UNT’s Professional Leadership Program gives students career edge in global economy

Claudia Taylor

UNT fashion merchandising senior Elisabeth Kadesi knows that when it comes to forging a successful career path, her skill set must go beyond what she learned in the classroom. She must also know how to speak in public, build a personal “brand,” understand a global economy and lead her peers — all skills she learned in UNT’s Professional Leadership Program (PLP).

Housed in the College of Business, PLP focuses on giving students a cross-disciplinary edge through one-on-one mentorship with industry professionals and in-depth lessons on a wide range of skills, from dining etiquette to written communications.

PLP director Billy Johnson says this year’s class boasts 77 students representing six UNT schools and colleges and 12 countries. The program offers students an enriching experience in which they are exposed to different majors and cultures, he says.

“We’re preparing students to focus on the global market, to focus on competencies that will keep them competitive,” says Johnson, who left a longtime career with Deloitte in 2011 to lead the program. “And they get a rich interdisciplinary exposure by engaging every week with colleagues in PLP who come from a variety of academic areas — not just fellow students, but also those students’ mentors in different fields.”

Jessyca Thomas (’12), who works in supply-chain management for Ryder, says her PLP experience helped her stand out from the crowd during her interviews.

“My experience with PLP definitely made a positive impact on my career,” Thomas says. “PLP was brought up in several of my interviews. Companies look for candidates who are prepared for a professional environment, so having an extracurricular activity that provided that experience benefited me greatly.”

Kadesi says the program’s focus on mentorship also adds value. With guidance from her mentor, Deloitte retail strategy leader Abigail Davis, Kadesi secured the internship she wanted, as a category manager and buyer at Michael’s Stores’ corporate headquarters this summer. Kadesi says her mentor’s advice gave her the edge she needed to surpass the first round of internship interviews.

“My mentor told me to have more confidence, and don’t be afraid to brag,” she says with a smile. “Those are the things we’re scared of — we don’t want to seem too overconfident or pompous. But you have to help the company see that they need you.

“When I went home from meeting with my mentor that day, I went in front of the mirror and came up with a little elevator speech. When I went to my next interviews, everybody wanted me.”

That transformational effect is PLP’s best attribute, says UNT capital campaign co-chair and retired president of Haggar Clothing Co. Frank Bracken (’63), who has volunteered as a mentor in PLP.

“The Professional Leadership Program gives enthusiastic, motivated students the skills and connections they need to find career success,” says Bracken, who along with his wife, fellow campaign co-chair Janet Bracken, is a longtime supporter of PLP.

Although the program will mark its 20th year in 2014, Johnson says it is far from resting on its laurels. It will continue to focus on growth, diversity, service and the emerging culture of young entrepreneurs, all of which help cement PLP’s status as the only program of its kind in North Texas, he says.

PLP aims to produce professionals who will go on to be leaders in their chosen fields. But Johnson says the program’s goals go deeper, to teach students how to be servant leaders who will make a difference in their communities too.

“Our students should be elite, but they are not elitist. We want them to come out with a servant-leader mentality,” he says. “They come in bright intellectually, but we want to change their hearts and influence them to have their hearts and their heads connected.”


Above, PLP graduate Elisabeth Kadesi, campaign co-chairs and PLP supporters Frank (’63) and Janet Bracken, and PLP Assistant Director Rachel Cleveland.