(MURFREESBORO) Insurance Group of America has given a significant boost to MTSU's new professional sales program with a $100,000 sponsorship that funds a new office to increase student outreach and internship opportunities.
The IGA Office of Professional Sales within the Jennings A. Jones College of Business will benefit from a yearly $20,000 commitment for the next five years from Jamie Noe, founder and owner of Nashville-based IGA who hopes the office's enhanced student outreach efforts attracts top scholars and builds the sales concentration "into a nationally recognized program."
"And because of the quality of the program, help more students get high caliber sales jobs across the country," Noe said.
Launched last fall, the new Professional Sales concentration within the Department of Marketing "has already experienced a lot of growth," said marketing instructor Laura Buckner, director of the professional sales office and coordinator of the department's internship program.
Through her work with the internship program, Buckner said she speaks with numerous companies, "and what I hear time and time again is, 'We need students who can go out and be the face of our brand and build these relationships.'"
Buckner cited a Tennessee Higher Education Commission report indicating that "thousands" of entry-level sales positions will be opening up in Tennessee over the next few years because of ongoing economic growth.
"Companies are always looking for good sales folks," she said. "We know that the business need is out there."
Noe views the sponsorship as an extension of his faith that calls for him to give back to the community in a meaningful way. A Western Kentucky University graduate, Noe said he was attracted to MTSU's similar "blue collar" approach of educating a significant number of first-generation students who are "gritty" and hard workers.
About half of Noe's 20 employees are MTSU alumni and four MTSU students are currently working in his paid internship program. Junior and senior students selected for the internships receive hands-on training in IGA's insurance sales and customer service and may serve as a talent pipeline for the company, which serves clients across the nation.
The IGA funds also support an MTSU student-led competitive sales team that allows students to travel to other universities for sales competitions, which usually involve teams of two to three students competing against each other, Buckner said.
Currently, students in the Advanced Selling class taught by professor Lucy Matthews participate on the team, using some class time to go through mock scenarios and case studies that also include marketing strategies and other aspects of customer acquisition and retention. The past three years, MTSU has participated in the State Farm Invitational Competition at Central Missouri University.
"Students are able to get feedback from professionals and they receive coaching from our business partners. It's a real confidence booster and it's a great networking opportunity," Buckner said of the contests. "They can connect with businesses that are looking (to hire) people who can generate revenue ... and who have open positions."
MTSU students can take four courses in the concentration: the entry level Professional Selling course, followed by Advanced Selling, Sales Management and Business to Business Marketing courses.
The courses are also MT Engage and Experiential Learning (EXL) courses in which students develop skill sets "they'll use everywhere they go," whether it be for their job interviews or for management and leadership positions they obtain, Buckner added.
Carolyn Tumbleson, development director for the Jones College of Business, said IGA's gift for the sales office is "transformational for the program."
"MTSU is an enduring institution that depends on private philanthropy to launch and grow concentrations such as the Professional Sales program," she said. "In establishing the IGA Office of Professional Sales, our students benefit from a resource dedicated to teaching how to build and maintain business relationships, sell, manage and lead."
For more information about the professional sales concentration, visit https://mtsu.edu/programs/marketing/index.php, contact Buckner at 615-898-2370 or email her at Laura.Buckner@mtsu.edu or contact Matthews at Lucy.Matthews@mtsu.edu.