Five kids call Leila Borders “Grandma.” Hundreds of young adults now call her “Professor.”
In a quarter-century corporate career, Leila Borders had never entertained a thought of teaching until she sat in a doctor’s waiting room one day in 1996, eyeing an article on a PhD Project participant. It was as if a light went on. “Something said, ‘this is for you,’” she remembers.
A nurse fretted at the sight of the doctor’s next patient dropping herself onto the examining table, still clutching a magazine and never lifting her eyes from its pages. “I asked her, ‘What issue is this? I have to buy it.’ She said, ‘Just take it. I’d hate to separate you from it.’”
Two obstacles loomed in Leila Borders’s path. She dispensed with both quickly.
One was perception over age—she was a young grandma, but a grandmother nonetheless. “I never thought I couldn’t do it, but I wondered would I have the stamina? Finally my husband told me, ‘You’re spending more time thinking about this than you will spend doing it. Go ahead, and I’ll support you. We’ll work out the issues.’”
In addition, at the time, she was engaged in more than forty community, church, and social activities. Some had to go. Targeting some of her cherished pastimes for elimination was painful but necessary.
Dr. Borders soon made her midlife career shift. Age was never an issue once she returned to the classroom, although “I often played the role of Mama” with some of her fellow doctoral students.
She started as an assistant professor at the University of New Orleans (UNO). Most of that school’s students remained in their hometown upon graduating and never worked in a corporation, although Dr. Borders is convinced many of them had the skills and mindset to succeed in the business world.
So, even as she taught a “principles of selling” course, Dr. Borders introduced her students to corporate life and showed them how to sell themselves to employers. Teaching undergraduate juniors, she realized that two-thirds of them had never written a resume. “All semester, I work with my students on their resumes. At the beginning, I ask, who doesn’t have a resume, who isn’t satisfied with theirs? Everyone raises his or her hands. I have them send me their resumes, and throughout the semester, we work on revising their resumes and preparing cover letters, as well as other career development activities such as mock interviews. I always tell them, ‘Remember, you are selling yourself.’ I have helped numerous students get jobs in this manner.”
The students’ first assignment generally is to prepare a resume and cover letter tailored to an actual job opening they see advertised. She then works with them throughout the year— investing more than one hundred hours of her time—to polish and perfect their resumes. “I see their self-esteem and confidence building by leaps and bounds as they become more assertive,” she reports.
Dr. Borders touches many other corners of her students’ lives. She has created an elaborate system to exchange notes and messages with each student throughout the semester. Using this channel, she has helped undergraduates successfully tackle a whole spectrum of challenges ranging from the academic to the personal.
The investment paid off for Dr. Borders the day she heard a former student tell a friend, “Listen to her—she is how I got my job.”
In 2006 while at UNO, with the assistance of a Louisiana Board of Regents grant, Dr. Borders built and equipped a sales behavioral lab for students to develop their selling skills. Dr. Borders became UNO’s first faculty coach to take students to compete in the National Collegiate Sales Competition (NCSC). The NCSC hosts the top collegiate sales talent and sales faculty from the most elite University Sales Programs in North America. Upcoming sales graduates are provided a venue for sharpening their sales skills in a highly competitive environment and networking with their peers and sales faculty from across the United States.
The dream continues…
Dr. Borders moved in 2008 to Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, GA as an where she additionally
serves as an assistant director in the Center for Professional Selling, which hosts the NCSC. Dr. Borders has been published on numerous topics, including a social marketing perspective on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since her move to Kennesaw State University in 2008, she has been promoted to Full Professor and continues to mentor students extensively, and train, coach, and prepare them for employment interviews and professional selling careers.