Business Mentor Program

group of mentors pose for photo on steps in front of fletcher hall

Partnering with local business professionals to graduate business world ready students.

At the Joseph F. Decosimo Success Center in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business, we are providing resources for our students to become “Business World Ready” as they launch their careers. One of those resources is the Business Mentor Program available to sophomore, junior, and senior students. Undergraduates engage in the program for academic credit through BUS2900.

The mentors who make up the Business Mentor Program are experienced professionals who are willing to share their knowledge with upper level students to help develop life skills for success. The mentor acts as a coach and role model to support a student with his/her personal and professional growth. The program provides a great opportunity for professionals to counsel and influence the next generation of business leaders. Being a mentor provides personal satisfaction as well as the ability to increase the workforce readiness of future recruits. Mentors rotate every semester.

The objectives of the mentor/mentee relationship are to help students:

  • Bring career goals into focus
  • Become ready for the workforce
  • Increase business connections  and network strategically
  • Enhance professional development
  • Open doors of opportunity for future internships, jobs and career success

Business Mentor Bench 

 

Melissa Crane

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) - Senior Service Manager, Transmission Solutions, Information Technology

Melissa Crane is the Senior Service Manager of Transmission Solutions within the Information Technology organization at Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  In her role, she is responsible for providing Information Technology solutions and support for her business partner, Transmission Power Supply.  Melissa and her team regularly interact with all levels of the business to provide real-time support of applications that allow Transmission Power Supply to provide reliable services to local power providers and directly served customers across the valley. 

Melissa has worked for TVA for over 15 years, starting in their intern program.  Melissa previously served in multiple leadership roles for the agency, leading successful cross organizational teams.  As Senior Manager of Enterprise Services, she was responsible for services supporting the enterprise including enterprise information management and solutions, software architecture and data integration, enterprise content management, and enterprise collaboration solutions.   As Senior Program Manager for the Office of the CIO, she provided expert advice and strategic direction to the CIO and IT senior leadership on a wide variety of business, technical, and organizational effectiveness matters.  Melissa has also served as Manager of Business Analysis in Enterprise Solutions Delivery where she built a team of IT business analysts to support development and documentation of business requirements for IT projects, and established consistent management approaches for the entire TVA business applications portfolio.  Under Melissa’s leadership, increased demand from business partners led to the team growing ten-fold. 

Melissa was raised in Chattanooga and graduated from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga with a BS in Marketing and MBA.  She enjoys spending her free time traveling to Disney with her two children and husband.  Melissa also enjoys ballet and running and is training for her tenth half-marathon.

Work Philosophy:  Don’t spend all your time worrying about that next step in your career, that next big opportunity, and lose focus on your current role.  Of course have thought around your future plans, but do your best in your current role.  Give your current role focus, time, and energy and the opportunities will come.

Best Advice for Students:  Don’t allow your degree to confine you.  You’re not limited to a specific profession just because you may have a major in a certain business area.  Think creatively and be open to new opportunities as you start your career.

Type of student I hope to mentor: I don't have anything firm in mind, but I hope we enjoy each other's company!


Ken Jones

EPB - Manager, Fiber Design and GIS

Ken was born and raised in Chattanooga, TN and always enjoyed tinkering with things growing up.  He would take things apart to see how they worked and, for the most part, put them back together.  In high school, Ken studied electronics and learned how to repair PCB (printed circuit board), however he never finished high school, obtaining a GED instead.  As an electronics technician, Ken was very proficient and was introduced to the telecommunications field in the 1990s.  This is where Ken really found his passion.  Working in infrastructure cabling for computer networks, phone systems, cable TV systems, and fiber optics networks provides him with a great sense of purpose. 

Ken started working for EPB in 2000, starting as a network technician and quickly promoted to senior network technician, and then again to supervisor, and once more to Project Consultant where he managed projects for EPB’s fiber optics network.  In 2005, Ken realized how important it was to pursue a college education.  Ken attended Chattanooga State Technical Community College where he obtained an Associate Degree in Electrical Electronics Engineering in 2007.  He later pursued an undergrad degree in Entrepreneurship.  Ken enrolled in UTC’s College of Business in 2014 and completed the degree in 2017.  In 2015, the midst of pursing his undergrad degree, Ken was promoted again to manager of EPB’s Fiber Optics department.  Ken is a proud alumnus of UTC and is currently pursuing an MBA in business analytics through UTC Professional MBA program. In September 2017, EPB created a GIS department under Ken’s leadership.

