Flash back to May 2020 — there were nationwide shutdowns and work-from-home mandates. It was a time of uncertainty during which many job and internship offers for students were disrupted.

“May 2020 is when I lost the internship that I had lined up for the summer,” says Cox School alum Kate Cox, MBA ’21. “I was worried; what will I do next? Especially in that time of the pandemic and being so close to the summer at that point, I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to do a summer internship.”

The Cox School began looking for viable options for students like her and the many other students in this position. Dean Matthew B. Myers asked Cox Executive Board members to consider whether their companies or other boards they served on could perhaps offer internship or employment opportunities.

“I remember getting the email about a lot of interns getting their offers rescinded,” says Cox School alum Tim Heis, BBA ’01 and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Dallas. “At that point in time, we were well into the pandemic. We were shut down from the end of March through the beginning of May, but once we came out of that, we knew we had big projects that we wanted to take on, and that’s when we decided to reach out to several Cox School students on a variety of projects.”

Kate Cox Goodwill Industries

Kate Cox at Goodwill Industries of Dallas

Connecting Students to the Real World

Cox, no relation to Cox School benefactor Edwin L. Cox, was one of the students whose career management coach connected her to Heis. “He sent some information about the role and the work that he would like the interns to do for the summer,” Cox says. “And I just thought, ‘what a wonderful opportunity.’

I love Goodwill; I always have. It’s such a fine organization — and having an organization hiring at that time was such a blessing as well. To do really great work for a fine organization was just a wonderful fit.”

A passion for producing great work is the reason Heis was eager to recruit Cox students in the first place — despite the ongoing pandemic.

“So many of our main challenges as an organization are business problems,” Heis says. “Whether that’s real estate, operations, IT or marketing strategy, we knew from a skill set perspective that Cox students can make a difference. And as a smaller organization versus a mega company, we need capacity and talent to be able to actually address a lot of those challenges.”

Cox’s internship focused mostly on data and analytics — building out a set of key reports for the executive team that are still used today, for example — and her impact was immediate. Following her internship, Cox was hired as the vice president of IT and continues to thrive in her new role.

Heis says that when she first arrived, she helped Goodwill become a data-driven organization. “She added real-time reporting to a lot of our processes, which allowed us to measure our actions and identify improvement areas.” At Goodwill, many steps go into taking a donation and translating it into a sale. “For the first time, we actually have real-time information on how we we’re doing at that process because of Kate’s work.”

As an intern, Cox implemented big changes, including installing iPads at the warehouse and developing an app for employees to track donated goods in real time, something previously tallied on paper and entered at the end of the week. Now, in addition to data and analytics, Cox has added networking, infrastructure and digital transformation to her toolbelt. “I love that at Goodwill I get to not only work with great people at a great team, [but also] wear many hats and do a lot of exciting work,” she says.

Education That Prepares Students for the Future

Being prepared to step into this kind of role is something Cox credits to her alma mater. She grew up in the Dallas area, and SMU had long been on her radar given its well-known alumni network and long- standing ties with community. But it was ultimately the Cox School’s analytics focus that sold her on the school. That curriculum, which teaches students how to make data-driven decisions, continues to influence her work at Goodwill.

“What I’ve learned from the program that made me able to take on this role was certainly the hard skills from our classes,” Cox says. “We have wonderful professors at SMU, especially Marketing Professor Ed Fox, and analytics classes. So it’s what I’ve learned about data, how to make data-driven decisions and how to gain insights — and the Cox network as well, because it’s certainly through Tim being an alum, and me being close with the people in the Cox Career Management Center and our professors, that gave me the opportunity to meet the Goodwill team and then join the team.”

That catalog of career-focused advantages for students rings a bell for Heis, who had a similar experience at the Cox School.

“When I think back on it, it really provided the foundation for my career and business, and it really opened my mind up to all the possibilities of where my future could go,” Heis says, emphasizing that getting to know professors personally both in the classroom and outside of it during office hours was a formative experience. “What that did was form these great relationships that really helped you think about what you want to do after school and where you want to go.”

David Miller, BBA ’71, MBA ’73, current vice chair of the SMU Board of Trustees and chair of the Cox Executive Board, served on the Goodwill Industries Board for many years, including as its board chair. Miller emphasizes the importance of Cox students giving back to the community once theyʼve launched their business careers — something Goodwill facilitates through its ongoing efforts to connect with student volunteers while theyʼre on campus.

“For Cox students, and for that matter all SMU students, I think it’s essential to embrace the importance of community involvement and early on find avenues to connect and help people who are in need,” Miller says. “Goodwill is essentially a business whose profits are fed into a huge effort to provide employment and job training for people who have physical and mental disabilities, as well as those who are disadvantaged. The Miller family is passionate about it, and I can easily see how SMU students, once exposed to the great things Goodwill is doing, would want to be involved.”

Networking for the Next Generation

Long regarded as a top U.S. business school, the Cox School regularly ranks highly for educational excellence, post-graduate salaries, professional networking opportunities and more.

Now, both Kate Cox and Heis are continuing to grow their own Cox School network at Goodwill Industries.

“We had an intern this summer in the technology department, so that was wonderful having the intern, her being in the shoes I was in last year,” Cox says. “And we also hired a full-time analyst to our team as well, and he’s from SMU. I would love to have an intern out of the program every summer, because that’s just been a wonderful value for the organization.”

The Cox School has become known for opening these kinds of doors for countless students. Mentoring programs, student clubs and speaker series are all designed to connect students with the best business minds around the globe. The alumni network spans more than 40 countries and provides students with access to professional advice, networking opportunities and social connections in Dallas and around the world.

“I really value the relationship between SMU, the Cox School and Goodwill, because of course, Goodwill is such a fine organization that does so much to make an impact in the community, through our mission services,” Cox says. “The relationship also really allows us to expand our Goodwill team through all the bright leaders that come out of Cox. From the Cox School, we’ve seen so many graduates [who] are driven and excited and want to make an impact in their communities. I think that graduates these days aren’t just looking for the highest-paying job; they want to make a difference as well.”