Forming Corporate Partnerships for a Holistic Approach to Learning

FAU Grads working at City Furniture:
(front) Janet Price Wincko, (center, l-r) Cheryl Young, Mindy Hileman, (l) Bob Forde and Garry Ikola

When FAU partners with local companies, students enjoy a taste of the real world along with their academic training.  Thanks to a team of FAU alumni at City Furniture, the company is becoming a pioneer in developing programs with the university that help students gain hands-on experience and exposure before they receive their degrees.   With so many FAU graduates at the company, additional efforts to cultivate and recognize corporate alumni, such as a FAU Day at City Furniture, also are being formed.

City Furniture's Director of Learning Janet Price Wincko has been at the forefront of many of these programs.   A founding member of the Broward Career Advisory Council, which was formed by Assistant Vice President of Community Relations-Broward Carolyn Stewart, Janet helped produce a reality TV event that taught students about important career development skills, such as dressing for success and handling interview questions.   Company tours at City Furniture, individual practice interviews and "Career Bites" workshops over lunch to educate students about the employment process are additional programs launched with Janet's help.

"It’s a holistic experience," said Carolyn about the importance of the FAU/corporate partnership.   "The more opportunities students receive to understand how business really works, the better employees they will make."

Janet, who joined City Furniture shortly after earning a bachelor's degree in business from FAU in 1989, agrees that when universities and businesses work together everyone benefits.   She earned a master's degree in business administration in 2003.

She continues to oversee a number of programs aimed at reaching out to potential City Furniture candidates.   In addition to the company's internship program, which is available to college students throughout the state, she conducts City Furniture class tours and presentations and periodically speaks to classes about human resources topics.

"It's so valuable for students to be able to see their world of theory put into practice," said Janet, who also has arranged for a number of City Furniture donations to FAU programs, including  a laptop computer and mannequins used for career dress models in the reality TV show. She also conducts resume writing sessions for the Career Development Center.

Janet is one of several top City Furniture executives who are graduates of FAU, including Kevin Koenig '71, the founder of Waterbed City, which became City Furniture in 1994.   The brother of   Keith Koenig, the company's current president,  unfortunately passed away in 2001, but left behind a loyal City Furniture FAU alumni team who continues to grow a strong relationship with the university.

Senior Vice President of Operations Bob Forde, another active member of this FAU executive team, received his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1974.   That year FAU was celebrating its 10 th anniversary, had just selected the burrowing owl as its mascot and counted less than 6,000 students on its sole campus in Boca Raton.  Bob went on to earn a master's of business administration from FAU in 1979 before joining City Furniture in 1980.

"The FAU MBA program was instrumental in my career," said Bob, who is active in the university's alumni program and often consults with university professors on timely business topics, such as organizational development.   He also works with the staff and business leaders on alumni relations.

Higher education is so critical to career development at City Furniture that Bob and his colleague, Senior Vice President of Sales Garry Ikola, formed a continuing education program for associates that provides tuition assistance for college studies. Garry, who joined Waterbed City in 1975, earned a bachelor's degree in finance in 1988 and a master's of business administration in 1993 from FAU while he was working at City Furniture.

"It's critical for colleges to match up academia with the real world of business," said Garry, who added that he sees a need for students to earn advanced degrees in order to develop the analytical skills required in today's corporate setting.

City Furniture's CFO and Senior Vice President of Finance Jerry S. Wilder is the fourth top executive to earn the FAU alumni stripes.   He earned a master's of business administration in 1987.

Thanks to growing synergies between FAU and City Furniture, even more FAU graduates are joining City Furniture. Cheryl Young, '03, for example, met Janet when they were master's degree candidates.   Both participated in a Brazil study course.   Two years after graduation, Janet called Cheryl with the opportunity to leave her career as an educator in Palm Beach County to join the City Furniture human resources team. Cheryl now serves as a learning and development manager for the company.

Mindy Hileman, a City Furniture IT analyst, joined the company three years ago, just before earning a bachelor’s degree in business from FAU in 2004.  She believes her education at FAU prepared her well for her position, and would like to form an internship in the IT department to help college students get even better preparation for the computer world.

"Preparing students for the real world and helping our community's employers fill critical jobs are just two of the invaluable benefits that result from partnerships like the one we have with City Furniture," said Carolyn. "As FAU continues to mirror the diversity and business dynamics of Broward County, corporate relationships like this will become increasingly more important."

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