Work Philosophy: Find something you are passionate about!  We have enough things in life to think about so let’s make sure, when we are spending our time at the office, it’s something we are drawn too and enjoy!

Best Advice for Students: Make your contacts count.  Do prejudge people base on any bias you have.  You never know who you are talking to when you meet someone.  Furthermore you never know who you will help with just something as simple as a smile.  Get to know people and their story.  Don’t look at where they are and think they woke up at that point in their life.  There’s a story behind it.

The type of student I hope to mentor: I enjoy mentoring anyone who has a desire to make a difference.  It doesn’t matter where they come from, where they been, or the challenges they have faced.  If they are willing to get even 1%, then the options are limitless.


Samuel Riggan

BlueCross BlueShield TN - HR Project Manager

Samuel Riggan is a Human Resources Project Manager at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.  Sam has over 10 years of experience in a variety of HR disciplines and companies which prepared him for his current role.  His primary interest in HR is Training and Development such that he believes having strong academic foundations can provide valuable insights to companies in a variety of industries.  Sam most recently completed his MS degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the UTC program in May 2014 however he previously received his MA degree in Research Psychology from Northern Arizona University earlier in his career.  As a continuous learner, Sam believes that making higher and continuing education a priority is important to success at a professional level. 

Sam has held positions in a variety of industries ranging from insurance to manufacturing and retail sales to the non-profit sector.  At a professional level, Sam has held Talent Acquisition and Project Management roles at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee where he has been able to recruit for positions across the company and coordinate projects involving all facets of HR – including but not limited to: analytics, compensation, diversity, and organizational development.  Prior to BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Sam held roles at Shaw industries, Park Center Inc., and Harry & David.  At Shaw Industries, he served as an intern to develop training metrics, conduct employee investigations, and create/implement an employee development program.  At Park Center Inc (non-profit mental health center), he held the role of an employment specialist and primarily trained members of the center on employment skills, educated community and business leaders on mental illness, and advocated for members throughout the Metro-Nashville area.  At Harry & David, he worked in a supervisory capacity focusing on cultivating relationships in his assigned region to rank in the top 10 of 150 locations in business-to-business sales.  Furthermore, he partnered with corporate trainers to evaluate and draft a training program that was implemented at our locations throughout the country.

Work Philosophy: As a professional, I strive to facilitate a culture of collaboration in the projects that I manage daily.  The benefits of facilitating a culture of collaboration are evidenced anecdotally and supported by research.  As a project manager, this strategy is key to the success of my day-to-day tasks but can foster innovation, organizational commitment, and continuous improvement in order to better the organization as a whole.

Best Advice for Students: As a student not too long ago, I would encourage future professionals not to be afraid to take risks which may come in the form of a nontraditional career path.  Personally, I have worked in a variety of industries with diverse groups of individuals which can provide valuable perspectives and experiences that can guide your career path.  Furthermore, it is important to understand that a linear path to your goal might not be the most valuable route. 

The type of student I hope to mentor: My experience in HR affords me the benefit of being able to speak to a variety of disciplines so I don’t necessarily need a mentee with a defined direction/discipline, but I am hoping to work with someone eager to learn.


Bryce Thomas

Northwestern Mutual -  Managing Director (Chattanooga)

Bryce joined Northwestern Mutual as a financial advisor in 2006. He played baseball and graduated magna cum laude from Carson Newman college with a major in Business Administration and a minor in Political Science. As a financial advisor, he helps clients accomplish their short, mid, and long term financial goals. In 2011, he was appointed Managing Director. The managing director role is designed to be a “player-coach”. He continues to help his clients achieve their goals and also attracts and mentors new advisors in Chattanooga and surrounding cities. He owes his success to God, parents that had high expectations of him, an amazing wife, and a great team.

Work philosophy: Most people determine their success by how they are doing compared to their past and compared to their peers. What if we approached life based on our potential?

Best advice for Students: Every class you have, every relationship you have, all experiences you have, good or bad, are preparing you for your future.

Type of student I hope to mentor: Motivated, committed, and eager to grow.


Adam Collins

EPB - Talent & Development Lead

Adam Collins is the Talent & Development Lead for the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga.  Over the past ten years, he has specialized in video editing, motion graphics, and audio production.  Adam works at an advanced level with Adobe products such as Premier Pro, After Effects, Audition, Photoshop, Illustrator, Media Encoder. He has produced numerous videos for local non-profits, educational institutions, Church of God denomination, and indie video game developers.  For a period of time, Adam taught Digital Media Production at a local high school. 

