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It was Fall 2002 when I first heard about the Southwestern Advantage summer work program. I was walking out of my Architectural Design class, when a classmate brought up the old “what we did last summer” conversation. I told him about my glorious summer before college interning for free at a firm in Tampa Bay and he told me he had just got back from Mexico, learned a ton, and he made $8,000. Naturally as a competitive, challenge loving, adventure seeking, aspiring entrepreneur; I wanted to see how he made $8,000 in Mexico!

At the time I had planned my college experience to be a stepping stone to my architectural career and running my own firm. Little did I know how much the Southwestern experience would not only help me with that goal, but completely transform and develop the skills I needed to be successful and open up doors all over the world. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t even know how to make $8,000 in Mexico yet.

As an eager an overzealous freshmen I knew that if this was legal it definitely had to be some hard work. I just wanted to figure out what kind of hard work. A couple of days later I sat down to meet my friend’s manager, Kevin Johnson. He was a UNC grad and we chatted about sports and college life in general. It was Kevin, another manager, a different classmate of mine, and myself. Kevin told us some history of the company, what they looked for in prospective students, what the challenging parts of the program were, what we would be doing, why it wasn’t for everybody, what it would take to succeed, and then he asked us what we had done in the past that could prove we could be successful.

I took the lead on this answer and spouted off all of my great accomplishments, awards, GPA, and my sacrificial pre-college summer of interning for free to help me get to my end goal of running a firm one day. I found out Mexico was actually a rewards trip earned by students that hit a certain level in production their first summer and that I would actually be working somewhere in the U.S. I also found out you got paid what you were worth, no salary, just paid based on results. To guarantee success I also had to work 80 hours a week and develop my presentation and selling skill. Strangely I was super excited about my $0 guaranteed summer job in an undetermined place in the U.S.

My mom on the other hand… was skeptical at first. Sensing my excitement and my eagerness to work hard for the summer she asked me a few more questions which she didn’t really love the answer to, like where I would be going “Somewhere in the U.S. as soon as I know I’ll tell you” after answering my mom’s questions I let her know there would be a packet of information sent to her in the mail and that to get my training supplies she needed to send in a letter enclosed in that packet. My mom said “Since this is what you are committed to I’m behind you 100%” That is definitely one of the main reasons I did so well my first summer. I had great support, but my bigger skeptics, IE best friends and fraternity brothers were even more motivation.

I arrived at Sales School in Nashville a little behind everyone else. I had a crazy week of finals and then I had a few days at home. I went to the University of Florida, but most of the group was from UNC and man those liberal arts majors love to study and read. I felt like I was at least a week behind the group. Don’t get me wrong sales school was educational, motivating, funny, and challenging, but I really had to study my tail off to be on par with my group. Towards the end of the week I felt a little better, and the last day I was elated to find out my roommates would be Brad Gauchat of Costal Carolina and John Jackson of App State. I also learned I would be working in Yellow Medicine County, MN! I had never heard of it, but it sounded great to me.

The drive to MN was fun and seeing the Midwest for the first time was pretty awe inspiring coming from Tampa Bay. I had never seen so much flat land in my life. I recall my mom giving me a shirt with Minnesota’s state bird, the mosquito, on the front. I wore it to meet our host family for the summer. The Wold’s were a great host family and their furnished basement is where Brad, John and myself would call our HQ to start the summer.

My first day on the book field is one of those memorable moments that will stick with me the rest of my life. My manager had pointed exactly where I should start that summer and how I should go about working in my territory. I had a plan, now for the story of execution, I was so nervous, my eggs and bacon barely made it down. My roommates and I got loose then went off to start our days individually, we left our breakfast spot at about 7:15am.

I nervously sang in my car and drove to my starting destination. I had studied hard in sales school and knew exactly what I was going to say, but the butterflies where going everywhere in my stomach. I arrived in Clarkfield, MN and pulled up to my first house. driving my two door red, hatchback, Ford Probe. I was so pumped that I closed my door ran to the other side of my car to get my bag out, only to realize that my side door was locked. Silly nerves, I ran over to the driver side and that side was locked too! Here I am first house, first day, and I already have to improvise. So I went up knocked on the door, stepped a few steps back, and……no one was home. Luckily my Ford Probe was pretty easy to break into, off to my second house, I knocked on the door and a lovely mother of about 86 yrs old walked out, not exactly my target market.

