Coaching for careers

Pancratz Center empowers business and public administration students through connections, clothing and more

From left to right, Career Coach Kathleen Kittridge, UND senior Allison Mulroy and Pancratz Center Director Kathy Lund stand next to the Professional Closet at the Pancratz Career Development Center. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Students must make big decisions once they enroll at the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration at UND. And the Pancratz Career Development Center can help.

UND senior Allison Mulroy’s experience shows how.

In the fall of 2017, Mulroy — then a sophomore — enrolled at the Nistler College. She’d tried biology, but hadn’t liked it. She wasn’t sure about business either, but like many college students, she was willing to try on different hats to see which one fit.

One such hat — accounting — looked very unlikely when Mulroy saw it on the rack.

“I always had the mindset that I would hate accounting,” Mulroy said.

Her mother, who had recently passed away, was an accountant. A younger Mulroy would sit and watch her work weekends during peak tax season, amid a flurry of papers and computer displays.

“I told myself there was no way I’d be doing that; it didn’t look fun,” Mulroy said. “Then I took my first course and was like, oh my gosh, I think I really like it.”

Chance encounter

That realization brought Mulroy to the College’s own “hat shop,” the Pancratz Center. There she met Pancratz Center Director Kathy Lund, who co-taught a course titled “Introduction to the Accounting Profession” alongside UND Accountancy faculty.

Lund’s once-a-week course sessions opened Mulroy to “all things that were accounting and networking.”

The course addressed items such as resumes, LinkedIn, the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, interviewing, etiquette and networking outside of the University, said Mulroy.

“It was really eye-opening and a great experience,” she added.

The Pancratz Center, named for alumni and benefactors Linda and Mark Pancratz and housed in the Nistler College, helps business and public administration students discover their strengths and leverage those strengths to achieve their professional goals, said Lund. The course represented a portion of the services provided by Lund and Kathleen Kittridge, a career coach.

The intro course also required Mulroy to have one-on-one meetings with the director. For Lund, Mulroy was the perfect type of student: someone starting from the ground level in determining what they want for a career.

Lund also helped the eager student channel her motivated personality and excitement about learning.

“She was pushing and encouraging me to take every opportunity I could,” said Mulroy, who started going to career fairs and employer info sessions set up by the Pancratz Center. “Since that class, whenever I have questions about anything, she’s my go-to person.”

Lund’s objective at the Pancratz Center is to empower students by helping them discover their strengths and engage in career opportunities while still on campus. Mulroy’s one-on-one meetings with Lund brought her goals for her UND education into focus. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Meaningful connections

The Pancratz Mentor Program has been Lund’s way of connecting engaged students to alumni and professionals in specific industries. Essentially, Lund wanted to create more “go-to” people for students looking at specific career areas.

“It’s a unique situation where students have someone who is focused specifically on them and their professional development,” said Lund, who had someone specific in mind when she recruited Mulroy to apply for a mentor.

Libby Rabon, a 2015 graduate, reminded Lund of Mulroy’s qualities. Lund felt they would be able to easily connect, as they had the same types of goals when they came to her for guidance.

Lund’s instincts turned out to give Mulroy exactly the type of connection to accounting she was looking for. Rabon, since graduating from UND, has worked as a CPA with accounting firm Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) in Minneapolis.

“I don’t know where else I would have gotten that connection,” Mulroy said. “It was helpful to hear her experience from graduation until now. You can go ask professors, and people at the Pancratz, but it’s so different when you’re asking someone who is actively working in the field.”

Mulroy’s mentor/mentee relationship with Rabon took the enjoyment in accounting she found just a year earlier and turned it into a passion. They would talk each month about the experience of transitioning from college to a career, and Lund’s monthly newsletters — which explore professional development and are sent to the program’s cohort — served as a springboard for discussion.

“I can ask her questions and know I’m getting good information,” Mulroy said. “It’s a great relationship because she’s so knowledgeable and someone I now truly look up to.”

Though the official span of the mentorship ended after the past spring semester, they’ve still maintained a close connection. Mulroy said it has made all the difference as she looks toward the choices ahead. The Grand Forks native is heading to Minneapolis after graduating Friday, Dec. 20. There she’ll have two internships, one of which is at PWC, before returning next fall to work toward her master’s degree.

Rabon and Mulroy became fast friends through the Pancratz Center’s Mentor Program. Rabon’s experience as a UND graduate and accounting professional has provided Mulroy with valuable insight as the UND senior prepares for the college-to-career transition. Image courtesy of Kathy Lund.

Best way to give back

For Rabon, taking on a mentorship role with the Pancratz Center felt like it was one of the best ways for her to give back.

“I always felt like the Pancratz Center and other faculty helped me through my college career and helped me get where I wanted to go,” Rabon told UND Today. “The best way to give back is through my time and experience by helping students through that same process.”

The mentorship experience has inspired Mulroy’s desire to similarly give back to UND and stay in touch with professors and people such as Lund. If it weren’t for the Pancratz Center, she said, her college experience wouldn’t have been as fulfilling.

“People expect you to know what you want to do, and it’s hard if you don’t have a network of people who are applying the knowledge you’re learning,” Mulroy said.

Soon to graduate, Mulroy has already given back to the Pancratz Center in a big way through a special donation to the Professional Closet. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Dressed for success

Even before graduating, Mulroy has given back to the Pancratz Center in a big way.

After getting a grant from U.S. Bank to renovate their humble abode in the Nistler College, Lund created a closet space just inside the entrance to the Pancratz Center. There, she created the Professional Closet.

At no additional cost, students in the Nistler College can come in once a semester and choose up to two business-styled clothing items and an accessory, such as ties, belts and shoes.

The entire closet, comprised of both men’s and women’s items, comes from the generous donations of alums, businesses and friends of the Pancratz, Lund said.

“Things are expensive,” she stated. “When students feel underdressed for career fairs and job opportunities, you can see their shoulders slumped and they feel like they’ve already lost the battle. We wanted to make sure that we could level the playing field and provide as much as we could for everybody.”

After Mulroy’s mother passed away, her family was left with a large closet of gently used clothing. Some still had tags on them. Mulroy would sometimes go in there for an item or two before an event on campus or meeting with an employer.

“I was thinking, ‘What are we going to do with all of this?’” Mulroy recalled. “I talked to my family this summer and said we should donate the clothes to the Pancratz. I didn’t realize how much we brought until it was all in.”

Before Black Friday, the Pancratz Center put on a Black Friday event of its own: even if students had already used the Professional Closet that semester, they could come in and take three items. It turned out to be a door-buster. Kathleen Kittridge, a career coach at the Pancratz, said the line extended through the hallway.

“It’s been rewarding to see students be able to pick up more confidence with their wardrobe, get excited and tell their friends about it,” Kittridge said. “I think this project fits our mission to empower students.”