By Tiffany Bell
Upon high school graduation, attending a four-year university remains a popular option among 18-year-olds as the next stepping-stone in their lives. According to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, full-time college enrollment increased by 28 percent between 2002 and 2012.
While there are many resources on applying and gaining acceptance to colleges and universities, there is little information on post-college career readiness. Research conducted by Chegg and CSO Research, Inc. in June 2015 shows that half of college graduates did not feel prepared for the workforce. Hiring managers were even less optimistic; only 39 percent believed that new college graduates were primed for success.
The statistics are astonishing. Fortunately, Michelle R. Horton, founder of YOUniversity Drive, creates career readiness programs to ensure high school and college students are not only prepared for the workplace, but also that they are effectively equipped to flourish within it.
Originally from Rocky Mount, Horton relocated to Charlotte in 2006. A first-generation college student, she graduated with a degree in industrial relations from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She later earned an MBA in marketing/brand management from Wake Forest University. In addition, Horton is the academic director of the Leadership Institute and director of experiential learning and leadership development at Wake Forest University.
After a successful career as a corporate marketing and human resources executive, Horton decided to begin teaching. As a professor, she realized there were gaps between what students learned in the classroom and their degree of preparedness for the workforce. She soon took the initiative to address these gaps by starting a for-profit company, YOUniversity Drive, LLC, in 2010. She is the chief driver.
The company’s name, YOUniversity Drive, is its tagline and a call to action. “I want the students to feel empowered to say, ‘I want to get behind the wheel of my own success,’ ” says Horton. Students are referred to as D.R.I.V.E.R.s – an acronym describing their attributes: determined, reliable, innovative, visionary, emerging and resourceful.
“The idea started when I was working at Johnson C. Smith University as a marketing professor. A large number of JCSU students are also first-generation,” says Horton. “The two biggest gaps were a lack of access to people, resources and tools that could help the students to be mobile in their career trajectory, and a lack of exposure to life itself and experiences that were also educational. I wanted the students to learn to connect with people and sell themselves.”
Immediately, she started creating programs that would benefit the students. Horton continues, “I like taking marketing principles and applying them to education. The first program was ‘Masterminds, Millionaires and Moguls.’ ” This features a panel of successful business people who discuss the victories and defeats encountered as they achieved their goals.
Quantitative measures, such as surveys, are used to determine the organization’s success. However, the biggest indicator to Horton is qualitative, specifically, the impact of her students’ success. Student Havyn Colon says, “Professor Horton has a great personality and always has a smile on her face. When I first had the idea to start my business, I called her for advice, and she willingly offered me words of encouragement and gave me suggestions. She is definitely a DRIVER!” Adds student Jason A. Harris: “I think it is very commendable that YOUniversity Drive is going above and beyond to ensure that the next generation of leaders will become just as successful, if not more successful, than the current.”
Horton and her husband, Charles, are the parents of two children.
For more information, visit www.YOUniversityDrive.com.