Pair Passion with Practicality for Optimum and Early Career Success

Rita Dragonette
Rita Dragonette

Kudos to long-time friend Rita Dragonette for creating and funding an innovative scholarship that will enhance future employment prospects for five lucky liberal arts majors at her alma mater, Northern Illinois University. The $5,000 scholarships will be awarded to NIU sophomore and junior liberal arts majors who choose a business minor.

As this blog has noted in the past, employers increasingly seek out graduates who understand business essentials. This is the first scholarship I’ve heard about that provides incentive for PR and liberal arts majors to build their business acumen while in college. In hopes of encouraging similar scholarship funding, I asked Rita to elaborate on her decision to create the Dragonette Cross-College Career Success Scholarship. Here’s her story:

Dragonette Cross-College Career Success Scholarships
Dragonette Cross-College Career Success Scholarship

As a graduate of NIU with a liberal arts degree who went on to work in the corporate world and then become a entrepreneur, it is my intention with this scholarship to inspire students while still in school to equip themselves for early career success by paring their liberal arts major with a business minor.

Throughout my career, wherein I ran the largest group for the largest public relations agency worldwide, and founded and ran two companies, I have always been extremely familiar with the skill sets of entry-level applicants, eager to work hard to break into the working world and achieve early career success. Liberal Arts students can be at a disadvantage because the applicability of their degrees and training are not as apparent. Typically, these students pick up their understanding of the business world on the job, the burden of their training on the organizations that hire them. I myself learned from my clients. The learning curve was tough and I frequently wished I had a stronger business foundation. I saw this consistent pattern in my own businesses with young professionals.

As a result, applicants I hired increasingly were those that would require the shortest learning curve. Business skills were most attractive. Though as a liberal arts major I strongly believe in the applicability of the critical thinking developed through such studies, I found the hard skills of greatest immediate use. We needed to understand what clients were thinking, the metrics of success in bringing ideas to fruition, how to budget our own services. My CEO peers usually did and do the same.

Students often ask me for career guidance, the value of my personal lessons learned. This is the lesson I’ve learned. There is no situation in the employment world that does not require business understanding and some degree of acumen. It’s a foundational requirement whether you teach, work at a not for profit, in any type of creative field, etc. The earlier the basics are mastered, the more appealing a candidate you will be, the easier you success will come.

I struggle today to fully understand a P&L statement, and I’m not alone. My best career advice is to study what you love, and pair it with practical skills. Had I to do this again, I would pair my English degree with a minor that gave me a grounding in business fundamentals.

I feel it is part of our obligation—as alumni and business leaders– to pave the way and make it smoother for those who come after us. With this scholarship I hope to encourage students, while still in the middle of their course of study, to equip themselves to make the major they love, as practical in the working world as possible…from day one. Rita Dragonette

Northern Illinois will begin accepting applications for the Dragonette Cross-College Career Success Scholarships on July 1, 2016. For more information about these amazing scholarships contact David Ballatine at Thank you, Rita!

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