She pointed me in the right direction to a few families in the neighborhood. My third house, was another unique situation, a young woman came to the door and I asked if she was the mom, she said “No, I am the babysitter.” I hadn’t practiced talking to empty houses, grandmas, or babysitters so I asked when would be a good time to come back, but to my surprise mom and dad were home and the babysitter went to go get the mom. Now I was ready, a mom, I had practiced approaching moms all week, I was a master at the approach – at least in my mind. The mom came to the door and I forget everything I was supposed to say, complete blank, I laughed at myself, kept a huge smile and somehow she said “come on in”.

I sat down with mom and dad for my first presentation, I knew the presentation I had practiced during the semester and all week in sales school, however, for some reason I completely skipped the first 70% of it. I felt like a 16yr old getting behind the wheel for the first time. I was messing up left and right, somehow, we got to the end and they bought the entire kids set. I walked out of that house and felt like I just won a tournament game. My thoughts were man this job is easy, I just made $110 in 30 minutes, at this pace I am going to blow it out of the water. I was brought down from the stratosphere during the rest of my day. I ended up getting well over 20 no’s, 3 solid sales and 3 weak sales (small deposits). It’s funny as I look back on that day I literally remember each of the yes’s but none of the no’s. Throughout the first week I got better every day, not necessarily in sales, but definitely in confidence and skill for the job.

Week 2 expectations were high for me personally. I wanted to keep improving and get the most out of my journey to Yellow Medicine County. I remember Wednesday of that week very vividly. I started that day off in the county between Clarkfield and Montevideo. I knew I was going to have a great day because in the first two hours I sat down with 6 people. None bought, but I knew I was due. The day grew hotter and my goal periods kept passing with lots and lots of no’s. In fact it was 4:30pm when I looked at my goal card and I had already seen 22 people, all no’s. That’s when the thoughts crept into my head of my friends hanging out on the beach, hanging out on the boat, going to summer B parties, or even actually making money at their jobs. Granted I had already made $1200 in 7 days, but today I had made $0. I even projected how awful of a summer I would have if this went on for the rest of my time in MN. I was hot, frustrated, and in all honesty I just wanted to go home. I had proven I could do it by being relatively successful so why torture myself right? I was obviously in a funk, but I remembered my manager and sales school had prepared me for a time like this. I just didn’t think it was actually going to happen to me. So I decided to just keep going to the next house on my map.

It would be great if the next house bought, and guess what? They didn’t. In fact I remember looking at my watch a bunch of No’s later and it was 6:30pm. Then I headed towards the outskirts of Montevideo, MN for callbacks. I kept going got a few more no’s and then I ran into a single mom with a 3rd and 4th grader. The kids were great, and they loved the study guides, the mom even found a problem in the books that they needed a few nights back. I knew I was really going to help this family and I did. The whole family was happy I came by and they couldn’t wait for me to come back and help them use the study guides at the end of the summer. I was glad I kept going that day, because if I didn’t I would have never helped that family. I decided then and there that despite the challenges I had/would face that summer that it was all going to be worth it. I felt like I was truly learning and growing every day, and without those challenges it wouldn’t have been worth it.

I ended up finishing #40 in the company for first year students that summer and #2 in my group for first years. After speaking with a few architects that summer and having a new perspective on my goals, I decided to switch my major to Industrial Engineering. In fact I learned so much each and every summer working with Southwestern that I decided to do it all 5 years I was at the University of Florida. Despite not ever doing an engineering internship when I graduated I had job offers for sales and industrial engineering with companies like ABB, PEPSI, SIEMENS, TRANE, GE, and Southwestern.

Now almost 9 years removed from my first summer I just recently went through another set of interviews because I decided I wanted to live in Southern California. Using my skills honed in the Southwestern program I was 4/4 on my job interviews in 2010 and I now work as an account manager with Thomson Reuters in Los Angeles, CA.

I have no doubt that this is one of the best programs in the world for students who want to set themselves apart in their careers. The lessons learned in Southwestern Advantage are not simply sales related, they are life related. Success is never owned, it’s rented, and Southwestern’s summer program allows students to form the habit of paying the rent every single day. The proof is in the numbers, every UF student that worked with me in Southwestern’s summer program had career job offers before they graduated. Not bad for a recession huh?