Entrepreneurs return to alma mater, give job advice

IUP alumni Damon Pennington '97, left, and Nordine Harris '97 spoke to students about jobs at a talk titled 'From IUP to Million$: The Path of Two African-American Alumni' Wednesday in the Multicultural Suite of Delaney Hall. (Ahmad Abusaad/ The Penn)

Two Indiana University of Pennsylvania alumni began their careers as entrepreneurs on IUP’s campus. Now, they’re both inventors and business partners at ATS Group, a defense contractor.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania alumni Nordine Harris ’97 and Damon Pennington ’97 spoke Wednesday in the Multicultural Suite of Delaney Hall about the do’s and don’ts of getting a job after graduation at a talk titled “From IUP to Million$: The Path of Two African-American Alumni.”

While IUP students, Harris launched his own record label and Pennington sold Greek-letter winter hats. They reconnected a few years after graduating and have been in business together ever since.

But not all of their business endeavors were a success. In 1998, they founded the Clenek Co., which sells a product called Clenek, which Pennington described as a “panty liner for your collar.” The product absorbs the sweat on the inside of a man’s collar to keep dress shirts clean and fresh. Harris and Pennington pitched the product to several department stores, but no one was interested, Pennington said.

Harris told the approximately 25 students in attendance not to be afraid of failures, whether it be failing a class or losing a job.

“You need to be able to learn from the negative as well as the positive experiences,” Harris said.

A failed interview or job opportunity should not discourage students, Pennington said.

“Everyone who graduates college wants a job, and everybody damn sure needs a job, but not everyone has it all figured out as soon as they get out of school,” he said.

“The degree gets you in the door; it doesn’t get you the job.”

All that a degree does is show that students can learn, Pennington said. Most of what students will do in their future career are the things that they learned on the job, not in a classroom.

Harris and Pennington gave students tips and tricks about what to expect when interviewing for jobs as well as how to hold their own when entering the workforce.

When it comes to negotiating a salary during an interview, you must be able to prove that you are worth the money you are asking for, Pennington said.

“Subjectively you feel that you’re worth $50,000; objectively you need to prove it,” he said.

Harris agreed, adding that prospective employees should be armed with all of the information necessary to convince the employer that they deserve the salary they are asking for. He recommended sites like salary.com to help students and college graduates discover the average salaries of employees in their prospective fields.

“If they’re offering you a job, they’re telling you they want you,” Pennington said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for the salary that you think you deserve.”

Additionally, Harris and Pennington offered IUP students advice focusing on how to succeed in a work environment with one of the main points centering on a student’s ability to choose their battles wisely.

Students need to be able to recognize when it is an appropriate time to stand up for themselves, Pennington said.

“Sometimes you need to let things go for the sake of keeping your job,” he said.

Harris and Pennington also discussed problems that can stem from new employees failing to dress and act appropriately.

“I know what it’s like to have that feeling of ‘I want to be different, I need to be unique, I need to be myself,’” Pennington said. “You don’t have to try to be different; you already are. You are the only you.”

When a person is in a professional environment, Harris said, that person needs to be aware of what he or she looks like, how to speak and carry oneself.

As the meeting came to an end, Harris and Pennington left the students with one last piece of advice: Make sure you do what you love.