First Impressions Prepares Young Men for Transition into the Professional World

The College of Engineering’s Office of Diversity Initiatives hosted its third First Impressions event for young men in STEM fields on April 7 at The Club at Union Square on LSU’s campus.

The annual event—sponsored by Chevron, Halliburton and Shell—was created in partnership with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative.

Together, the organizations aim to “shine a new light on business and casual styles for LSU’s male students, specifically male students of color, who are underrepresented in STEM majors,” the online invitation read. The event demonstrates the importance of a strong first impression when interacting and networking with industry professionals and representatives.

The event, which is usually open to undergraduate men only, welcomed more than 80 students and industry professionals. This year, the college collaborated with the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition to also include students from Scotlandville Magnet High School and Madison Preparatory.

Jada Lewis, the Office’s assistant dean, opened the evening, after the networking hour, with an introduction on the history of the event, remarking on the sister program, LSU’s Society for Women Engineers’ annual Women Impacting Style in Engineering event .

“WISE, as you know, is a professional event for the young ladies, and we once had a program geared toward our male students as well,” Lewis said. “It was called ‘It’s a Guy Thing.’ We would host a social event for the men to play laser tag or some other game to get students outside of the classroom.”

Lewis said First Impressions was born out of the response from male engineering students who also wanted to “dress up and dress professionally,” and have networking opportunities in a more relaxed environment, like their female counterparts, instead of the social event.

Geno Brown, of Brown & Brown Clothiers, a local custom clothing shop, and Brandon Simmons, of Mr. Carter’s Exclusive Grooming Lounge & Spa, spoke briefly on the impact of having a “professional presence” at all times.

“You have to use what you have to your advantage,” Brown said, later adding that appearance is one of the first things an industry representative will notice about a potential employee. “You can control people’s perceptions about you by how you present yourself.”

After the professional appearance segment, students were able to dine with representatives from local businesses and companies like Chevron and Shell.

Michael Alvarez, Workforce Development Initiative Lead for Shell, outlined the timeline of his 36 years with the oil and gas company. He spoke in detail about his nontraditional path to his current position by climbing the corporate ladder, all while working his way through school.

The keynote speaker of the evening was former vice president of Chevron’s Gulf of Mexico business unit Warner Williams. Williams and his wife, Pamela, attended the event in celebration of their 35th wedding anniversary because they said it was important to share their message. 

He opened his speech by commending the speakers before him, and thanking the event organizers and donors for “putting together a program that these young men will benefit from.”

“I was asked to address three topics in my speech tonight,” he said. “My experience as a vice president of an international oil company, keys to becoming an influential leader and words of wisdom around the foundational elements that shape who we are.”

Williams shared with the audience some of his journey working in the oil industry for several decades, while balancing a family of four. His speech covered themes of diversity and the importance of laser-like focus on goals. He encouraged guests to fully know and understand the industry they were interested in.

“Take the time to understand your industry,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of information available about these industries that you should take time to understand, so that you know exactly what you want to do.”

He also stressed the importance of knowing a company’s fundamental practices, particularly in its leadership. He added that once a position is gained within a company, employees should always look two positions ahead.

“Because the job that you’re going to next will be preparing you for the position following that one,” he said. “This will allow you to focus more on your own goals.”

Williams closed his address with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt,  “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

He added, “So, as you continue to meet the challenges of the college, with your mind prepared and your skills honed, I urge you to set your direction now, or at least give it some thought. Celebrate the days of success, but always prepare for the challenges that meet us as we venture through life.”

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Article written by M.B. Humphrey, communications assistant.