School of Business Administration

Marking Milestones: Business Honors program celebrates first three graduates

icon of a calendarJanuary 4, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Emily Morris

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Marking Milestones: Business Honors program celebrates first three graduates

The OU Business Honors Program graduates, Alayna Gotham, Michaella Merlo, and Robert Round, walking in a building.
The OU Business Honors Program celebrates its first three graduates, Alayna Gotham, MGT ’21, Michaella Merlo, ECN/MKT ‘21, and Robert Round, ACC ‘21, who completed their bachelor’s degrees and received their diplomas in December 2021. Photo by Rob Hall.

Business Honors Program (BHP) students Alayna Gotham, Michaella Merlo and Robert (RJ) Round are accustomed to being trailblazers. As members of OU’s first BHP cohort, they flourished in the honors-based business curriculum. In December 2021, they marked another milestone as the first graduates of the program.

With the business knowledge and experience they gained, combined with the leadership skills and network they cultivated as part of the highly interactive program, they are set to launch rich and rewarding careers.

Disney dreams to career cornerstone

From an early age, Merlo, ECN/MKT ’21, identified with and admired the studious and self-reliant traits displayed by Disney’s Princess Belle. Merlo brought those traits and a dream of working in the entertainment industry with her as a student in OU’s Business Honors Program.

Following her December graduation, Merlo is taking the first step in her dream career with a position at Disney. “I always wanted to work for Disney,” Merlo said. “Now, I can cross Disney off my list, and hopefully, this will lead to future jobs in the entertainment industry.”

While her love of Disney bloomed early, her experience in OU’s Business Honors Program equipped her with the confidence, business education and professional tools to turn her dream into reality, preparing her to enter one of the largest entertainment companies.

“The Business Honors Program encouraged me to be open to exploring career opportunities outside of Michigan,” she said. “If you take a position out of state for a few years, you never know what you could gain from that.”

Strong connections with her cohort, business faculty and staff distinguish the BHP, according to Merlo. In addition to insight and encouragement within the BHP, Merlo says Lisa Peterson, assistant to the business school dean, gave her the recognition and support she needed to confidently make career decisions about her future.

“Talking to people in the program gave me more confidence to make such a big decision,” she said. “Everyone was supportive, and because of that, I’m even more excited to do it.”

Business Honors Program graduates with Meaghan Cole (adviser), standing next to the School of Business Administration sign at commencement.

Meaghan Cole, BHP advisor, (second from right) congratulates OU’s 2021 BHP graduates Alayna Gotham, MGT ’21, Michaella Merlo, ECN/MKT ‘21, and Robert Round, ACC ‘21, at commencement. Photo provided by Cole.

Creating career connections

Intrigued by the advantages offered by OU’s BHP, Round, ACC ’21, committed to Oakland University as soon as he learned he was accepted to the BHP.

“Once I knew I’d gotten in the BHP I chose Oakland,” Round said.

In addition to an impressive academic program and dedicated support, “the hands-on opportunities stood out, such as professional events, networking, learning how to use LinkedIn, how to interview and more,” he said.

Throughout the program, each college experience was accompanied by the same tight-knit cohort of fellow students, supporting each other, and growing together.

“I appreciated taking classes with the same group of people throughout my four years of college,” Round said. “I gained communication skills, written and oral, as well as interviewing, networking and coaching skills.”

The connections he built as a BHP student led to two accounting internships, including a year-long appointment at Doeren Mayhew, which will result in a full-time position following his internship.

After gaining experience from his internship, Round is confident he found a good fit. “I was drawn to the people who I work with as well as the culture and atmosphere,” Round said.

Poised for professional success

The combination of classes, experiential learning opportunities, a close-knit cohort group, and direction from BHP faculty and staff members offered Gotham valuable guidance on the path to discovering her career interests.

As Gotham, MGT ’21, progressed through her studies, building a business foundation, developing transferable skills and cultivating a network, pieces of her career puzzle fell into place.

“I found a support system,” Gotham said. “BHP students have an adviser who knows us, so we can go to her for anything we need.”

Discussing her strengths and interests with BHP Adviser Meaghan Cole, Ed.D., helped Gotham clarify her professional goals, identify her passion for collaborative projects, and ignite her interest in event planning and management.

“I learned the importance of teamwork,” Gotham said. “Everyone brings different things to the table, and you have to be able to understand your team to balance everything. Those skills are necessary for a business, event or project.”

With a full-time position at Farm Bureau Insurance waiting for her upon graduation, Gotham is poised to put her business education and professional skills to work immediately as she continues to investigate opportunities to expand her skills in the event planning arena.

“I’m excited to get to work and build up to event planning,” she said. “It’s definitely something that intrigues me.”

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