh Threads.

"My business was growing because of the events I attended," Bencomo said. "Once the pandemic hit, I only did one event. It definitely takes a toll on you." 

Bencomo graduated from UCF with a marketing degree in 1998. The College of Business helped prepare him for starting a company, but Bencomo said he wished there was more emphasis on adaptability and entrepreneurial thinking to pivot the brand when he had attended UCF.

“You need to be able to adapt and react, especially when you are a small business,” Bencomo said. “It’s hard to be prepared for a pandemic no one expected.”

Management professor Cameron Ford said the College of Business made changes to the curriculum to adapt to the current pandemic policies since mid-March.

Jaylen Brown, chair of College of Business Ambassadors and junior finance major, serves as a student liaison to negotiate with business students and faculty members. Brown is one of the student ambassadors that hosts meetings frequently on Zoom to get feedback from students on how they feel about the College of Business.

Brown said job security is a huge worry of business students. Brown works in the marketing department of Pearson Education and feels blessed to have a job during the pandemic.

“I feel like I am one of the lucky ones,” Brown said. “If I did not have that position, I feel like I would be looking everywhere for a job since the industry is getting so competitive.”

Some courses taught had to shift their curriculum to match the environment the pandemic has brought upon. The curriculum of the business climate analysis course has been redesigned to address the economic environment from the pandemic.

Julie Sharek, an integrated business instructor, designed the course in 2017 to discuss how what is happening in the world affects businesses. Sharek said the class now frequently discusses how the coronavirus has shaped the economy and how to make decisions while in the pandemic. Since the spring semester, students have been writing COVID-19 risk assessments and impact analyses. 

"Our content changes every semester because we are studying what is actually happening in the world," Sharek said. "We are in the midst of a massive natural disaster."

Emily Irigoyen, junior business management major, said the application process for internships has become more competitive. Irigoyen said it is difficult to stand out from other applicants without face-to-face interactions. Internship fairs are being held virtually by the College of Business. 

“People don’t have the same circumstances as other people, so it makes the playing field kind of uneven,” Irigoyen said.

Ford said the College of Business is looking at the current business environment to redesign curriculum to meet the needs of the economy. Ford said improvements are made to each of the majors to align themselves with professional organizations.

"Departments have done similar things by trying to align themselves better with professional associations and certification exams to pull threads tighter," Ford said.

The human resources management curriculum has been aligned to be consistent with the skills the Society for Human Resource Management looks for in their credential methodology to help students prepare for certifications. Students with certifications stand out in the application process, Ford said. 

"We realize our local market has a very strong need for people to be prepared to work in relatively small organizations," Ford said. "We try to prepare people to work more effectively and be more flexible."

Lauryn De George, senior instructor for business management, said all faculty members have participated in a training session to help identify students that may be struggling due to the pandemic and link them to resources available.

"I think we should focus not on the problems but on the solutions," De George said. "The faculty really want to take an invested interest in our students success."

De George said there are student organizations such as Delta Sigma Pi and CEO Knights that support other students in their studies and internships to get through unprecedented times. There are also resources like the Office of Professional Development that offer career coaches that meet with students virtually to assist them with job applications, resumes and interview preparations.

“We recognize how important it is to not only give students the skills that they need to be successful in the business community," De George said, "but also to adapt in the course of our everyday business life.”

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