While at EPB, he has expanded his knowledge in the world of eLearning.  Through his processes, Adam is able to create a visual and audible message that brings another level of attention to any project.  Subject matter ranges from soft skills to extensive technology applications.  Adam has the unique ability to take a complex subject and develop engaging micro-learning modules to accommodate any learning level.

Work Philosophy: I believe that each day is a learning opportunity. I am a firm believer in passing along information to others. Knowledge hoarding does not help you, it does not earn respect from others, and it hurts your place of employment as a whole. 

Best Advice for Students and Pending Graduates: Be nice to people. Every job I have ever received in my life came because I knew someone who could vouch for my skillset and work ethic. Making connections is important, but if you are rude, or leave a bad impression. You never know who will hold the fate of your career in their hands, so just be a good person. Don’t lie, cheat, or throw someone under the bus for personal gain. It will most likely backfire at some point in your life, plus, you won’t feel like a horrible person when you are off the clock.

Type of student I hope to mentor: This would be someone who likes to listen as much as talk. (I ask a lot of questions and want to prepare them for a give and take in knowledge sharing.) Also, someone who has a fascination with technology, and someone who cares about the overall state of the environment. It would also be helpful if they had a clear idea of what they want out of our mentorship time. Though, in all reality, I am open to anyone, but I am a natural introvert, so someone who can carry a conversation would be helpful.


Rachel Allen

McKee Foods Corporation - Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist

Rachel grew up in Alaska and has traveled and lived in many places across the states.  The northerner quickly found her home in the south when she moved to Chattanooga over 12 years ago to attend college and hasn’t left since.  She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from Southern Adventist University.  Her dream was to become a magazine writer, but soon realized that she had a knack for sales and interacting with people, so she went that route instead.  After spending several years in sales, she then fell upon recruiting and found her calling. 

She is currently a Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist in the HR department at McKee Foods Corporation and is responsible for hiring people in many different positions, ranging from engineering to marketing to food science and many more.  She has close to 8 years of recruiting experience and has a passion for helping people find the right career and seeing them grow and develop within the company.  

Work Philosophy: Find a career you love, not one you just take to get a paycheck. People who are truly passionate about what they do are more successful and happier than those who are not.  Always put your best effort into your work; a strong work ethic, determination and a willingness to learn will open doors you never thought were possible.

Best Advice for Students and Pending Graduates: Make sure to spend time developing relationships with other students, teachers and professionals in the community. The people you meet and connections you make will be invaluable in developing your career and may be with you for a lifetime.

Type of student I hope to mentor: Someone who is motivated, but who may be stumped about their career choice, or is interested learning about HR, recruiting, and making connections or may just need advice and a listening ear. I’d love to get to know you!


 

David Keller

EMJ Corporation - CFO (Retired)

Graduated from Murray State University 1976 with degree in finance.  Due to economic conditions my dream of becoming big time banker or stock broker were not possible.   I took a cost accounting job in Maryland with a company called Gould.  Met my wife married and headed back to KY to try my hand at running my fathers glue company.  It did not take long to determine that I was not suited to be a salesman so I took a couple more accounting classes so I could sit for CPA exam.  I found a job in Knoxville with Pugh and Company a CPA firm and spent about five years doing tax and small business work. 

In 1985 I was offered a job as controller for EMJ Corporation.  They were a growing construction company and I would be their first controller.  The company did about 35 million in sales that year.  Over the next 29 years the company grew to close to 1 billion in revenue and expanded to 16 companies with offices across the US.  One of the companies we started Signal Energy a renewable energy company building wind and solar farms expanded us into Canada.    As the company grew so did my responsibilities, from controller to treasurer then finally CFO. I was head of IT and HR building both departments from scratch.  

After retiring from EMJ, I have been helping with several nonprofits and playing grandpa. 

Work Philosophy: Do the best I possibly can and never really think of failure.  Just  did not think that is possible.  As I look back now after almost 40 years of working I would also promote a healthy work/life balance!

Best advice for students and pending graduates: You will most likely change jobs several jobs before finding the career you want,. Just make sure you don't rush through it, and learn everything you can from each job to improve your ability to be successful. 

Type of student I hope to mentor: My ideal mentee would be one who is willing to listen, learn  and question everything.  Don't just accept what is said without understanding why.


 

Jim Ledbetter

Hanover Properties - Owner/Operator

Jim Ledbetter is a small business entrepreneur, who founded Barcom, Inc in 1991.  Barcom is a Chattanooga based technology company focused on data collection, factory automation and supply chain automation.  As President of Barcom, Jim lead a 20-person team of sales, programmers, technicians and support staff.  Jim sold the company in 2007.  Currently Jim owns and operates Hanover Properties, a property management company. 

