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Program Offers Busy Adults Life-Changing Opportunity

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Janette Ballard

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Adult Learning

Sarah Lee has worked at Walmart for over five years. The high school graduate never considered advancing her career because fear was holding her back. Then in July 2021, Walmart announced that it will pay 100% of tuition and books for career training and development for its U.S. associates.

Lee decided to take a chance. She enrolled in the credit-bearing, 12-week Frontline Manager Leadership Program (FMLP) at the University of Denver’s University College, a move that has changed her life.

University College is a partner of Guild Education, a career opportunity platform that enables forward-thinking employers to invest in their employees by unlocking life-changing opportunities for personal and professional growth through education and learning programs, career development and one-on-one coaching.

Guild and its corporate partners saw a need for leadership development within frontline managers across a range of industries—retail, hospitality and fast casual restaurants. Guild approached University College about developing an innovative leadership program for these aspiring and current managers, and in September 2021 the first FMLP cohort launched.

Lee was in a bad place when she enrolled in the program. She was separated from her husband and her mother was hospitalized with COVID-19. She called it a “very dark time,” and hesitated to apply, but her father encouraged her to pursue it. When her acceptance letter arrived quickly after she applied, “I knew it was a sign,” she says.

According to Greg Lorenz, FMLP program director, University College makes enrollment accessible with a simple application process. There is no prior education requirement to participate in the program.

“Our students really have a variety of formal educational experiences. Some positive, some less than positive,” says Lorenz. “One of the great things about the program is that we can help their confidence and help transform their thinking.”

The program is offered four times per year to employees of certain Guild corporate partners, such as Walmart, Target, Chipotle, Kohls and Macy’s, and attracts 325 students each term. Students reside in all 50 states and attend online classes and a weekly live session via Zoom.

Most of the students enrolled in the program are in a leadership or management position or aspire to be, says Lorenz. That on the job experience brings the classroom material to life.

“The students are bringing everyday scenarios in everyday situations to the classroom, and then connecting the concepts and what they're learning in class to what they're experiencing,” he says.

Course rosters often include students from the same organization—although they may come from different departments and different locations—so they have peer support and can network within the course.

“They speak the same organizational language, and they know the culture, and they know the process for promotion. They help each other out,” Lorenz says.

Adjunct instructors—called faculty coaches—teach a class of 18 students and mentor those students during the course and after it ends. Students participate in five individualized leadership coaching sessions each term, plus three additional sessions after the course ends.

The leadership coaching sessions are designed to help students apply and connect the concepts from the curriculum to everyday life—develop confidence with public speaking or job-related conflict resolution, for example.

“It's a very intentional conversation to help students’ grow, and that's really where … the transformation occurs,” says Lorenz.

Lee felt supported by her coach throughout her education. When her mother passed away shortly before the course began, the grief and pain were so intense, Lee doubted she could go on.

“I did not have anyone cheering me on except for my coach. She inspired me to keep pushing through and was so positive and powerful with her words, she truly inspired me,” Lee says.

Many of the FMLP faculty coaches are experienced executive or professional coaches. As a group, they help each other out and have their own brainstorming sessions, according to Lorenz. “It's a very nurturing and supportive community.”

University College offers career-focused content for busy adults, including undergraduate and graduate certificates and degrees, noncredit professional development courses through the Center for Professional Development, and short courses for the love of learning through the Enrichment Program and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. FMLP students may continue their leadership development by applying their FMLP credits toward University College’s undergraduate Leading Teams certificate or bachelor’s-degree completion program.

“We're providing access to really high-quality education that I would say these students probably may not have had an opportunity or the confidence or the ability to [pursue],” Lorenz says of the FMLP program.

According to a recent survey, 93 percent of students say they intend to continue their education after participating in the frontline manager program. Sarah Lee is doing just that. She is now in college pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“If anyone thinks they cannot go back to school because they are afraid, I am here to tell you that you got this! Through the trials and tribulations, there is light at the end. Don't give up on your dreams,” Lee says.