Earlier this year, the dynamic duo that is SMU Cox School of Business marketing student Holly Ekizian, BBA ’24 and Brandy Dalton, senior director of BBA & MS Career Programs, forged a new relationship with J.M. Smucker Co., a Fortune 500 Company. Ekizian was selected to participate in the J.M. Smucker Internship Program, potentially opening the door for future SMU Cox students to take advantage of the opportunity. Based at the Smucker’s company headquarters in Orville, Ohio, the internship program provides unique opportunities for interns to engage with company leadership, participate in tailored professional development sessions and network with fellow interns to foster future relationships in their respective career fields.

Ekizian joined approximately 90 BBA and MBA students from across the country to participate in the program and is the first SMU student to earn this honor. A Tampa, Florida native, Ekizian loves challenges and new experiences. At first, the idea of spontaneously moving to Ohio was daunting but Ekizian was ready and gives credit to Brandy Dalton and the Cox School’s Career Management Center (CMC) team for preparing her for the challenge. In 2019, the CMC launched the Marketing Academy. Dalton was instrumental in creating the Marketing Academy, which she did especially for BBA students.

When Ekizian stumbled across the Smucker internship opportunity, she went straight to Dalton, her career coach and advisor. Ekizian says she said, “Hey, Brandy, I kinda just got this interview. What do I do?” The two met and formulated a plan. Together they discussed the pros and cons. Ekizian had long been interested in marketing and consumer product goods. She views the field as the perfect opportunity to blend her love of helping people, creative instincts, and interest in data collection and analysis.

“My first internship after my freshman year I worked at a digital media agency. And I was also considering broadcast journalism, actually. But I realized how much I love understanding business and I also loved people, I wanted to help people, I wanted to talk to people, and I wanted to work with people. And I really kind of saw my passions for the different things come together at once. And I also kinda want to stay on the strategic business mindset and so, marketing just hit all of those.”  She realized the J.M. Smucker Internship Program would expose her to all areas of business while matching these interests. Though Ekizian’s friends and classmates considered her exploration of 12 weeks in a rural Ohio town more than unusual, Dalton was supportive. Ekizian made the leap.

Holly Ekizian, BBA ‘24 was often seen smiling proudly during, her summer internship at J.M. Smucker Co. Headquarters.

Ekizian worked with a designated mentor at J.M. Smucker Co. to assist with relocation logistics and expenses and serve as the primary point of contact throughout the process. The 12-week program is based on a campus adjacent to the headquarters building and staffed by Smucker personnel and faculty. The program exposes participants to every component of the corporation, including product science, operational design, overview of production facilities, and collection and reporting methods related to consumer purchasing data and product satisfaction.

With her internship behind her, Ekizian continues to stay busy. In addition to her coursework, she serves as president of the Program Council, which is a large campus organization that specializes in developing unique, large-scale campus events. She is also an active business fraternity member and a member of the lacrosse team. How does she manage her time and maintain balance among these activities? Ekizian said she remains a firm believer in “paving her own path,” a slogan she learned from her family as a young child. She prioritizes self-care and makes time for exercise and fun. She encourages herself and others to “find time for little things that fill up your cup.” And as she paves her own path, she is open to “experiencing anything, anywhere.”

Brandy Dalton, Ekizian’s career coach and advisor, has been with SMU Cox about ten years. Dalton is a self-proclaimed “farmer’s daughter from West Texas,” raised with parents who lacked an opportunity to pursue higher education and wanted more for their daughter. Her father encouraged her to become a pharmacist, a job he considered the most consistent and well-paid position in their small town. Dalton had other ideas. She set her sights on higher education.

 “I knew I wanted to do something with people, so I studied management as an undergrad…I knew people had to be involved. Management, human resources, employer relations, recruitment or something like that, because I knew that’s what I wanted, and that ultimately kind of drove my career,” she says.

 After earning her BBA from Texas Tech, Dalton worked as a career coach for the university and moved into private sector employment in human resources and recruiting positions. She learned and thrived in these positions, leading her to follow her commitment to help people identify their individual strengths and find fulfilling careers through higher education. After setting her sights on SMU and the Cox School of Business, she eventually earned her MBA and served as adjunct faculty at Cox.

Dalton is proud of the services she and her team offer students through the Career Management Center. “Students have different journeys,” she says. Her face lights up when describing the excitement students express when asked questions to begin the process of reimagining potential career paths. Dalton does not ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead, she believes in starting with the basics. “Do you like working independently or with a team? Do you work well under pressure, or do you prefer to be prepared in advance?”

Dalton then expands her assessment with more focus. “Some of the key qualities that students are looking for come into play. Do they want a big setting, do they want a smaller business, do they want a company with a lot of team engagement, or do they work better one-on-one in a smaller team? So, all of that comes into play. And then we start funnelling that into a target list of the companies that recruited SMU students and we go from there. A lot of it is connecting students with the right resources and the right advocates that help them learn.”

She tries to give them as much knowledge as possible so they ultimately can make the best decisions for themselves. Most of all, she encourages students to focus on finding the right fit and exploring opportunities based on individual interests, and, above all, she says, “finding their passion!”

Dalton appreciates the name “Career Management Center” as opposed to “career placement program” because it reflects a student’s journey toward finding satisfying employment, not a job, she says.

Even after Ekizian’s internship concluded, the duo continues to meet regularly. Dalton says Ekizian is always prepared with an open mind and many questions. “Holly does all the right things. If I provide her with three deliverables and a timeline, she does one through ten on the list instead of the three.” Dalton also notes Ekizian’s ability to build contacts and advocate for herself and her student community.

Prior to Ekizian’s interest, the J.M. Smucker Internship Program was relatively untried for SMU Cox students. According to Dalton, most Cox BBA students accept internship opportunities in Dallas, Austin and other cities within the state or region. Dalton attributes some of this to the strongly connected and proactive alumni supporting the University and Cox and their commitment to helping the next generation of SMU and SMU Cox students secure placements whenever possible. She also notes many students prefer to stay in the area close to family, friends and community.

Ekizian is just one of many students Dalton has mentored through their higher education journey. Dalton says she plans to continue helping young people, and those returning to higher education after a hiatus, “find their personal passion and journey.” The next stop on Ekizian’s journey is commencement in May. Even though she still has a few months to go before completing her BBA degree, she has already secured a post-graduation position. Thanks in part to Dalton’s efforts in the CMC, the Cox Marketing Academy and Ekizian’s internship with Smucker’s last summer, Ekizian will be joining Nestlé in their 2024 Nestlé Sales Development Program on the Target team in Minneapolis, MN.

At SMU Cox, we’re proud of what our students continue to accomplish, and are pleased to share their successes! Do you have a story you’d like to share? If so, please email your idea to communications@mail.cox.smu.edu.