When NIU alumna Rita Dragonette embarked on her professional career, she was armed with the valuable and powerful soft skills developed through a liberal arts education – strong communication, critical thinking, writing and creativity.
After early stints in entry-level publishing jobs, she quickly excelled, becoming a mover and a shaker in the public relations world before moving on to become an entrepreneur.
Dragonette began her career as an account executive at the global public relations agency Daniel J. Edelman Inc. (now Edelman Worldwide). She rapidly rose through the firm’s ranks and helped bring in the agency’s first million-dollar client. She was recognized for her efforts by being named its youngest senior vice president. She left Edelman in the early 1980s and co-founded Dragonette Inc., one of the first agencies to offer integrated marketing services. The agency quickly became one of the top 15 independents nationally. She sold the firm to Grey Global Group (now part of WPP) in 1999.
In 2003, she established Dragonette Career Strategies, where she served as an executive career consultant on leadership, management development and organizational change to C-level executives and entrepreneurs from companies like Kraft, Pepsico, Allstate Insurance, PNC Bank, Leo Burnett and Cisco Systems.
It was early on that Dragonette realized that she lacked an important piece of the career success puzzle – a strong business foundation. Her experience – and what she went through to make up that deficit– has made her an advocate of giving students a liberal arts background and some level of business training to get the best of both worlds.
Advocating is one thing; action is another. Dragonette decided to take the latter by establishing the Dragonette Cross-College Career Success Scholarship to provide scholarships for NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences sophomore and junior students who are pursuing a minor in the College of Business.
“There is no situation in the employment world that does not require a basic understanding and some degree of business acumen,” she said. “It’s a foundational requirement whether you teach or work at a not-for-profit or in any type of creative field. Study what you love, but pair it with practical training. The earlier you master the basics, the more appealing a candidate you will be and the easier your success will come.”
She challenges other NIU alumni and business leaders to take similar action so more students graduate ready to make an impact.
“When I mention the scholarship to anyone in my network, it always spurs the same two reactions,” said Dragonette. “First, they tell me what a great idea it is and that they know of or have hired someone with this liberal arts/business combination and it made all the difference in getting that first job. And No. 2, what a great give-back it is. Scholarships helped me through school and I should pay it forward.”