By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor

COOKEVILLE – In a board room on the second floor of American Bank & Trust of the Cumberlands, 12 young men and women are busy discussing effective marketing strategies.

These board members, however, are not actual AB&T employees; instead, they are junior- and senior-level Tennessee Tech students serving on the bank’s student advisory board. In a unique partnership, the bank and the university’s College of Business are preparing students for real-life careers in the professional finance world. 

“This is an experiential course allowing select students the opportunity to be an actual advisory board member of a local community bank,” said Michael Porten, College of Business Executive-in-Residence. “They experienced the workings of a real bank board firsthand and are exposed to the banking industry and career opportunities therein.” 

In recent years, the university has placed experiential learning at the forefront of its student success plan. By gaining real-life, hands-on experience, students are able to put their knowledge and training to work in realistic scenarios; gaining a competitive edge 

Selected through a competitive application and interview process, each upper-level student serving on the board – representing the concentrations of accounting, business management, finance, and human resources – brings a unique concentration or skillset to the team; adding to the authenticity of the learning experience. 

Lifelong friends and former schoolmates, Ryan Smith and Marty Maynord, AB&T president and CEO respectively, graduated from Tennessee Tech in 1995. While on their journey to professional development, both Maynord and Smith were able to serve on a similar board and get a hands-on learning opportunity. 

It’s a way, they say, to pay it forward while also educating students that there’s more to banking than just number-crunching. Marketing products, managing websites and online programs, human resources knowledge, and leadership skills and training are all important to the professional world, including banking. 

“Our team includes professionals with backgrounds in human resources, IT, sales, marketing and promotion, and business leadership,” Maynord said. “Students serving on the board experienced a little bit of everything.” 

But, the students aren’t the only ones learning from the experience. Both Smith and Maynord say they’ve been able to gain valuable insight into their own company. 

Board members were appointed to committees to work on assigned projects regarding a particular current issue facing the bank. Students would then present their findings to both the advisory board and AB&T senior management. 

As part of one of their assignments, SAB members were tasked with reviewing the AB&T website. Smith says when SAB members reported back, they provided suggestions on potential improvements to make information more easily-accessible.  

The fresh perspective offered by students provided the bank with feedback similar to that of a focus group, Smith and Maynord added. The pair say they’ve been highly impressed with the quality of work and involvement of SAB members. 

The opportunity to participate on the SAB could also potentially lead to a job with AB&T. Both Smith and Maynord say the there are plenty of opportunities for young professionals in the community banking world. 

Smith and Maynord say they’ve already been brainstorming for the next SAB session; slated for next spring. Other local companies have expressed interest in allowing students to participate in a similar capacity. 

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