By Landa Bagley

Ball State University graduates strive to make positive impacts—solving problems in ways that help people and strengthen communities. When they’re not the problem-solvers, Ball State graduates are often leading the way as mentors, guides, and coaches helping the problem-solvers succeed.

Jacob Smith MS ’22 is a shining example of the latter. As he was finishing his grad school work for his master’s degree in Information and Communication Science, Mr. Smith served as a technology coach for a team of five students who participated this Summer in The Pitch competition. This experiential opportunity for university-level tech students helps develop an entrepreneurial-focused business and/or tech skills while tackling a real-world inspired problem within their assigned topic. The competition is held by the company TechPoint as part of its Summer internship and externship program.

More than 15 Ball State students, faculty, and staff participated this Summer in The Pitch. Two College of Communication, Information, and Media (CCIM) students were on two of the three winning teams. Tiger Tech, the team on which Mr. Smith served as a coach, was comprised of students from DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana.

Team Tiger Tech Tackles Topic of Tech Jobs in Indiana

Tiger Tech won this year’s competition in their assigned topic, “Tech Jobs in Indiana.” Tiger Tech’s winning solution was the development of a computer app that directly connects college students with potential tech employers and mentors, with matchups based on information included in profiles completed on the app. The app would be free for students to use. Mentors and potential employers would be vetted to verify their legitimacy and qualifications.

Mr. Smith immediately saw the benefit of the app.

“A lot of students are introverted; they have a hard time talking to people and going out of their way to network. That’s something that is a challenge for them,” Mr. Smith said. “As the students designed it, this app would create a safer, low-risk environment to do this networking because there’s not that face-to-face interaction at first and there’s not that overwhelming amount of people at an event. So it’s a safe way for people who have a hard time being social and talking to people to get the chance to network and build relationships in their fields.”

Mr. Smith was one of three coaches in this year’s Pitch competition who was still in graduate school. Most of the other coaches were professionals already established in their fields, he said. But Mr. Smith said he fully embraced the challenge when asked to be a coach.

“It was good experience for us [coaches still in grad school at the time] because we were working alongside coaches who had a lot more experience in our industry,” he added. “They welcomed us as fellow coaches and saw value in what we had to offer—and our perspectives—despite not having the same amount of industry experience.”

Creating Opportunities for Students

Mr. Smith knows a thing or two about opportunities for networking, direct recruiting, and developing professional relationships. These opportunities are hallmarks of Ball State’s Center for Information and Communication Sciences (CICS) program—part of the University’s College of Communication, Information, and Media—from which he earned his master’s degree.

“In the CICS program where I just graduated from, there are a lot of partnerships there where Indiana tech companies— like Accenture, Salesforce, or BCForward—come in and they recruit directly from the CICS program,” Mr. Smith said. “Growing that situation, in which the employers are coming directly to the students at the school—and the college is putting together opportunities for these students and employers to meet—that’s big.”

Developing and leveraging partnerships with industry leaders and employers to establish this connection among students, professionals and hiring managers is one way Ball State is helping address Indiana’s challenge of growing and retaining its skilled workforce. It’s a challenge not much different than the topic assigned to the team Mr. Smith coached in The Pitch.

In addition to having these partnerships within the University’s colleges, Ball State has just established its Indiana Connection Lounge—an on-campus a site for employers and organizations from across the state to meet students considering jobs and careers in their industries. A goal of the Indiana Connection Lounge is to assist students in gaining the social capital necessary to take advantage of the socioeconomic ladder that higher education offers. The lounge’s environment facilitates connections between organizations and students, offering a setting for specifically tailored and meticulously curated events that aids employers in new and efficient methods of recruiting. Indiana Connection Lounge is located in Ball State’s Career Center, on the University’s Muncie campus.

“If students can network with industry professionals and potential employers in a low-key, no-pressure environment, and possibly get recruited for work right out of college, grad school or wherever they’re at, I think they’re more likely to stay in this state,” Mr. Smith said. “The students will feel more valued since they were able to build these connections that can help them grow professionally, get recruited, and get their careers started—and solve problems in their workplaces and communities.”

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