To Outclass the Competition


ECU students Lauren Rimkus, left, and Ryan Shalek, center, talk to Dr. Margaret O’Hara, assistant dean of the College of Business at a March 22 training program designed to enhance etiquette and social skills to give students an edge in competition for jobs. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


Protocol, etiquette training gives ECU students an edge

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

After participating in an hour of instruction on proper dining etiquette, East Carolina University junior Jack Prager thought he had everything figured out. Then lunch arrived.

“(The first course) was French onion soup and it had a piece of bread on it,” the finance major said, shaking his head but smiling. “And I thought, ‘What do you do if there’s stuff in it?’”


Seonna Dixon, left, and Breanna Dean interact at the Outclass the Competition event on campus.

Social skills can make a big impression in an increasingly competitive job market and global world. That’s what visiting speaker Kay Leonard – chief of protocol at the Joint Special Operations University in Tampa, Fla. – hoped to impart to about 40 students during an all-day Outclass the Competition event March 22 at ECU.

This is the first year the Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development and Division of Student Affairs offered the course, which focuses on professional behavior and etiquette training. ECU’s Champions of Freedom Fund sponsored the day’s events, with help from state appropriations. It replicates a program based at N.C. State University’s Gen. Hugh H. Shelton Leadership Center.

“We know that so many of these kids are waiting a longer time for first employment (after college) and are very conscious that many of them will have to create their own opportunities,” said Ted Morris, associate vice chancellor of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development. “These skills…will help facilitate that.”

“I hope our goal…is to teach them to be not only very confident and very politely aggressive,” Morris continued.

“These people are going to be professionals…at whatever they’re doing,” Leonard said in agreement. “They have to be able to outclass so they can get that job.”

Faculty and administrators from across the university nominated each of the participating ECU students. Freshman Breanna Dean, a cadet in Air Force ROTC, said she had little choice but to attend after her colonel sent her an invitation.

“The career path that I’m going into, a lot of these points and skills can be applied now and later on,” Dean said. “In ROTC, we’re learning rank structure and customs and courtesies. This applies to that.”


Jack Prager

Prager enjoyed the portions focused on how to politely break into conversations already under way.

“You don’t want to make a bad impression,” he said. “Some of it is common sense but there was some value.”

Two Hope Middle School students were the youngest participants in Outclass. Though college, scholarship or job interviews may be years away, both young women were already thinking about their futures.

“I really want to get into a big college like ECU or UNC or N.C. State. I can put this on my application,” said seventh-grader Alyssa Pritchard, who said it was an honor for she and Seonna Dixon to be included.

“I think we showed we could handle ourselves,” Pritchard added.

ECU will also adopt the Shelton Leadership Challenge, offering leadership curriculum and practice learning to high school students, beginning this summer. For more information, visit

Leave a Reply