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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Be Willing To Learn

 Be Willing To Learn
 By Debra Scala Giokas '87

One day, when I was a senior in high school looking for work, my parents and I were walking in a shopping mall about twenty minutes away from where we lived. I had come of age – working age – and I needed to start saving for college. “Go apply to JC Penney,” they said as we spotted the store.

I took the elevator up to the fourth floor, which only permitted employees. I saw women carrying clear plastic purses and a man with a gold badge. I asked the receptionist for an application, filled it out, and waited right there on the spot for an interview.

A woman wearing a leopard print blouse, stylish glasses, and her hair in an updo met me with a firm handshake and a gracious smile. 

She looked at my application, lowered her glasses to the tip of her nose and said, “You have no experience. Why should I hire you?”

Without skipping a beat, I replied, “I am willing to learn.”

I got the job. Why? She explained to me that willingness to learn is the best quality to have.

Afterwards, I couldn’t wait to tell my parents. They were thrilled. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I never even thought about the minimum wage salary, which was $3.35 per hour. To me, it was the best job in the world.

I spent the next several years working my way through college at JCPenney in a variety of capacities. Here I honed my interpersonal, organizational and financial skills. I learned how good design affects sales, and I learned about the cost vs. retail price. I became adept at cash management, issues with credit cards and a slew of returns after the holiday season. I also began to understand how important customer service (and listening to people) is to a company’s well-being.

The staff kept challenging me. I started in the Boys’ Department, then worked in Infants’, Men’s, Housewares, Bedding, Cameras, Credit, Audit and Invoice. They called me an “associate”, and made me feel like a part of their team. I worked the 12:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. shift on Saturdays, and I worked nights after school. During college breaks, I worked full-time.

I got my first job out of college in the Customer Service Department at Canon USA. I was able to obtain this position because of my experience in the Camera Department at JCPenney. Since I sold cameras, I had already proven my ability to learn about the products. This helped me to answer customer complaints with typewritten letters in those pre-e-mail days. From this I learned an important lesson: you never know which experience will help you accomplish your next goal.

I parlayed my customer service stint of eleven months to obtain a marketing job at a bank and, eventually, a position at a law firm. I have been working in legal marketing since 1990.

I will never forget the JCPenney Human Resources Director who took a chance on me. I tend to remember the people who were kind to me in my youth. Perhaps that is why I try to give back, too. 
At my workplace, I am one of the professionals who participate in "Shadow Day," held on February 2 (“Groundhog Day.) On this day, teenagers from area high schools come to our workplace and “shadow’ professionals who have jobs in their desired fields. 

Through “Shadow Day”, I have met many bright and ambitious high school students. I can recall one particular student who really stood out. She spent extra time with me, asked intelligent questions, and sent a handwritten thank you note after the event. She also asked for advice on how she could use her summer to get ahead.  "I'm willing to try anything,” she wrote.

I know she will go far.

Nothing is more inspiring to a boss, a teacher, or a mentor than someone who is willing to learn. 

 Debra Scala Giokas has been in the field of Legal Marketing for 25 years. For the last 15, she has been working as Marketing Director of Long Island’s second largest law firm Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, LLP. Debra shares her love of English as a board advisor for Literacy Nassau which promotes adult literacy in the community. Debra was also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Dowling College, where she taught an undergraduate course in services marketing for six years. She has been published in a variety of business and legal trades, which includes a quarterly column in the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island's (PRPLI) newsletter “For Immediate Release.” Debra’s poems regularly appear in the Great South Bay Magazine, and have appeared in magazines and literary journals. Debra was recognized by PRPLI with its Mentor Award in 2012.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Career in Hospitality: A Practical Application of the Psychology Major

"Career in Hospitality: A Practical Application of the Psychology Major"

by Denean Lane '96

I graduated from Stony Brook University with a B.S. in psychology. Reflecting back over my last seven years as General Manager at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned along the way. 

A General Manager oversees the daily operations of a business.  I started out in an entry level hospitality position.  I was eager and willing to learn all aspects of the industry.  Along with a lot of hard work and training, I was promoted in the sales department and advanced to a management position before being offered the role of General Manager.    As General Manager, it’s vital to have strong organizational skills, to take things as they come along, and to not procrastinate -- as situations will arise unexpectedly and require immediate attention.  
Being in the hospitality industry, I learned some simple things early on in my career: Greet everyone within ten feet of you with a smile. Say hello to everyone within five feet of you.  Go the extra mile to exceed expectations.  Be genuine. These things usually take very little effort, but are what your guests will remember most.    

Psychology majors have a wide range of practical and professional skills applicable to the hospitality/tourism industry.  We can operate on a macro-level to analyze a situation, apply different strategies and approaches to understand it, and identify the practical steps to implementing a rational solution.  Additionally, psychology majors have:
  • Strong interpersonal skills: Having learned about social communication, we are familiar with nonverbal signals and social appropriateness. This awareness can make a considerable difference for someone dealing with everyday guest situations
  • Tourism skills: Looking at consumer behavior in a number of sectors, including tour operations, visitor attractions and tourist destination, psychology majors are able to discuss and evaluate the various decision-making processes behind destination choice and travel behavior.
  • Problem solving skills: The ability to tackle a broad range of different problems is probably one of the most distinctive characteristics of psychology graduates.
  • Environmental awareness skills: Knowledge of how a person’s environment can influence their behavior can be applied to a variety of guest encounters, helping us to understand people at work as well as at leisure.
  • Numeracy: Psychology graduates are trained to interpret data and understand probability; this is useful for budgeting and forecasting.
  • Computer literacy: We are familiar with using computers for word processing and statistical analysis, which is useful for property management system procedures.
As you can see, a psychology degree involves a considerable number of skills that are useful in the hospitality/tourism industry.

Obtaining the Career YOU Want: Develop a Positive Mindset!
If you’re not sure what career direction to go in or you’re feeling stuck in your current situation, explore your options. Build on your core values.  Do what you enjoy, and give your personal best.  Follow your passion and you’ll be amazed at what can surface in your life. For me it was a passion to create a work environment I enjoyed, a place I looked forward to going each morning.     
Lessons learned:
  • What you focus on becomes your reality; be proactive and positive!
  • Be prepared, and willing to accept change along the way
  • Strong interpersonal skills lead to career success
    One of the most impactful quotes that’s helped me through my journey: “Your mind can handle only one thought at a time; make it a positive and constructive one." - Anonymous  

    Go on, believe in yourself.  Believe in who you are and what you want to be known for.   

    Denean Lane received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Stony Brook University. Her professional training includes Intercontinental Hotels Group Journey to Brand Manager Professional Development Certification and IHG Revenue Management Essentials Certification.  Denean has been General Manager for the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook since 2007.  She resides on Long Island with her husband and son.  Feel free to email her at