Jim attended UTC, graduating in 1980 with a BS in Business and a concentration in Marketing.  After graduation, Jim went to work for Burroughs (now Unisys) as a Sales Account Representative, selling mainframe computers and software in the Healthcare industry.  In 1986, he went to work for Wang Labs in an Account Representative role, selling Computers and Applications to select large accounts.  At both Burroughs and Wang, Jim was consistently a top performer and achieved President Club (or equivalent) on numerous occasions.    

Work Philosophy: A quote attributed to Confucius and many others drives my thinking about work “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”.  Though it would be far reaching to say I enjoyed every single day, the days I loved far outweigh any ‘work’ days.  Doing something that you enjoy is the difference between wondering where the day went and looking forward to the next day versus watching a clock and waiting for Friday to arrive.  It’s the difference between feeling proud of your accomplishments and collecting a paycheck. 

Best Advice for Students and Pending Graduates: Test the waters as much as possible and as early as possible.  I firmly believe that students should enter their selected careers with a thorough understanding of what they should expect when they enter the work force.  Before graduating (the earlier the better) the student should do as many career-based activities as possible.  Activities such as:  Internships, Meeting and Networking, Researching, attending career related events, talking with recent graduates and joining career related organizations. 

Type of student I hope to mentor: Someone who has a general idea of their direction and goals but who has not fully formulated their approach on getting there.  Because of my background and experiences, a mentee with aspirations toward Entrepreneurship, Sales or Management would be ideal. 


Corey Hughes

Unum - Manager, Absence Management Center/Short Term Disability

Corey Hughes was born and raised in Chattanooga and graduated from UTC in 2001 with a Sports Administration degree. While at UTC, Corey worked internships with the Golf Channel and PGA Tour. These were important cornerstones to his professional career.

Corey worked in the golf industry in many roles prior to working for Unum where he has been employed since 2002.Corey is currently a manager in the Absence Management Center at Unum. His team of 13 is focused on a healthcare strategy in which they process Short Term Disability claims for hospital and physician groups.

Corey never grew up wanting to work in the insurance industry, but he truly enjoys what he does every day. He works with some great people, Unum takes good care of their employees, and Corey gets to see the impact of his work as the team helps their customers every day.

Corey is married to his wife Deanna of 10 years and they have one son named, Lincoln (9). Outside work, he is heavily involved in the ministries of his church: driving a bus to pick up congregation members, supporting children’s ministries, and assisting with sounds ministry. Corey also facilitates a Boy’s Club in the summer teaching young boys without male role models some life skills such as playing sports, building outdoor skills, and using common tools. Corey also coaches at Lookout Valley Rec and Elementary School year-round through basketball, baseball and soccer seasons. The remainder of his time is spent on the golf course, playing, practicing, teaching, and as a First Tee of Chattanooga Volunteer.

Work Philosophy: My management philosophy is simple. Show up, do what you have been trained to do to the best of your ability and go home. My team is focused on efficient quality work while helping each other and having fun. I enforce a work/life balance and work should not be your sole purpose in life.

Best Advice for Students: A question I ask everyone who joins my team is, "What are you five most important things in your life?" If work is one of them, we talk about changing that to incorporate other things like family, community, helping others. Don’t let your job dictate who you are and how people perceive you. Give back, helps others, have fun.

Type of student I hope to mentor:  Someone who is driven is easy to mentor and you can fuel their fire. But I was not a driven person early in life and was somewhat of a recluse, so I really enjoy mentoring those types of people, too.


 

Bill Smith

Unum - Manager, Short Term Disability

Bill is a 2006 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (BA-Communications). After graduation, Bill went to work running a Juvenile Drug Court program in Bradley County, Tennessee. He handled all state reporting, weekly client meetings and all of the program and juvenile court public relations.

After four years running the program, Bill went to work for Unum managing  Long Term Disability claims. Unum is the largest disability carrier in the United States. He worked his way through both the Long Term and Short Term Disability departments and was promoted to a manager in October 2019 in Short Term Disability.

Work Philosophy: Show up every day with a positive attitude and a willingness to own my role.

Best Advice for Students and Pending Graduates: Preparing for a career launch is to be open to anything. No one grows up dreaming of wanting to work in insurance. I work for a great company and have really enjoyed my career.

Type of student I hope to mentor: My ideal mentee is a self-starter who understands they are in control of their own development but have questions on how to navigate the path.